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Volunteer Carries On Mission To Find The State’s Largest, Most Notable Trees
EAST HAMPTON — When Ed Richardson speaks of “Connecticut champions,” he doesn’t mean the UConn Huskies. He’s talking about Fagus sylvatica – the colossal European beech in Pomfret that is 27 feet in circumference and towers 100 feet in the air.
Then again, he may mean Platanus occidentalis, Simsbury’s huge “Pinchot Sycamore,” which was there beside the Farmington River before the Declaration of Independence was signed and is there still. The mammoth tree has a circumference of nearly 28 feet.
“That’s a monster,” says Richardson, who should know, having measured the Pinchot Sycamore along with 1,000 others for the Connecticut Botanical Society.
Ed Richardson loves trees, the bigger the better. For more than two decades, Richardson, an 88-year-old former insurance executive, has been tramping around the state in search of arboreal giants worthy of designation as “Connecticut’s Notable Trees,” a listing of the state’s largest and most historic species. The volunteer effort, begun in 1985 and called the Connecticut Notable Project, is sponsored by the Connecticut Botanical Society, The Connecticut College Arboretum, and the Connecticut Urban Forest Council.
“I’ve always been interested in trees,” says Richardson, who lives in Glastonbury. “They are the largest living things we’ve got. They are bigger than whales and certainly older.”
Richardson shared his prodigious knowledge of Connecticut trees during a recent walk through East Hampton’s downtown. Along the way, he pointed out notable trees gracing the town’s landscape, including a “champion” sycamore maple on Main Street with a girth of 14 feet. But the tree expert said the sycamore was svelte compared to the town’s champion sliver maple (acer saccharimum) which measures 26 feet in circumference, making it the largest of its kind in the state.
“Ed is very knowledgeable,” said Marty Podskoch, who organized the tour as part of the town’s “Explore East Hampton” series of guided walks through local history. “He hiked the area twice to scout out interesting trees. He really prepares. ”
Richardson began identifying and measuring big trees for the Connecticut Botanical Society in 1987. His hunt usually begins with a tip from a resident, although he sometimes happens upon a giant out of the blue.
“People call us to say they have a tree that’s bigger than one we have listed, and sometimes they do,” Richardson says. “Sometimes they’re wrong about the species. The European beech in Pomfret, I stumbled upon. I heard about an old estate in Pomfret where I suspected there might be some big trees. Sure enough, there it was. It’s a monster! Trees need to be taken care of, but it costs money. That’s why some of the oldest species are found where people can afford to take care of them – estates, hospital grounds, parks, college campuses. Wesleyan [University in Middletown] has a number of fine old trees.”
Richardson’s favorite tree is the majestic bur oak on the grounds of the Institute of Living in Hartford. It was planted by the great landscape designer, Hartford-born Frederick Law Olmsted, in 1862, one year into the Civil War. At the Institute is also seen one of the state’s largest ginkgo trees, a primitive species native to eastern China and known for is pretty fan-shaped leaves.
As to the age of Simsbury’s famed Pinchot Sycamore (named for the pioneer American conservationist Gifford Pinchot) Richardson believes it has stood beside the Farmington for at least 300 years. Its true age, however, will likely remain a mystery. “I suspect the trunk is hollow,” Richardson says. “That’s usually the case with old sycamores. You can’t count the rings on a hollow trunk.”
Storms take their toll on trees, especially old trees, and Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm in 2011 claimed many a giant. Here Richardson – perhaps from his years in the life insurance business – is philosophical. “Well, of course, trees are mortal, just like we are. But they do grow back.”
For a link to a list of Connecticut’s Notable trees (and their history) please check out our ER Hinman Facebook page and Like us!