A Fond Farewell to the Burbank Chestnut

Hand-drawn illustration of the Burbank Chestnut

It is with very mixed emotions that we must announce the removal of the Burbank Chestnut which has graced us with its elegance, shade, and carbon storage since 1931 on the south side of the portico at the Santa Rosa Avenue entrance.  This tree is badly infected with Oak Root Fungus (Armillaria mellea) and must be removed for the safety of all who enjoy our beautiful park.  This fungus is a common killer of older trees in California’s landscape, and is prevalent in the downtown area of Santa Rosa.  

We don’t know exactly when Luther Burbank bred this tree, but we do know that he grafted it to have both a large-fruiting type and a dwarf cultivar on the same trunk. The tree was transplanted from the Experimental Farm in Sebastopol to the Santa Rosa location in 1931, five years after Mr. Burbank’s death, to commemorate his life. 

Elizabeth Burbank was once quoted as saying, “Mr. Burbank used to get a big laugh out of the uproar that took place when somebody tried to take down an old, dead, or dangerous tree, or one that might have been planted in the wrong place and was a hazard. Mr. Burbank said he never approved of trying to preserve the dead and dying. That the unsatisfactory or too old trees should be removed and replanted with the correct type of new trees that would grow and develop into an even greater thing of beauty.” To honor his wishes, we will indeed plant a more appropriate specimen for all to enjoy, one that is more resistant to the Oak Root Fungus.

The tree will be delicately removed by Fred Fry and his expert team at Vintage Tree Care. Their work will be done in part to honor Dee Blackman, a founding member of the Volunteer Association, long-time Volunteer and major force in the organization. Large sections of the tree will be utilized by members of the Sonoma County Woodworker’s Association for beautiful art pieces, some of which will be in display at galleries or offered for sale in the future. Smaller portions of the tree will be mulched and redistributed around the site to help our other plants grow. Scion material has been collected from portions of the tree that have not yet been reached by the pathogen. 

We are eternally grateful to Amber R. Turner for immortalizing this specimen in her book of Burbank Botanical Illustrations, “Eye Spy a Tree: Welcome to the Arboretum” available in our Gift Shop or at https://lutherburbank.org/giftshop/books-booklets/eye-spy-a-tree-welcome-to-the-arboretum 

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