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Tree

The silver maple tree outside Chris Ryon’s home in Setauket rises about 60 feet. Photo by Kyle Barr

Along a small East Setauket street off Shore Road and near Se-Port Deli, a giant stands dying. 

It’s hard to relate just how large it is in words, let alone photos. Nothing does it justice. At approximately 60 feet high and 222 inches in circumference, measured at 4.5 feet off the ground, the enormous silver maple in Setauket is one of the few of its kind that remembers a time potentially up to the Revolutionary period or even further back.

Three-year-old Dina Amelchenko standing in front of the enormous tree in Setauket. Photo by Chris Ryan

Along Carlton Avenue, in front of Chris Ryon’s house, the best way to gauge the size of it is by comparison. Three-year-old neighbor Dina Amelchenko is dwarfed by it. Ryon, at 5 feet, 7 inches tall, can only reach the crook of the lowest branches with the tips of his fingers.  

Ryon, a lifelong area resident and village historian for Port Jefferson and Poquott, has taken care of it for more than two decades. Now its bright bark is flaking off its core, and limbs are starting to tear from the trunk.

“Although the tree has been admired by many, for hundreds of years, it has reached the end of its lifetime,” he said. 

Silver maples once lined the streets in the Setauket community, but the tree is not known for its steadfastness over such a long lifespan. Ryon said almost all have fallen or been removed, though none were anywhere near the size of the one in front of his house.

Ryon and his wife Karen purchased the house in 1996 from Fred and Betty Griffith, he said, which meant they also started taking over care of the tree. Prior to their moving in, the Griffiths had installed three cables connecting six of the giant tree branches together. Since then, the Ryons have paid for trimming the maple and removing any of the dead wood, with the help of neighbors Rich and Jeff Usher. 

Despite these efforts, the tree still seems to be on its last legs. Some of the tree’s limbs have snapped off and crushed a part of the Ryons’ fence. Others could also come loose and damage neighboring homes or cars. 

“We want to document it before it goes, if it does go, since it is unsafe at this point,” Chris Ryon said. “There’s a lot of question marks — we don’t know what the town is going to do with it.”

The race is now on to preserve the great silver maple and find some way to preserve the specimen for future generations.

There are ways to date it, either by bisecting it to count the rings or by coring it using a specially made device, or by carbon dating it. Without state foresters able to take any kinds of measurements, the exact age is still unknown.

John Wernet, the regional state forester of Long Island, said he has had conversations with Ryon but has not been able to go out to see the tree, as the pandemic and state cuts have left him unable to leave his office. Though he said the tree is not the biggest tree of its type in New York state, based solely on its circumference, it could easily be one of the largest on Long Island, if nothing else. 

The state keeps a registry of all large trees, but the list does not offer any kind of protections. 

“It’s more for bragging rights,” he said, adding that there is little he can do on the state side in tree preservation efforts, though he hopes the silver maple can somehow be protected.

Setauket groups are especially keen on preserving local history. with entities like the Three Village Historical Society and its annual Culper Spy Day event. Ryon said the tree could be used by local historical societies, where even a bisection of the tree could show what years showed more or less rain, and even relate which years local or national historical events took place.

The question lingers on what can be done to or for the tree. Three Village Civic Association 1st Vice President George Hoffman said the organization was just recently contacted about it, but said that they want to work with both residents and the town to help preserve the giant maple in some way, shape or form. 

“I know highways [department] have responsibility, but that should be the last resort to take down a tree,” Hoffman said. “We’re here to support the community, but it’s still really early.”

Those in the community who were there in the 1970s are still burned by the loss of another tree, known as the Lubber Street Oak at the corner of Lubber and Black Duck Drive in Stony Brook. According to a bronze plaque residents set up at the site, the tree stood at 84 feet tall with a circumference of 280 inches. It was believed to be over 300 years old when it was taken down by the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department in 1979.

Bill Schaub, the Ryons’ neighbor and member and past president of the civic, said they would like the tree preserved in some way, especially considering residents’ past consternation with local government unilaterally removing those trees without first speaking to residents.

“If it has to be cut down because of disease then that’s understandable, there has to be a balance between beauty and safety,” he said. “But I think we can achieve that.”

A Highway Department spokesperson said the tree was only recently brought to the department’s attention, and no final decision has been made.

The Heritage Center Trust hosted its 11th annual tree lighting Dec. 2 at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai, drawing a crowd of several hundred who were ready to celebrate the breakout of the Christmas season.

The Mount Sinai Middle School Jazz Choir led the crowd in classic Christmas carols before fire trucks of the Mount Sinai Fire Department drove in with lights flashing, delivering Santa himself to the expectant crowd.

After the tree lighting, attendees were able to eat fresh baked cookies and kids had the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap and take pictures.

The annual tree lighting at Heritage Park has been a part of the Mount Sinai community since 2007, but Jaime Baldassare, who volunteers for the center trust, said the lighting was a staple in the community before the Heritage Center Trust was established, first being hosted at the post office and later at the Mount Sinai Fire Department building.

File photo

Two men were killed and one was seriously injured in the early hours of Tuesday morning, after police say one of them lost control of his car and slammed into a tree.

The Suffolk County Police Department said 26-year-old Hauppauge resident Leland Acampora crashed the Hyundai Sonata at about 4:30 a.m. while heading west on Fort Salonga Road near Makamah Road.

Both he and 26-year-old Commack resident Woody Zalman, who had been sitting in the back seat, were pronounced dead at the scene, police said. However, front seat passenger Paul Weingart, a 26-year-old from East Northport, was in serious condition at Stony Brook University Hospital, after being airlifted there by police helicopter.

Police impounded the Hyundai for a safety check.

Detectives from the SCPD’s 2nd Squad are investigating the single-car crash. Anyone with information is asked to call them at 631-854-8252.

The town’s Chief Fire Marshal Chris Mehrman shows how Christmas tree fires can have devastating results. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Brookhaven Town officials demonstrated the dangers of Christmas tree fires last week, igniting an unwatered tree in a model living room.

The Dec. 9 event was aimed toward raising awareness about proper care for live trees. Before the dry tree went up in flames, officials from the town’s Division of Fire Prevention failed to set a properly watered Christmas tree on fire.

The dry, fiery tree caused damage to the model living room, referred to as a “burn pod.”

“This was a frightening, first-hand look at what could happen if Christmas trees are not sufficiently watered,” Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a statement. “I urge everyone to make sure when purchasing a fresh Christmas tree to keep it properly watered to prevent a fire like we witnessed today.”

Christmas tree lights and Hanukkah candelabra called menorahs can also create fire safety issues. Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) warned residents to “inspect your lights for frayed wires or broken bulbs.”

Christmas trees caused 210 house fires across the country annually between 2009 and 2013, although almost a quarter of those fires were intentional, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Another more than 750 unintentional fires per year were caused by other holiday decorations. The fires result in injury, death and property damage.

“It took only seconds for this fire to develop and consume the burn pod and cause severe damage,” Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point) said in a statement.

The National Fire Protection Association has advised people to place trees at least 3 feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, radiators, vents or lights, and to make sure it does not block any exits. It is recommended that 1 to 2 inches is cut from the trunk’s base before the tree is set into its stand, the association said, and trees should be watered daily.

For more information, visit the National Fire Protection Association at www.nfpa.org.

Tours of decorated mansion held through Dec. 30

From left, Karen Mills-Lynch, Phyllis Kelly and Mary DiFronzo of the Three Village Garden Club trim the tree in the Vanderbilt Mansion library. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

Interior designers and garden clubs deck the halls of the Vanderbilt Mansion in Centerport each year, and hundreds of visitors see the delightful results beginning the day after Thanksgiving.

The 24-room Spanish Revival house — listed on the National Register of Historic Places — is enhanced with garland, holly, 10 elegantly ornamented trees, poinsettias, brightly wrapped packages, greens and pine cones from the Vanderbilt estate and an enchanting atmosphere of early- and mid-twentieth century holiday cheer.

Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the museum, said, “We’re grateful to these imaginative decorators, who generously donate their time and talent to create an atmosphere of charming holiday grandeur and sophisticated living. They bring magic to this historic house.”

Participating this year were the Dix Hills, Centerport, Honey Hills, Nathan Hale and Three Village garden clubs; Harbor Homestead & Co. Design; and the master gardeners of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension. All have participated in the project for many years.

Artists and garden specialists from the Three Village Garden Club (representing Old Field, Setauket and Stony Brook) decorated the spacious, paneled Vanderbilt library and its tree. Beneath the tree are faux gifts wrapped with bright papers, foils and ribbons. Ornate, two-foot, stylized silver trees adorn the fireplace.

“We trimmed the tree with gold and copper ornament balls and with strands of clear, multi-faceted stones to reflect the light from the small white bulbs,” said Joann Canino of the Three Village Garden Club. “The white poinsettias used as ornaments suggest doves, a symbol of peace. We also placed white poinsettias with silver bows on the mantel of the library’s large fireplace.

“The Vanderbilt Mansion is an architectural celebration. It’s one of those grand houses that has a warm, family feeling. Our club is pleased to be part of dressing it up for the holidays. It’s great fun.”

Mary Schlotter and daughter Krishtia McCord, both of Centerport, decorated the bedroom of William K. Vanderbilt II, and the Moroccan Court next to the Vanderbilt library. They operate the Harbor Homestead & Co. design firm.

For the past several years, Schlotter also has been among the designers invited to decorate The White House for the holidays, the Fourth of July and Halloween.

“Mr. Vanderbilt loved peacocks and had them on the estate,” Schlotter said. “The bedroom color scheme is inspired by the colors in peacock feathers — deep teal, cobalt blue, apple green, plum and gold. We wanted it to look like a sophisticated man’s room,” Schlotter said.

Schlotter and McCord added wreaths of teal-blue feathers to the top of the French doors that open onto the bedroom porch with a view of Northport Bay. “Acorns are a feature of the Vanderbilt family crest, and we used acorn ornaments with the greenery that decorates the fireplace mantel. Ivy vines sprayed with gold paint and woven through the garland trim the doorways.”

In the Moroccan Court, with its rare Spanish and Portuguese tiles, they decorated the built-in tiled bench with throw pillows. The colors of the pillows match those in the antique tiles, each of which is a miniature folk painting. Decorations include a café setting with a small round table and two chairs; a basket of fruits and nuts; silver candles in ornate, antique bronze candlesticks; up-lighted palm trees; a candle-lit silver lantern next to the small fountain set into the floor; and gauzy, transparent fabric hung in front of the tall, arched windows.

Christine Lagana and her friends from the Dix Hills Garden Club decorated the Portuguese Sitting Room. “The tone was set by the deep blue in the rug and the sculpture of a knight on horseback, which has the same colors as the rug,” Lagana said, “and by the medieval theme of the 1494 fireplace surround, which features carved faces of crusaders.

“We added gold ribbon and pine cones to the garland, and small turquoise and cobalt ornament balls on the tree. One group of large ornaments displays a replica of the Vanderbilt family crest inside clear-glass globes.” Acorn-shaped ornaments echo the acorns in the family crest, which is painted on the fireplace hood in the dining room.”

Guided tours of the decorated mansion will be held through Dec. 30. During the day, tours are given Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday (including Dec. 28 and 30) at 12:30, 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. Visitors pay the general admission fee plus $5 per person for a tour.

The popular Twilight Tours of the mansion will be given Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 26 and 27, from 7 to 9 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for students and seniors (62 and older) and $5 for children 12 and under. Hot chocolate and cookies are included. This event is a treat for visitors, and the only time of the year the Vanderbilt family’s private living quarters can be seen at night.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Mansion is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

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A mimosa tree in bloom. The flowers will soon be followed by seed pods. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Last week’s article focused on a late summer flowering tree, Styphnolobium japonica, the Japanese pagoda, which is a member of the pea family. Another tree that blooms in mid-August is the mimosa (Albizia julibrissin), which has fragrant pink (some varieties are orange) fluffy flowers. Mimosas are also in the pea family, but the flowers are very different from the Japanese pagoda tree.

The problem with this tree is that it is very prone to a fungal disease. Somewhere in the 1960s or ’70s many gardeners planted the quick growing and beautiful tree. Then the disease struck, killing thousands of trees on Long Island.

The flower of the mimosa tree. Stock photo
The flower of the mimosa tree. Stock photo

The mimosa, also known as the silk tree, is prone to the fusarium wilt. It is spread by contaminated soil, the pathogen being taken up by the tree roots, which means that if you have a mimosa that died as a result of this disease, don’t plant another one in the same area. I lost three massive mimosas to this disease way back when. This is a reseeder, so many new little trees would sprout, but then in a few years die. So I began pulling out the seedlings before they became established.

Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories notes that once a tree is infected there is no cure. When removing a dead mimosa, do not chip the wood and use it as a mulch because you would then be spreading the disease. There are several disease-resistant (not immune) cultivars, ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Tryon.’

In  addition to the sweetly scented flowers, the tree produces a light shade, even as a mature specimen, so it is a great tree to add to your garden. Just remember to get one of the disease-resistant cultivars.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to [email protected] reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.