115-year-old cottonwood cut down — and found unexpectedly healthy

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All that’s left of LeBreton’s biggest tree is a stump. But what a stump.

The cutting of the 110-foot-tall cottonwood on Rochester Street, estimated at 115 years old, began Tuesday. And by Wednesday morning all that was left was the enormous base, and a single massive branch rising from it where there used to be four or five others just like it.

The chainsaw was working intermittently, as it took time to lower the enormous sections of the branches down to a waiting truck.

Where the main branches had been cut off, level with second-storey windows of nearby homes, flat areas close to a metre wide gave the workers ample space to stand.

Manotick Tree Movers have been taking away the wood as it is cut, so there wasn’t much to see at the site itself.

But as they worked their way down toward ground level, they hit an obstacle. The tree was in unexpectedly good health

Lynn Griffiths, who owns most of the tree, said the change in her view is stark: her home is much brighter with no shade from the southeast.

“It’s an incredibly ugly view because my view now is a parking garage and a hydro pole with a gazillion wires on it. I used to be able to look out my window and see this beautiful tree.”

Her garden plants were all types that tolerate shade, she said. That will have to change.

“It’s going to be very hot in my backyard. My whole ecosystem will change.”

But there were a couple of happy moments. “Somebody brought me sunflower seeds and said: When your tree is gone, plant these.”

As well, the Rochester Street cottonwood will live on in other homes. Some of the neighbours expect to create a few ornamental pieces out of the tree, but most of it has already been shipped off.

One neighbour took shoots that it sent up and is going to transplant them to a cottage.

This is a good plan, local environmental consultant Dan Brunton notes in an email: “If the soil is kept wet (as in a shoreline) they should sprout really well. Bundles of willow wands (cottonwood and poplar are willow) are used in this manner to slow stream flow, protect against erosion, etc.”

But he cautions that the choice of site is important. Since the sprouts come from Ottawa’s limestone-based soil, “planting these wands into really acidic substrate up on the Shield probably wouldn’t work as well, if at all.”

At the end of the day, the Rochester Street giant had one final surprise. Despite its great age, the final cut showed nothing but healthy wood, right through to its core.