Washington Square Linden Tree No More | Did “Half-Ass” Protection During Park Construction Kill the Linden Tree?

Updated 10:03 p.m.

Linden Tree No More
When the Linden Tree Once Flourished (2011)
April 2013
June 2013
The Tree’s Leaf-less Branches June 2013
Where the Linden Tree Once Was – June 29, 2013

Oh Linden tree, so sad to see you go.

When I first wrote about the Linden tree in Washington Square Park’s Eastern section in 2011, I discovered all kinds of amazing things about this tree.

Earlier this year or maybe even last fall, I started to notice the tree was declininghalf of its branches at the top of the tree were bearing no leaves.

Prior to the park being redesigned, lawsuits were filed for a number of issues but one in particular filed by attorney Joel Kupferman addressed the (anticipated) inevitable, inadequate tree protection by the Parks Department during construction. Arborists filed affidavits stating the park’s trees might not survive this improper treatment. This ‘warning’ was not heeded.

When it came to my attention last June that the 334 year old Hangman’s Elm at the park was “in jeopardy (NW corner of the park), I contacted arborist Ralph Padilla:

… [Padilla] said, “When the branches at the top of a tree die off, the problem is in the root area; a disturbance of the root zone. The root zone of this tree would be far reaching – possibly half way across the park.“

He continued, “Construction and trees almost never work out because the protection is so half ass. I didn’t see the protection they took but the right protection for this tree would be a chain link fence 30 feet out from the trunk.”

When I explained that the protection consisted of four rickety wood slats right around the trunk of the tree, he said “that’s a joke.”

This is what the “protection” around all the park’s trees during construction has looked like over the last four years, including the Hangman’s Elm:

Tree “protection” throughout five year park construction

Besides the tree’s flowers emitting an amazing sweet smell for a few weeks typically in June, here is some more background on the Linden tree:

Linden Trees (genusTilia) from Wikipedia:

On healing: The flowers are used for herbal tea and tinctures; this kind of use is particularly popular in Europe and also used in North American herbal medicine practices.

In Germanic mythology: Originally, local communities assembled not only to celebrate and dance under a Tilia tree, but to hold their judicial thing (governing assembly) meetings there in order to restore justice and peace.

It was believed that the tree would help unearth the truth.

Linden tree, we needed you at Washington Square.


Previously at WSP Blog:

June 17, 2013: Linden Tree (Still) Not Faring Well

April 26, 2013: Linden Tree’s Decline

June 12, 2012 & June 20, 2011: Washington Square Linden Tree in Full Bloom in Eastern Quadrant

Photos: Cathryn

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9 thoughts on “Washington Square Linden Tree No More | Did “Half-Ass” Protection During Park Construction Kill the Linden Tree?”

  1. Wow – that is (was) a major limb. Compartmentalization after the removal of that limb would be a long process. Certainly you would not remove such a large branch during the summer unless it was posing an immediate threat to park users.

  2. Hi Georgia,

    As you know, the entire tree came down. Do you think it could have been otherwise? I’m not familiar with ‘compartmentalization.’



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    with nuclear obliteration, and the spirit world as in the bible.

  4. Compartmentalization is the process whereby a tree limits decay caused by biological or mechanical injury.

    From your photo it looks likes half of the linden’s canopy was dead. Do you know the branches on that half died progressively? This could indicate several possible causes. I am not a diagnostic expert so can’t point to one cause. Will you contact the Parks Dept. for cause of removal?

  5. Hi Georgia,

    When I noticed that half of the Linden tree had no leaves, that half was all gone and remained that way for a fairly long time (I first noticed before the leaves fell in the fall of 2012). I probably have photos further back but they are trapped on another computer I think. I’ll search around a little.

    Maybe I will contact Parks Department… I hadn’t really thought of that. Also, whether they will replace… tho’ to get to the magnificent stature of that previous tree must have taken a good while.

    I’ll let you know.



  6. If you will recall, those Linden trees were originally planted in concrete containers surrounding the fountain. I was told by the park’s designer during the construction phase that they could not be removed from those containers, so they had to be left as they were. They simply buried the containers as they raised the grade of the park. Because the trees are root-bound in these containers, he guessed that they had ten years more to live–tops. They will all die soon because of they way they were originally planted in root-binding containers. It has nothing to do with the park’s construction.

  7. Hi Stephaun,

    There are actually two issues here. The Linden tree was near Garibaldi statue and that tree likely died from inadequate protection due to construction.

    The trees surrounding the fountain are Zelkova. I am not aware that they were planted directly into concrete containers – in fact, I’ve been there when the replacement trees have come in and they have not been in concrete containers. That being said, even if there was a ten year time limit – something that seems a bit outrageous after they’ve just chopped down 40 year old healthy trees – this was nowhere near that time frame, it was one or two years later the trees started dying. And no one would have wanted trees that were scheduled to die so soon — tho’ it wouldn’t surprise me if the designer would go for something like that.

    I don’t know what the designer was talking about but since I’ve seen more than one “replacement” tree, not in concrete containers, and now we are talking about the trees that circle the fountain (not Linden tree), the issue there is inadequate design of the tree pit (as the NBC piece goes into), roots too deep, improper drainage, not enough oxygen, probably a combination of things (and one of the latest ones I believe also is due to the eastern end construction), etc.

    Thanks for your comment.


  8. Cathryn: thank you for your response. I’m not referring to the Zelkova. I know they keep dying, and I don’t know what that’s about. It could be any or all of the conditions you mentioned. I’m referring to the trees that surrounded the fountain before the renovation. I did not mean that they arrived in concrete containers and were planted that way. The concrete walls were part of the construction and design of the old park. Maybe I’m wrong about the name of the trees, but I believe they are the same as the one you’re referring to that died near Garibaldi. There is a picture of one of those trees in the following link as they were before the renovation: surrounded by concrete walls that people would sit on and by which they would play their instruments. http://ontheinside.info/wp-content/authors/matt-white/washington-square-park03.jpg

    These are the ones that are root bound and doomed. These are the concrete walls I was referring to that now keep the roots contained. Ten years was an estimation, as I mentioned. The point was that because they are root- bound, they will not live out a full lifespan. They could die at any point. The concrete barriers (walls, containers…whatever you want to call them) you see in the above picture are now buried underground just as they were. Because of this, the trees are less noticeable than they were. They blend in with the surrounding trees. I do believe some of these trees are still standing, but don’t be surprised when they die prematurely. They will. I can’t speak to the condition of the other trees in the park, but with these trees, the issue is not due to construction.

    All the best,



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