By Director of
Land Stewardship
Jean Wiedenheft


It is impolite to ask a lady her age. It is impossible to ask a tree her age. But as these old, ancient ladies with their lacy leaves have finally fallen, I have been able to ask some of them. In death, they can share with me what they could not share in life.

The 9″ diameter Ohio buckeye: 32 years old

The 28″ diameter honey locust: 56 years old

The 24″ diameter white oak: 124 years old

The 36″ diameter cottonwood: 47 years old

The soil conditions, available sunlight, precipitation, and even genetics contribute to how big a tree gets. Some species simply get bigger faster than others. It is not a good thing or a bad thing. It makes it a very challenging thing, when people ask me how old a living tree is. An oak is probably older than you think. A cottonwood is probably younger than you think. Many of the massive trees brought down in the derecho were hollow inside, so we will never know. The massive sycamores and black walnuts growing along Indian Creek predate when the area was logged. So old.

Since August 10th, I have sawn on trees that I planted. I have sawn on trees that I loved for more than 20 years. I have sawn on trees that were growing before women had the right to vote. I have sawn on trees that were growing before Iowa was a state.

I have touched trees that are still in the agony of dying, and I did not have the strength to give them a quick and merciful death by chainsaw. I have cried over and over again.

Trees are strong. Some of the trees I plant today will still be strong 100 years hence. Some I will cut down. Some others will cut down. Some will fall under the pressure from the termites, the buck rubs, the lightening and the wind. Some will remain. The massive old trees we grieve for today were young, once. Someone loved them and gave them space to grow. Nurturing our young trees and creating protected spaces for them to grow is the best thing we can do to honor the trees that have fallen and pay homage to the forest we love.

derecho, nature, recovery, resilience, Trees
Previous Post
Feeding tips for our feathered friends
Next Post
Introducing Creekside Forest School, a new nature-based preschool at ICNC

Related Posts

2 Comments. Leave new

  • Karla McGrail
    January 7, 2021 2:24 AM

    This is beautiful, Jean. Thank-you. Just when I thought I was done shedding tears over derecho’d trees…

  • Joyce Fleming
    January 7, 2021 12:11 PM

    Congratulations on your recent appointment. Well chosen on the city’s part.
    I, too, have had times I just had to sob. The week of I was just in shock that wore off slowly. Now even the reflection of sooo much more light in my night time windows makes me cry. So many old friends gone.
    Luckily I know someone who brings orphans and unsellables home from work. The evergreens especially help make it feel like healing.
    The nursery took a big hit. Lots of trees tipped, some could be untipped. One on the roofs was half torn off. Thks to insurance and a huge increase in sells we’ll be ok.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.