George Field oak tree Cornell photo

One of the five hybridized white swamp oak trees planted in George Field Park in Greenacres.

The Urban Horticulture Institute of Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science had too many saplings — around 250 to be exact. The saplings were getting too big and Dr. Nina Bassuk, a research professor at the university who specializes in urban trees, wanted to find them a new home.

She began to send out notices to municipalities across New York State, trying to see if they’d be interested in taking five saplings each so she and her students could analyze and track their long-term growth in the wild.

Thanks to Friends of Scarsdale Parks president emerita Madelaine Eppenstein, Scarsdale became one of the more than 60 municipalities and communities that replied to Bassuk’s call, and on April 29 Eppenstein and workers from the Scarsdale Department of Public Works planted five of the saplings in George Field Park along Post Road.

Eppenstein found out about the program online and saw an opportunity to present it to the village. After reserving five saplings with the university and getting the go-ahead from the village, Friends of Scarsdale Parks bought the saplings for $50 each and donated them to the village.

“Oak trees are probably one of the most important trees you can plant because of the myriad of environmental services they provide,” said Eppenstein who currently serves as an officer for Friends of Scarsdale Parks. “Not just in terms of food for wildlife … but also the trees are a host to any number of caterpillars and other wildlife.”

But these are not your ordinary oak saplings. The five saplings planted in George Field Park are hybridized, meaning they are crossed with other tree species in order to withstand difficult climates. The five white swamp oak saplings from the university were chosen at random. The hybrids include chinkapin oak, Asian bamboo leaf, English oak, Mexican red oak, and one with an unknown genotype.

“You can’t be sure what you’re going to get when you do this hybridization,” said Bassuk who also sits on the board of the New York State Urban Forestry Council. “There’s no guarantee the trees that were planted in Scarsdale will be the best, but it’s all part of a long-term evaluation.”

Bassuk and her students plan to study the saplings across the state to see how they tolerate difficult soil conditions, their resistance to oak-specific diseases and if they can withstand wide swings in temperatures.

“We hope to be able to evaluate [the saplings] in these real-life settings instead of in a lab,” Bassuk said.

In cooperation with the village arborist and with the information provided by Cornell, the Department of Public Works currently cares for the saplings, adding water to the gator bags placed around each tree.

Superintendent of Public Works Jeff Coleman said the department has been monitoring the project closely, particularly with the extraordinary amount of rain this spring.

“George Field Park is really a gem,” said Greenacres neighborhood association president Andrew Sereysky. “Anything that the Friends of Scarsdale Parks can do to take care of it and help support it and make it beautiful for the Greenacres residents is really appreciated.”

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