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Storm causes damage at UC Botanical Gardens

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MARCH 24, 2023

The recent Berkeley storms have caused extensive damage at the UC Botanical Gardens.

According to Andrew Doran, the garden’s director of collections, much of the damage occurred on Tuesday, when a wind advisory was issued for campus and the East Bay. According to an announcement the garden sent on Friday, they are working with horticulturalists, arborists and campus tree crews to assess damage to remaining exhibits.

Doran added that the damaged plants include some of the garden’s most treasured inclusions, such as the imposing coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, and the California buckeye, Aesculus californica, both of which are older than the garden itself.

“Some of us heard what we thought was the thump of a tree coming down,” Doran said. “I went out to have a look and the wind was so extreme that my umbrella turned inside out, hat blew off, and it was no time to find out anything.”

The redwood exists in three portions, called leaders; one of these completely broke off and one had its tops blown off, Doran said. This leader landed relatively far away and damaged another exhibit — the California buckeye – which was destroyed beyond restoration and lost in its entirety. He noted that the redwood’s path of destruction also included several plants from the Asian plant exhibit of the garden.

Doran said the garden’s buckeye bears a strong resemblance to the buckeye on campus’s Faculty Glade, which was planted in 1882. He noted that the garden’s buckeye was likely planted around the same time.

“Both of these trees were California natives, but they were grandfathered into the Asian section in the 1920s and 1940s,” Doran said. “That means they must’ve been pretty big back then, because we only have Asian plants in that section.”

Grandfathering means that when the garden was created, these native Californian plants were allowed to remain in the Asian section despite not being from Asia, according to Doran.

Doran added that 57 damaged plant species have been discovered so far, of which four are endangered or rare in the wild, almost all from the Asian section. These include a mixture of trees and shrubs and many plants, such as herbaceous perennials, will likely survive.

The announcement noted that other damaged exhibits include spruces from Mexico/Central America, the Parana pine from South America, red ash and Durikai mallee from Queensland, Australia and gum-leaf cone bush from Southern Africa.

Doran also discussed a lack of damage at the garden’s redwood grove.

“That’s actually where we would have expected to have a lot of storm damage and we didn’t, so that’s testament to how weird the storm was,” Doran said. “The winds were coming from a different direction than normal and so we sustained damage in areas we’ve not really experienced damage in before.”

Doran said the redwood remains a safety risk in high winds because of the possibility of branches falling and because of cracks that may have formed that are not currently visible. This could cause the third leader to fall. Doran noted that individual branches were themselves the size of large trees and could cause extensive damage if they fall.

Some exhibits can be repaired or secured with ropes and ties. Because of the size of the sequoia and the extent of the storm damage, it is not possible to save it and it will have to be cut down and removed from the garden, according to Doran.

“We’ve been thinking of uses of the tree that we could use here in the garden,” Doran said. “There’s a new Asian pavilion planned, and it would be really fitting that it was made out of the wood from this tree.”

Doran said other possible uses of the tree’s wood include benches and replacing redwood furniture in the garden’s conference center. However, he noted that the cost of removing and milling the redwood would be “enormous,” and could be tens of thousands of dollars. Additionally, moving the felled tree through the garden without destroying all the exhibits in its path poses a further challenge.

Doran said the garden had other sequoias and a second buckeye, likely of a similar age, that had suffered no damage.

“What it has done is made us rethink that whole area for replanting of Asian plants, which begs the question ‘were they right to keep them all those years ago, 100 years go?” Doran said. “I’m saying yes. Everything dies.”

According to Doran, the garden held a vigil for the lost trees Friday night.

He added that some of the remaining damaged plants may be recovered with pruning or propagation, but others may be lost entirely. Doran said that plants are easier to transplant during winter dormancy, but that many are starting to break bud and enter their growth phase; as such, the window of opportunity to move and take cuttings from these plants is quickly closing.

“What sets us apart from a lot of other botanic gardens is that our collections all have known wild provenance with them,” Doran said. “We know exactly where we got them from, when we go them and who collected them, so it really is a unique genetic resource.”

Doran noted that the garden takes preemptive measures to protect plants from storm damage, such as by removing top-heavy limbs from trees. This was done to a Mexican Oak recently. However, he added that it was difficult to do this for trees as large as the coast redwoods.

Access to several sections of the Asian area will be restricted until damage can be properly assessed so as to minimize further destruction.

“Why the sequoia failed was a combination of huge amounts of water in the canopy adding to a top-heavy effect, the wind and then coupled with the fact it had these codominant stems that were an inherent weakness,” Doran said.

The email announcement notes that no staff were hurt in the storm and that some exhibits are flourishing, such as the Southern Africa Area that is expected to enter a period of super bloom.

Check back for updates.

Contact Ratul Mangal at 


MARCH 26, 2023