By Sheila Kanotz
There’s a graceful weeping willow near Crow Creek.
Or, at least, there was.
Crow Creek runs through Philbrook’s grounds, and is the “brook” that inspired Waite Phillips to name his estate Philbrook. The creek provides a habitat for much of Philbrook’s wildlife. It’s an animal highway, easing their movement up- and downstream from the Arkansas River.
One such animal is a beaver. Some of the largest living rodents, beavers primarily eat and build, and mainly during the night. They weigh up to 60 pounds and measure 2 ½ to 4 ½ feet long. Every so often, our beaver makes its way out of the creek and into our gardens.
In 2014, the beaver cut down our graceful weeping willow. Beavers cut down trees for all sorts of reasons: to sharpen their teeth, for food, and to provide building materials for their dams and lodges. Since it didn’t take much of the tree with it, we presume it was sharpening its teeth.
We were not thrilled. We protected the willow with wire to prevent the beaver’s access, and the willow sprouted new limbs and quickly grew back into a full-sized tree. Fortunately the willow is a quick grower, and it soon grew even larger than it had been before the beaver attack.
Fast forward to 2018, and we had an emergency in the Gardens. The beaver had once again entered the grounds, and was munching on our precious Japanese maple, next to the Reflecting Pool. While the willow was quick to rebound, the Japanese maple would not be.
We made the tough decision to protect the maple and remove the wire from the willow, offering it up as a sacrificial lamb to the beaver’s teeth. Willow is an irresistible tree species to a beaver. We also reduced the creek’s silt deposits to make it more difficult for the beaver to gain access to the Japanese maple. It worked, and the beaver left the garden altogether. We left the wire off the willow, just in case.
In late February of this year, the Horticulture staff arrived to find the willow on the ground.
Our beaver had struck again.
What remained was a wide, sharp wooden stake; you could use it to kill a vampire, I suppose. To add insult to injury, the beaver didn’t even use the tree to build anything and simply left it to sit. Maybe it was just sharpening its teeth again.
Horticulture took several stem tip cuttings of the willow. Willow roots easily, due to the naturally occurring plant hormones — salicylic acid and indolebutyric acid — found inside them. (Willow stems can actually be boiled to make a solution to help other plants root.) We planted three of the rooted cuttings on the berm near the original willow and left the tree stump in the ground.
Soon, the willow began to sprout new limbs: spindly growth emerging from the stump’s base. At the moment we’re assessing it to see if one limb can be trained as the new central leader (or, trunk) for the tree. If none of them will work, we’ll probably just let it grow as more of a shrub. Beavers, I’ve heard, like a little variety in their diet.