- Written by Administrator
- Published: 28 March 2012
(Berrybrook Oak: The magnificent Berrybrook Oak stands alone on the field. Buttkus estimates it’s about a century old.)
Where some may see simply a tree, Peter Buttkus notices its shape, he looks to see if mushrooms are growing along roots, he checks for signs of decay and the overall integrity of the structure. He can also distinguish a red oak from a white from an English.
While most of Duxbury knows Peter Buttkus as the director of Public Works, few know he’s also a nationally and internationally licensed arborist. Asked why he has such an affinity for trees, Buttkus said he’s always been invested in the outdoors and fascinated by the intricacy of plants. He said trees have an especially symbiotic relationship with their environments.
“They help cool us in the summer, and warm us in the winter by cutting the wind, they provide oxygen and prevent soil erosion,” said Buttkus. “And they’re damn pretty.” Few communities value their relationships with trees so well as Duxbury. Not only is there a plethora of mature growth all over town, it is cared for and valued by the town. As a profusion of delicate buds exploded around Duxbury during this early spring, Buttkus showed off some of Duxbury’s more prestigious trees.
“There’s nothing unusual about most of the natural species here (in Duxbury),” said Buttkus. “It’s when you get to the size that’s when you recognize there’s something special about them.”
A tree familiar to many residents is the lone black oak that stands in the middle of Berrybrook Conservation. The field is bordered by white oak and pine, cedar too, but it’s the striking black oak that draws the eye. It’s perfectly shaped and over the past century has grown to massive proportions. It’s a tree Buttkus has cared for well over the years with the help of a local landscaper. Though his department couldn’t get the crane out to prune it this winter – the ground never hardened enough to support the truck – he’ll soon send his men out in harnesses to trim dead and dying branches. But why all the fuss?
“A lot of people have their trees pruned,” said Buttkus, pointing out a dead limb on the lower left side of the black oak. “You prune to protect the tree, to prevent storm damage and structural damage.”
Designated as a Tree City by the Arbor Day Foundation, a status Buttkus must apply for each year by meeting certain criteria, Duxbury takes pride in its trees. Buttkus said there are 110 miles of road in Duxbury and most of it’s tree-lined. As the man charged with taking care of the roads and the trees, he’s doubly careful that the trees are healthy so as not to cause obstructions on the roadways. His careful maintenance of the town’s woods helps the overall economy, too.
Said Buttkus, “A house that has mature trees and plenty of them surrounding it increases its real estate value anywhere from seven to 20 percent.”
At the Town Green, just past Hall’s Corner, lies Buttkus’s favorite – both the species and the actual tree. Planted in his honor when he was named Massachusetts Tree Warden of the Year in 2010, the sapling is an American Beech which will eventually grow to epic proportions.
“When mature, because of the structure of them, they have massive trunks and the limbs grow horizontally,” said Buttkus while checking a twig on the sapling’s branch for a bud. “They have a great shape and naturally deter insects. Not a lot bothers them.”
Back in his DPW truck, Buttkus drives along Powder Point, noting the magnificent stand of English Oaks lining the way. “Within Duxbury, English Oaks are found only on Powder Point,” said Buttkus, pointing to the extensive canopy overhead. “I think they’re here because of the shipbuilding.”
One of his many responsibilities is to be vigilant for signs of bug infestation that could harm trees. While other parts of the state have been bothered by the Asian long-horned beetle, Duxbury has had problems with gypsy moths, canker worms and winter moths. Recalling the dreaded Dutch Elm disease that wiped out much of the country’s elm trees during the fifties and sixties, Buttkus often checks on an enormous lone elm on Powder Point Avenue to ensure its health.
Perhaps one of the most familiar trees in town is the red oak at Ellison Playground. Centered among colorful swing sets and slides, and a well-used jungle gym, it adds a lushness and sense of the natural world to the environment. Nearly 150 years old – an estimate Buttkus said, because the only way to be certain is to count the rings – many other communities would have cut it down to make way for the park, but not Duxbury and not Buttkus
“We designed the playground around it because the tree provides a tremendous amount of shade for the kids,” said Buttkus as children played all around it. “We took great care to fertilize it and care for it during construction.”
A recent land acquisition made with Community Preservation Funds and managed by Conservation Administrator Joe Grady is Jay Cox Farm. There, Christmas conifers are farmed and an adjacent area was cleared in anticipation of yet more. It’s an idyllic setting, attracting Red-tailed hawks that soar overhead and deer that nibble at the greenery.
Buttkus doesn’t care for only existing trees, however. As Duxbury’s tree warden, he along with Conservation Administrator Joe Grady constantly seek new sites to plant trees. Their most recent project was the transformation last fall of Crowell Bogs from a dilapidated lot into a pristine vista where Buttkus, with the cooperation of Grady, the highway department, and a donation from NStar, planted a variety of greenery. Mindful of the low-hanging power lines and the existing environment, Buttkus said they had to select both the trees and their locations carefully so as not to interfere with the pre-existing environment. Where once were abandoned cars and discarded trash, are now tupelo, crab apple, bayberry and viburnum. Now Crowell Conservation stands as a beautiful entryway to Duxbury just past the roundabout.
“Trees are a valuable resource that need to be protected and managed,” said Buttkus. “The town’s trees help to make Duxbury Duxbury.”