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The giant eucalyptus tree near King Pool that needs to be cut down. Photo: Nancy Rubin

A giant eucalyptus tree that presides over the swimming pool at King Middle School needs to be felled due to safety concerns, according to City of Berkeley tree experts.

The tree, which sports not one, but four massive trunks, and soars to an estimated 140 feet, is much loved by regulars at the pool, and news that it will be removed has come as a blow to many.

“There’s no outrage in this story, just sadness and admiration for a truly majestic tree that has reached its end,” said local resident Robert Collier.

Swimmers at the King Pool have enjoyed looking at the tree over the years. Photo: Nancy Rubin
Swimmers at the King Pool have enjoyed looking at the tree over the years. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Donna Mickleson, who attends a water exercise class for seniors three times a week at the pool for seven months of the year, is one of those who is very sorry to see the impressive tree go.

“We are upright, rather than having our faces in the water, so we view (and in many cases marvel) at the tree and its neighbor grove for an hour, watching its four massive trunks and delicate swaying canopy while we move our bodies to music,” she told Berkeleyside. “Most of our group prefers the five months we are at West Campus pool: the beauty of the eucalyptus has been one of the compensations of being at King. We will sorely miss it.”

Mickleson wrote to Dan Gallagher, the City of Berkeley’s Senior Forestry Supervisor, to find out whether the tree could be saved.

Gallagher told her there is a serious wood fungus in the center of the tree where the four trunks join that is causing the tree to decay.

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A fungus inside the tree is the reason it needs to removed as soon as possible. Photo: Nancy Rubin

In an email dated Jan. 27, Gallagher wrote: “The Eucalyptus globulus (blue gum) tree growing in the driveway, near the entrance to the King Pool … is extremely large,” he wrote. “Although that characteristic adds to its charm, older and larger trees have an increased likelihood of failure and the possibility of shedding branches. In this case, a large cavity exists in the main trunk where the four primary stems originate. This cavity extends downward for at least four feet and has filled with bark, leaf and fruit litter. The cavity is not readily visible from the ground, but a large fungal fruiting body on the exposed wound is.

“The fruiting body (conk) is from the wood decay organism Ganoderma applanatum,” Gallagher continued. “This is an important wood decay fungi. The conks indicate serious decay and their presence can be reason for immediate removal.”

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The tree, which is at the King Pool whose entrance is on Hopkins Street in North Berkeley, is an estimated 140 feet tall. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Gallagher went on to explain that when assessing a tree for risk, one consideration is the presence of a “target,” in this case people using the pool or surrounding area who could be injured or killed in the event of a “failure.”

The letter concludes: “The combination of the tree’s structural weakness, the potential consequences of a failure and the lack of appropriate risk mitigation measures that can be applied, allows only the removal of this tree as the option of last resort.” [Read the full text of Gallagher’s letter.]

Mickleson had the idea of asking Berkeleyside whether we could document the tree photographically before it is felled. As a result, contributing photographer Nancy Rubin spent several hours on two occasions taking the pictures you see here.

Rubin said she felt like an official tree-hugger after spending so much time with the grand eucalyptus.

“The few people I talked with were devastated to hear the tree will be removed,” she said.

Gallagher told Berkeleyside today the tree is one of the tallest public trees in the city. He said the date for its removal has not yet been decided.

A view of the giant tree looking up from its base. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Read more stories relating to Berkeley nature published on Berkeleyside.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...