About five years ago, I stepped through the Arnold Arboretum’s South Street gate and saw three magnificent beech trees covered in a dusting of snow. I decided I would photograph these beauties in every season.

I visited my magnificent friends whenever I could, noting the copper-colored leaves that hung on long after the snow fell and the way the roots under the snow looked like gigantic, prehistoric toes. Sitting under the boughs of a parasol (Tortuosa) or weeping beech (Pendula), cultivars of the classic European beech, is like looking up at the stars. You’ll soon find yourself on your back, just gazing.

A year or so into my project, I showed up one day to find only two of my beeches — the third had been turned into a pile of logs. I was disheartened.

As it turned out, many of the trees in the Arboretum’s extensive holdings of European, Asian, and American beeches had been suffering from beech bark disease, an insect-vectored fungal illness that threatened the Arnold Arboretum’s nationally accredited collection of some 130 specimens. The disease was exacerbated by drought. In 2018, Arboretum horticulturists removed a number of trees in severe decline, and pruned heavily infected stems from many others in an effort to mitigate damage from the disease.

Since a healthier environment boosts the outlook for infected trees, they improved the area’s soils by adding native herbaceous perennial plants to the understory. Some of Beech Path is cordoned off to encourage the growth of this ground cover, and prevent soil compaction. On a winter morning, peering over the rope, you’ll see that while a few beech trees are recovering, many seem to have never felt the disturbance at all. Some, in fact, are entering their third century on this special hill.

The Pendula, a European Beech Tree, is part of Beech Tree collection on Beech Path in the Arnold Arboretum.

Looking skyward at the mighty boughs of F. Pendula on the back of Bussey Hill.

The Beech Tree collection on Beech Path in the Arnold Arboretum.

The Beech Tree collection on Beech Path in the Arnold Arboretum.

Early morning light illuminates a disease-scarred beech (left) that shares space with two healthier counterparts.

Close up textures of the bark of the Beech Tree collection on Beech Path in the Arnold Arboretum.

The bark of the beech forms varying patterns, and is either brown or, more frequently, silvery gray, like these three.

Carving on Beech trees could be fatal because it allows pests to be able to permeate the bark. The Pendula, a European Beech Tree is part of Beech Tree collection on Beech Path in the Arnold Arboretum.

Carvings on a beech may seem romantic but sadly could prove fatal in the long run. Pests can permeate the wounded bark.

The 1886 Beech Tree on the left is from Woking, England and is part of the collection on Beech Path in the Arnold Arboretum.

A visitor leaves Beech Path near an 1886 specimen (left) from Woking, England.