The lilacs at the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion are the oldest in the United States. Royal Governor Benning Wentworth had the flowers planted around his home in Little Harbor as early as 1750. The flowers, which once surrounded the Mansion in large, healthy bushes, were assiduously cared for by later owners of the site.
Over the last two decades, these plants have become infected with Armillaria or honey fungus. This highly destructive parasite causes root rot and eventually kills the infected plants. Unfortunately, there is no cure. The infected lilacs must be removed from the property and destroyed.
The Wentworth-Coolidge Commission is working to halt this destructive fungus and to restore the heirloom lilacs around the Mansion. The Commission has developed a three-phase plan in consultation with experts:
1. Eradicate Armillaria from the Grounds. Throughout the summer of 2010, infected plants and roots were removed from the grounds to halt the spread of the fungus. Organic fertilizer was applied to all beds and the process of removing contaminated soil was begun. Infected beds will be allowed to lie fallow for several years to ensure that the fungus is completely removed from the grounds.
2. Create Lilac Nursery. Small lilac beds will be placed in a raised-bed nursery with uncontaminated soil. These young lilacs will be carefully watered, fertilized, and cultivated.
3. Plant New Lilacs. When large enough, nursery plants will be transplanted to beds of healthy soil. Over time, these will grow into the hearty shrubs that once graced the Mansion.