Woman hit by branch in Wash. Sq. recovering

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A Virginia tourist who was critically injured by a falling tree branch in Washington Square Park last week is doing better. However, the fungus identified as the accident’s cause has been associated with “branch drop.”

Penny Chang, 55, of Charlottesville, was sitting on a bench on the park’s west side around 7:40 p.m. on Mon., May 20, when a reportedly 30-t0-35-foot-long branch from a London plane tree fell and struck her. Her skull and spine were fractured, according to the Daily News.

“She is doing better. Her injuries are quite serious, but the doctors are more optimistic now,” her son, Jacob, told the News on May 22.

Penny Chang was critically injured by a falling branch from a fungus-infected tree in Washington Square Park. (Courtesy Penny Chang/Facebook)

Chang was said to be in stable condition at Bellevue Hospital’s intensive-care unit last week.

Crystal Howard, the Parks Department’s assistant commissioner for communications, told this paper that the 35-inch-diameter tree was last inspected in July 2017 and its last pruning was in August 2017.

“Our preliminary inspection indicated that the tree showed signs of having Massaria, a fungus,” she said. “Additional review of the tree and surrounding trees found no immediate hazard.”

Massaria is most often found in London plane trees. Stress, usually due to lack of water availability, is tied to incidence of Massaria.

Wikipedia notes that Massaria disease “has usually been considered to be a weak parasite causing only minor damage, such as twig dieback in warmer Mediterranean climates. However, in the 21st Century it has been found associated with branch death and rapid decay within other parts of Europe, most notably Germany and Austria, the Netherlands and parts of France. Damage caused by this fungus has been reported in the southern United States. The first formal identification of the disease in the United Kingdom came in March 2011. … The disease causes large lesions on the upper sides of branches associated with branch drop.”

Similarly, Forest Research, the United Kingdom’s main forestry and tree-related research organization, notes that Massaria disease in plane trees can cause branch drop.

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