Trees help us in ways most people are blissfully unaware of, which is really quite a shocking revelation given all the current hype about climate change, carbon footprints, etc. Most people probably don't know that 1000 trees remove 100 tons of CO2 per year, or that a single mature tree can release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support two human beings. That's to say nothing of their biodiversity or aesthetic value. Where would we be without the humble tree? Yet the tree must be one of the most abused beings of the plant world.
Just this week my hometown was ravaged by unusually high (as in hurricane force) Santa Ana winds. My brother said he saw Toto, Dorothy's house, and the Wicked Witch hurl past the window, and I don't doubt it. Seeing the destruction caused by downed trees in photos on the news was surreal, but I can't help but wonder if many of those trees would still be standing had they been properly cared for? Many of the victims were street trees and I'd wager ill-advised choice of species and method of planting had a lot to do with it. Check it out:
All three images are of the same unfortunate van under the same unfortunate tree. Notice the roots (what roots?). My point exactly! The AP caption said the tree is a Eucalyptus, and while many species of Eucs have a narrow profile, the roots of a healthy specimen should extend will beyond the drip line. While Eucalyptus roots can venture deep in sandy soil, which much of LA has, they are commonly planted as So Cal street trees because of their "drought tolerance" and not given much water, so their roots stay shallow instead of burrowing deep. No wonder they toppled. Here, the roots have been pigeonholed into the space between the sidewalk and street, and actually look as if one whole side of the root ball has been shorn to make way for the paving.
This one tells the same story and I wonder which came first, the tree or the retaining wall? I once had a Botany instructor who told of watching his neighbors across the street plant a Redwood, a Deodar cedar, and a Coast Live Oak - successively, and in spite of his warnings - not three feet from their front door then wonder why each failed to perform to their expectations. They apparently claimed they didn't know that these trees could get so big. And who's to blame for that? I lived in a part of LA with The Arboretum, Huntington Botanical Gardens, and Descanso Gardens all within a 15 minute drive. One of my Landscape Architecture instructors advised us to take clients to any of the three when planning their landscapes so they could see how big a mature tree gets. Most urban dwellers assume, because the Mow & Blow lop them into lollies, that trees are shaped like a child's drawing. The biology of the tree is rarely considered in suburbia, hence the chaos and destruction after 100mph winds hit town
|Hugging the largest recorded white oak in PA|
I hope all my So Cal friends are faring well after the storm, and have suffered no damage to home or person as a result of our fallen flora. And I hope that the city planners will see this as an opportunity to engage in a new tree planting movement throughout the state, with the right tree in the right place. My experience tells me that while CA is ahead of the game with emissions requirements, hydrogen powered vehicles, etc., it's sadly behind the times with its tree care practices. Sometimes to move forward, you have to go back, and I would like to see more attention given to educating the next generation about the physiology of the plant world, which would surely go as far as technology in arresting the global climate catastrophe. After all, this isn't a new issue. It's been in the social conscious for quite a while now...
So there. Now, go hug a tree!
(photos of LA tree damage from AP news service)
Edited to note: I was Googling images of the wind damage closer to where I lived near Pasadena and saw many photos of downed trees posted to blogs penned (typed?) by locals. One such showed a recumbant Ficus across Green Street (looked like Green St. anyway, and I think there are / were Ficus trees lining the street). What the poor tree lacked in roots was more than amply compensated for in the dense canopy, which no doubt contributed to its blustery demise. The thing that really caught my attention was the blog author's assertion that the tree was a Eucalyptus when it was, most assuredly, a Ficus. Which goes to prove my point: suddenly everyone is a tree expert. Without knowledge or training in botany or the physiology of plants, one can confidently point at a Ficus and proclaim it something else. And many would believe it.
Imagine if I tried to pass my tree ident exams that way! Why, I could channel Magritte and declare, "C'est ne pas une arbre".