Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Silver Trash

Giant ass! I tried walking away from this tree, like, five times, but it kept luring me back. First, of all it is just freakin’ enormous for an urban tree.*

Second, look at the damage it hath wrought to the sidewalk!

And to a not-so-nearby driveway.

You can actually see a root pushing up through the concrete. It reminds me of the way those creepazoid tripods erupted from the streets in War of the Worlds.

The longer I inspected the humongo tree, the more freaked out I got. Turns out the thing is infested with something, too. Insects (maybe bees, but maybe something else) were swarming in and out of a wound about 20 feet over my head. Unsettling--especially since I couldn’t really tell what the swarmy bugs were. They seemed to be on high alert, making exploratory nosedives in the direction of my head, so I decided to move away from the infested tree.

Only to run into one of its brethren sporting this huge burl. It looks like it's pregnant with another tree!

The whole reason I stopped to take a look at the tree is because it is a silver maple, otherwise known as the bane of my father’s existence. My dad has four of these planted in his yard and according to him, they are “the trashiest tree on the planet.”** He says this even though he planted every last one of them himself. ***

They have proved to be nothing but trouble. In spring, they release zillions of helicopters that clog the gutters, where they sometimes sprout. Their roots slither out from the base of the tree, far and wide--above and below ground. They’ve ruined many a game of croquet, as balls carom off the exposed roots instead of rolling through the hoop as planned. About every other year, their roots invade the house’s sewage system and my dad has to call in the rotorooter guy, but it it’s only a temporary fix. You’d think that getting their roots pulverized might slow their growth just a wee bit, but apparently not.

I, too, despise silver maples. They have very little to recommend them. In addition to the demerits listed above, they are a big zero in the fall color department. And there are entirely too many of them. During the post-World War II building boom, silver maples were planted by the thousands in new housing developments across the U.S. They're fast and they’re cheap. Subdivision developers looooved them. Even when I was a kid, they were still being planted willy-nilly—as demonstrated by the monoculture in my dad's yard.

Of course, it gradually became clear—as is so often the case—that silver maples (AKA “car crushers” for their tendency to shed monster car-crushing limbs) are not all they are cracked up to be. Oops. Today’s urban foresters have some choice words for them, and, in fact, there is actually a ban in some cities on planting them.

Speaking of urban foresters. I would love to be an urban forester. I don’t know all the ins and outs of being an urban forester, but it speaks to me on some primal level. (I could write even more boring dendrological posts like this one if I was an urban forester. Wouldn’t that be a treat?)

Trees enhance a city so much, especially when there’s the wonderful diversity we have in Portland. You can really see the diversity come through with the succession of flowering dogwoods, cherries, and plums in spring, and again in fall, with all the vivid scarlets, russets, oranges, and golds. It makes me think that our urban foresters (and individual Portlanders, too) really know what they’re doing when it comes to planting trees.

I love, too, that we have so many stands of mature trees that arch majestically over streets, providing cool restful shade over a street. And, unlike many cities, we didn’t lose all our elms to Dutch elm disease. Again, props to the Urban Forestry Department, which must have taken extraordinary measures to keep the disease from destroying all our elms.

I remember seeing all the elms succumb in the town where I grew up--I'm sure no extraordinary measures were taken. It was a sad day for me, even though I was only a little kid, when the city came and cut down the two stately elms that graced our parking strip. And guess what they replaced them with?

OK. Not silver maples, but the next worst thing--rather trashy generic “hard” maples. Broomsticks they looked like when the city stuck them in the ground. And broomsticks they remained for a long time after that. I don’t remember any redeeming qualities about them. They’re bigger now, of course, but not better.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like maples, especially our native Pacific Northwest maples (vine maple and bigleaf maple), but the town I grew up in was so unenlightened. Instead of trying to see the loss of the elms as an opportunity for diversity, they just went ahead and replaced ever elm with a hard maple. Lame.

*The coffee cup at the base (which I, of course, did not leave there!) provides scale.

**I’m planning on sending these photos to my dad to give him something to be thankful for. At least his trees aren't this huge.

***Actually, there were six at one point, but one got struck by lightning and one was a victim of my dad’s very own Illinois Chainsaw Massacre.


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