Labor Day Weekend IV
Bill Long 9/1/07
Learning to "Walk" Salem, OR, for the Trees
I decided that as I was learning all about trees in parks and on university campuses that I was woefully deficient about the types of trees you see every day along the public right-of-ways in cities and towns. Many of them are small trees, many are columnar or tightly bunched together. Was there a method, I wondered, of trying to learn some of the names of the more popular "street trees" around me?
I decided to call the City of Salem Parks bureau and speak to one of the guys in the "tree" office (named Tom). He has been unfailingly helpful in trying to answer all my questions. After talking for a while, I realized that they had no educational guide to the trees of Salem under the care of the city (why should they, really?), but they had a list of trees which he could send me in an Excel spreadsheet. This would allow me to sort trees according to whatever category I wanted. He also sent me a species/variety list of 211 varieties of trees in Salem under the care of the city.
So, Tom sent me a list of 2769 trees arranged according to road address, quadrant of the city, tree name (abbreviation in English), number planted and date planted. (There may actually be about 20-30% more trees, since some of the individual listings have two or three of the same variety planted at the same address). I realized that this list was only a very "partial" list, since it only represented trees planted by the City on its right-of-ways since 1993. It didn't include all trees on city land. I would estimate that such a list might include 75,000-100,000 trees. There is no such list.
Reflecting Further on Lists
The list that he sent me has benefits and signficant limitations. First, about 710 of the trees are "future trees." The City has planned its planting schedule through early April 2011, and 710 of the 2769 trees are to be planted from 2008-2011. [Note from 9/10--Tom assures me that all these trees have already been planted, and that there is an error with my "Mac" program. Oh, well...] Thus, that "narrows" things down to 2059 trees. The number of species of these 2059 trees, however, isn't 211; it is about 123. That is, about 78 or so species/varieties of trees on the City species list are not actually among the plantings of the past 14 years. That means that sometime in its history, the city has maintained trees (i.e., trees not on the planting list), has recorded the species, but has decided not to plant any of them in recent days. That makes sense, I suppose. The issues behind tree planting by cities now are probably predictable: budget is first priority, hardiness of trees another; esthetic considerations probably enter in; exoticism is not a word that is often spoken in the office, I venture to say.
Thus, I need to determine at a future date if I want Tom to send me addresses for any of the 78 species of trees which the City knows about in their right-of-ways/parks which have not been planted since 1993. It could be a laborious project for him. I think that if I am able easily to find these 78 species/varieties in other nearby locations that I will not trouble him...
There is one other general point to be made about the list he sent me. Though it mentions 123 species/varieties of trees in Salem (I had to count 'em), many of those are just "sp" or "var" listings. In addition, I would say that more than 50 of the 123 have fewer than five exemplars in Salem. This leaves what you might call a "living list" of no more than about 70-75 species/varieties of trees. Just to give you an indication of some of the "leading" varieties or species, with 75 or more plantings since 1993 (until 2011), the following chart might be helpful:
1. Autumn Purple Ash
2. Jacquemontii Birch
3. Kwanzan Cherry
5. Norway Maple "Deborah"
6. Nor.Map. "Emerald Queen"
7. Red Oak (Northern)
8. Shumard Oak
9. Chanticleer Pear
10. Red Map. "Oct. Glory"
11. Red Map. "Red Sunset"
12. Red Map. "Scanlon"
13. Zelkova "Green Vase"
Thus, nearly 60% of the trees on the planting list of Salem, which have been planted since 1993 or are to be planted by 2011, are of 13 varieties/species. I wonder.... how many people would be able to identify any of these 13 varieties or species who have lived in Salem for five or more years? I would venture to say that if citizens were "lined up" and confronted with the trees, fewer than 1 in 10 citizens could identify more than 3 or 4 of these. That may be a generous estimation.
Focusing on the List
Thus, I was facing a Friday morning (8/31) with a list of 2059 trees (some of these, of course, have been moved/dug up, etc.) and all the addresses in the City. I decided that I would pick the trees from the roads and blocks within about a six block square of my house and begin to work. I begin to work down the list, and I saw, for example, that I will have to do some focusing to try to determine the difference between a "Deborah" Norway Maple and other kinds; between a "Red Sunset" red maple and other red maples. I found that in most cases the list given me was very accurate; as I did my walk, however, I longed for a "complete" list, which would also identify some of the older trees that were there. But I realized that I had a good list; I had a task to do, and that if I applied myself to several walks around town for the next few months, I could have a very good estimation of what the sort of "non-exotic" trees are in cities and towns all around us. Now when I go out to do errands at any part of Salem, I simply will grab my list and take a "detour" for an extra 10 minutes just to see if I can name off the trees that are indicated on the list.
Even in the brief (2 hour) walk I did yesterday in Salem, I found trees that delighted. Not only did I run into scads of Kwanzan Cherries and Chanticleer Pears, but I found a Chinese Elm, a Blireana Pear and a Lavalle Hawthorn. I became comfortable in identifying Hedge Maples and Sargent Cherry trees. Eastern Redbuds were all around, as were Raywood Ashes (both have about 50 exemplars planted in the last 14 years in Salem). Thus, at the end of the two hours, I began to develop not only an appreciation for some of the street trees in my town which I normally "zoom by" without noticing, but I also developed a method by which I can gradually acquaint myself with my town. It is, I confess, an unusual one, but it will slow me down and make me look at those things right before my eyes.
When I combine these walks with the more 'exotic' trees, such as in Bush Pasture Park or the Oregon Capitol Grounds in Salem, much less the University of Oregon in Eugene, Corvallis Central Park and some of Oregon State University in Corvallis, the Oregon Garden in Silverton, nursuries galore, and then Reed College and the Hoyt Arboretum in Portland (as well as the Portland Heritage tree list), I am making a good beginning in my knowledge of trees. Anyone want to join me?