In fact, Palo Alto was named after that large redwood tree that still stands near the tracks by Palo Alto Avenue and Alma Street. The Ohlones ages ago called it “the big stick." The Spaniards then called it “el Palo Alto”;we now know it as the tall tree. It is 1,093 years old. It’s looking a bit shabby these days, but so would we if we were a millennium old.
But back to trees on my street. When the city took out two liquidambar trees across the street from me, I was concerned. Our tree canopy had a bare spot, and we needed to plant replacements quickly. So, I called the Public Works Department, and I was told it would take about a year for the stump removal and possibly three years for replacements.
Why so long? “We have 40,00-plus trees to take care of in this city,” a city staff member replied curtly. “It takes a lot of time to care for them.”
It is now about a year-and-and-a-half since the trees were removed – but the two stumps still remain --untouched.
So, this time I called Peter Gollinger, the city’s Urban Forest manager. He listened carefully, and told me because of the winter storms and the need to take care of all the damaged trees and fallen limbs, the clean-up took more time than anticipated, so they are playing catch-up now.
As for the stumps, that service is contracted out, and the company comes for removal when there are a sufficient number of stumps to collect. It’s not exactly a speedy service, he added. Except that stump removal is not the same as storm damage clean-up, and until a stump is removed, a new tree cannot be planted in its place. Logical, isn’t it?
Gollinger said a replacement tree typically occurs a year after stump removal, and the two liquidambar stumps will be removed relatively soon and then replaced a year later by gingko trees – a tree with beautiful gold leaves in the fall. However, only male the male ginkgo trees are planted, the females have smelly fruit that drop on lawns and are harmful to dogs.
But we have only liquidambars on my block, all along the street. Why introduce something with a distinctly different appearance, I asked.
He said Palo Alto adopted a new street tree selection process five-plus years ago to mix up tree types on the street. The decision was made because arborists were aware that certain trees can sometimes get diseased (like some ash and elm trees) and mixed varieties can prevent having all street trees of the same type get a disease and die, resulting in a avenue without any trees.
When I asked Gollinger how a variety of trees looked, he said fine -- once they grew up and out.
Here I disagree. There are many streets in town that have uniform trees along both sides of each street (like sycamores whose branches spread out and meet in the middle, providing shade, uniformity, and unity, and visually they do not compete with front lawns for attention, rather they enhance the appearance.
So, the question is do the benefits of uniformity outweigh the dangers of certain street trees dying? It’s a difficult balance, and for me, a difficult decision to make because no one knows if the existing trees will someday get infected.
Gollinger said the city is working on adding more trees in South Palo Alto and have budgeted for the additions, and also have been working with Canopy, a tree-loving organization, to plant more trees all over town.
That’s great, because we do love trees in our town. BTW, I really hope the “Palo Alto (planting) Process gets speeded up.
My thanks to the research of Hope Jahren, author of “Lab Girl,” which is a book about trees, for providing the Tree Trivia.
• There are about as many leaves on a tree as there are hairs on one’s head. Depending on hair color, the average person has between 90,000 and 150,000 hairs on their head.
• A single birch tree will produce a quarter of a million new seeds each year -- most of them will not sprout although they wait around hoping.
•. The ratio of people to trees in America is 1:200.
• There are 80 billion trees just within the protected forests of the western United States.
• One can hear plants growing in the Midwest. At its peak, sweet corm grows an inch a day, and as the layers of husk shift slightly to accommodate this expansion and create sound.
• Consider that there can be easily a hundred thousand lobed leaves on a single oak tree and no two of them are exactly the same, in fact some are easily twice as big as others.
• A tree prepares itself for winter by “hardening” –pure water flows out while concentrating the sugars, proteins and acids left behind. These chemicals act as a potent antifreeze. A chilly autumn brings on the same hardening as a balmy one because the trees do not take their cue from the changing temperature. It is the gradual shortening of the days, sensed as a steady decrease of light during each 24-hour cycle, that triggers hardening. If winter is mild or punishing from year to year, the pattern of how light changes during the autumn is exactly the same each year.
• A mature tree gets most of its water through its taproot, which is the root that extends straight down. Tree roots located near the surface grow laterally to form a needed support structure that prevent a tree from falling over. These shallow roots also leak moisture into the dry soil, especially when the sun is down and the tree’s leaves are not actually sweating. Mature maple trees passively distribute water from the depth up and out of the shallow roots all night long. The small plants living near the big trees have been shown to rely on this recycled water for more than half of their needs.