Looming over the front of my house is an overly large Indian laurel, a tree I have come to hate. It was planted by the county a few years before we became a city. Its shadow has long cut off sun to the small plot of ornamental bushes and low ground cover, effectively dooming several species of drought-resistant plants. Its size attests to its appetite for my sewer drain from which it supped until I replaced and lined a new drain. Our city arborist, Sam Estrada, is now well-acquainted with this outsized green monster.
Yes, absolutely, the tree releases valuable oxygen and consumes CO2 among other unwanted gases as part of its life cycle, but there is a cost we should consider. A tree this size (about 30 to 50 feet in every direction), of this species, requires large amounts of water, a dwindling resource on planet Earth. From all I have been able to find, “my tree” needs somewhere between 75 and 125 gallons of water per day. What is the source of its water? My plot’s watering system? Deep underground? A nearby sewer drain? A rule of thumb is that a tree is 50% water, 50% carbon. Whatever the exact formula, trees are vital, living things which contribute greatly to our very existence.
West Hollywood contains about 9,000 trees in a variety of species, though Indian laurel and jacaranda make up a large portion of our street trees. Both are messy with dropping fruit or blossoms in late Spring. One was planted because of its rapid growth and wide leafy canopy; the other because it is showy with brilliant lavender blossoms which appear for about two weeks each year. Neither would qualify as a great street tree in my view. Some of my thoughts on good street trees:
– A California evergreen native
– Sized for 3 to 4 foot parkways
– Drought resistant
– Low maintenance – pruning, etc.
– 20′ maximum height
– No fruit, dripping sap or other fallout
The Tree People have an excellent list of trees to consider suitable for cities. Now that the city has a dedicated Urban Forest and Landscape Maintenance Supervisor, Sam Estrada, I believe that Angee’s dreams of tree care will eventually come true.
Not too many years ago, a West Hollywood resident, Angee Beckett, founded the West Hollywood Tree Preservation Society with the aim of educating residents (and the city!) about the valuable trees found throughout West Hollywood and especially in West Hollywood and Plummer Parks as there was talk then about a renovation of those areas which entailed removing trees. Angee inaugurated the Heritage Tree Program, naming a number of irreplaceable trees which should be spared at all costs. The website whtps.com shows a number of them. Further, Angee secured state and federal grants allowing her to produce several PSAs – Public Service Announcements – extolling the virtues of urban trees. (I sent my copies to the city sometime ago.) Incidentally, if you want to see Steve Martin, then our mayor, as a much younger guy, here you can.
Of course, this is looking into the future as the city cannot rush out to remove trees which may become undesirable. Climate change will dictate how the city will proceed to manage its urban forest.