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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

August 10, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Seattle branches out, gives free trees for yards and streets

By staff researcher David Turim

It’s no surprise that there’s not much old growth forest left in Seattle anymore. According to the city’s website, Schmitz Preserve is the only park that still contains trees at least 200 years old.

Local writer and plant expert Arthur Lee Jacobson wrote, “The first settlers arrived in the 1850s and lost no time in beginning their logging operations. Over the hills they roved, everywhere faced with a seemingly unlimited supply of tall timber growing in dense wilderness.” Until they found out, a few years later, that that ancient trees aren’t so easily replaced after all, and the difference between “seemingly unlimited” and “unlimited” is like the difference between a parking lot and a verdant forest.

Here is one of his favorite street trees in Seattle:

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This Sierra redwood is at 17th Avenue East and East Prospect Street and leans like the Tower of Pisa. It is massive: 103 feet high and more than 20 feet around.


Here is what Jacobson says about it in his book Trees of Seattle:
“The Sierra redwood is the most massive of all trees, and among the tallest.
Some have lived over 3,000 years. The bark can be 2′ thick! The maximum
sizes ever recorded, exaggerations aside, were at least 347′ tall, and trunks nearly
125′ around. As of now the largest in wood volume is the “General Sherman
Tree” at 274′ × 85’0″ (over 55,000 cubic feet). The “Boole Tree” trunk is 92’7″
around but has far less wood volume. There is currently one or more 312′ tall.
In New Zealand a planted one is 44′ around; in Great Britain several are 170′
tall or more and one is 36 ½’ around. Both Washington and British Columbia
have specimens over 150′ in height. It is common in Seattle. Many have dead
or rounded tops.”
Arthur Lee Jacobson, photo
Oh, well, we just don’t listen to this guy… but even though we’ve wiped out the old ones, that doesn’t mean Seattle doesn’t love trees. It does.
So much so that the city has not one but two programs in place to make us more arboreal. The Trees for Neighborhoods program gives trees away for free, and “helps residents plant trees in their yards and along their streets.”
And the Community Tree Program “is interested in finding neighborhoods where we can plant about 100 trees within (about) a 4- to 5-square-block area. These trees will be planted, watered through establishment, and maintained by the Seattle Department of Transportation.”
Why the tree love, you ask? Well, the city has a reply to that question. Additionally, urban trees are said said to discourage ‘shady’ behavior, according to a recent study — and besides that, trees are just awesome.
Here in Washington, we even have trees that have been to the moon. And Washington has lots of champion trees.
Some of the massive trees in the Seattle Pacific University’s Tiffany Loop are the oldest remaining original trees in Seattle.
Jacobson reminds us that trees are a bit like people, you have to take the good with the bad. In a city, their roots bust sidewalks and branches and wires don’t mix. But their leafy canopy and grace transform neighborhoods and lift our spirits. “They can bring a tear to the eye, they are so beautiful, like a fine wine or beautiful music,” he notes.
Jacobson is leading a tour of the trees of Volunteer Park this Sunday, from 10 a.m. to noon. Cost is $10 per person; check his website to sign up or just give him a call. He limits tours to 15 people. If this one fills up, don’t worry, he does tours monthly until winter.
He sees the big picture. Trees aren’t just a plus in our neighborhoods, they can boost the quality of our environment. Says Jacobson: “If you care about fish in Puget Sound, plant trees in Seattle.”

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