Sunday, February 22, 2009

Too Late to Hug These Trees


The photo is of a not-nearly-mature Ficus retusa nitida on Milpas Street in Santa Barbara.

Please don't hug these evil trees. Don't shed a tear. Kill them now while you have a chance. I just read in the Sunday L.A. Times a little blurb about folks getting up in arms about the removal of some mature Ficus (species name not included) trees along Colorado Blvd. That's the street where they hold the Rose Parade. I'm going to assume that these are Indian Laurel Fig (F. retusa nitida) and they never should have been planted in these spots. The tree is a monster. We're having the same debate here in Santa Barbara, but the issue goes all the way back to someone making a decision to put the wrong plant in the wrong place.

This tree gets huge and like any Ficus I've ever met, has aggressive surface roots. Perhaps all the arborists in Southern California should have done their homework in the 60s when thousands upon thousands of these beasts were unleashed in little planters along streets. They seemed to have a lot going for them in the hot summer climate of SoCal: fast growing, don't need water once established, dense shade. The problem is, given their ultimate size (I've seen them as tall as 80 ft. and about 50 ft. wide), they have no business on city streets, planted as property line hedges or tucked into little condo patios.

If I had a time machine I'd go back four decades and:
1) prevent them from ever being planted by throwing my body in front of the landscape crews;
2) buy a plane ticket for Pasadena's arborist to go to Malaysia and see how big these suckers get;
2) make a public spectacle of the wholesale nursery industry who promulgated the tree on hundreds of cities and private property owners without clearly warning them of the potential harm;
3) convince the powers that be to gradually start rotating out every other tree decades ago, so the impact of clear cutting wouldn't be as emotional;
4) Invest more of my personal income in gold (but that has nothing to do with this post, so kindly ignore what I just typed).

But now it's too late. Wanna save the trees? Sell your car, tear up the streets and sidewalks and let the trees grow in their natural way. While you're at it, move your water and sewer lines. Not likely. But as a public employee who shows up every day, puts on his "Kick Me" sign and dunce cap and waits for citizens to tell me "You don't know what yo're doing or you'd have a 'real job'" I can empathize with what the dudes and dudettes in Pasadena are wading through (hint - it smells very organic).

And it never stops. I just ranted about this in my last blog post and will likely continue, so I'll spare you any more. I want to bury a big time capsule somewhere with a butt-load of "I told you sos." But there are a bunch of Ficus roots in the way and I don't feel like digging a big hole right now.

16 comments:

Claude said...

hmmm

Are these the same "Strangler Figs" that have all but taken over parts of Florida, or just a close relative?

dinzie said...

Seems to have been a trend the world over ... Here in New Zealand they planted a type of Australian gum tree with a similar effect root wise as well as the annoying habit of constantly dropping leaves into guttering and blocking it ....

D

Shirley "EdenMaker" said...

Billy, Billy, Billy, let me join you in your rant! I see so many ficus nitidas planted in the wrong place, pulling up sidewalks, tearing into pools and sewer lines. You are so right.

I hardly ever use them in my projects except as a property hedge far away from any buildings or sidewalks. These trees need room to grow- people need to think of their growth pattern almost like an oak tree.

Would you plant an oak tree next to your pool?

Claude said...

Something occurs to me... You are a writer who is developing something of a following, you might write and submit an editorial to the papers in Pasedena... You're obviously someone who loves plants and trees, and you obviously have the knowledge and experience to back it up, so the tree huggers might listen to you, and the other side of the argument will certainly listen to you also. Just a random thought, and I figured I'd throw it out there and see if anything happened...

Chiot's Run said...

I know what you mean. Every time I see someone planting a tree under the power lines I think to myself, you know in 20 years the power company is going to come trim those trees and make them look horrible. Why not plant them back 20 feet, or plant dwarf trees. I think many people have trouble looking at the future consequences of their decisions.

EAL said...

So interesting that a harmless houseplant in WNY can wreak such havoc in CA. We had a photography exhibition here from an LA artist about this.

Skrip said...

I recall seeing these daily for lunch when I was in Pasadena, around the colorado /lake streets. They are VERY large. Too large I would say for their location, but the city seems to do what it can to keep them tidy. These trees are gigantic monsters in more tropical climates, roots and all!

Seems like in older towns this situation always presents itself.

Rosemary said...

Never ceases to amaze me that we humans are so short sighted. In the north colorado blue spruce trees are planted in postage stamp size gardens and turn into giant trees, thankfully not the root system you describe.

Claude said...

Billy... To answer your question, I just configured the blog list to show thumbnails of the blogs on the list and that's what showed up... I don't have an extensive list, so it doesn't take up too much room. Where the link shows up on the list depends on who has posted most recently... all this is in the options on the edit icon at the bottom of my blog list.

If any of that makes sense...

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

If I had a time machine... wow, that leads to very interesting thoughts, not all gardening related!

VW said...

I laughed at your title, as my son just brought home Dr. Suess's 'The Lorax' from the school library. We do love trees in the right places, but in the wrong places they're awful. Big plants can cause big problems, so it's sad when we don't think ahead when we plant. I'm cringing at a number of maples planted 2 feet from the sidewalk in our neighborhood. In a few decades our sidewalks will be dangerous, but how to convince neighbors to pull our their trees? VW

Ross said...

I think big mistakes have been made in the horticultural industry all over the world. Plants are imported without any real forethought as to their eventual impact. Hopefully though, we are learning from our mistakes?

Our(South African) Ficus natalensis or strangler fig roots can sometimes reach 2-3 times the diameter of the tree's crown as they go off in search of water. I'm not surprised to hear that Claude says they are problem in Florida.

Skrip said...

Well Billy... looks like you are some kind of psychic. The trees you mention are coming down. There's an article at the Pasadena Star News: http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/news/ci_11750599

Karen said...

Well, sorry to lose canopy but if they're in the wrong place, they should come down and something more sane should be planted. California is home to many of these blundering introductions, huh? I remember the eucalyptus battles from when I lived there. Happy to find your blog, thanks for "faving" mine, it's an honor as a blundering gardener and total non-expert who is interested in urban gardening and especially streetside stuff. I'll look forward to your future posts!

M. D. Vaden of Oregon said...

"Done homework" you wrote, of arborists, years ago. Did arborists plant those?

In the west side suburbs of Portland where I'm at, the municipal government has been the one dictating the tree lists of approved trees required for streets. And most are planted by landscape contractors, or one city or the other.

I think that most of the "Certified Arborist" tree services would tend to plant even better selection is the choices were not already mandated.

Surprisingly though, even today, there are a few bad tree choices on the lists, but many are pretty good.

Yes - I saw some fig giants while visiting southern California, and the root flare made them look like estate size landscape trees.

Regards,

M. D. Vaden near Portland, Oregon

(Beaverton, Oregon)

Anonymous said...

We stop planting them in Malaysia 30 years ago!!! Not for streetscaping at all!!