I read with shock in “Some Concrete Progress: Long mall overhaul on track, but not all are happy” (March 2) and the accompanying photo captions that the overhaul of the Nicollet Mall will involve planting white birch trees.
Of all the possible trees species available, this would be my last choice. As a certified and registered arborist practicing in Minnesota, one of my most frequent calls is to evaluate a sick birch. White birches are prone to insect attack from the Japanese beetle and bronze birch borer, a tree killer.
The taxpayers of Minneapolis should know that they will pay the price for this poor decision. A better choice would be a diverse tree planting plan, consisting of climate change-adapted trees: Kentucky coffeetree ‘Espresso,’ American yellowwood, hackberry, ginkgo and/or black locust. These are the tough “street kids” that are disease and insect resistant, day-length insensitive and drought and heat tolerant.
The habitat ranges of many iconic tree species such as birch, quaking aspen, balsam fir, and black spruce are projected to decline substantially across the Midwest as they shift northward into Canada. Birches will be under considerable stress in the hot urban environment. The annual mean temperatures of urban areas can be up to 5.4 F warmer than surrounding non-urban areas. With continuous lighting, de-icing salts, compaction, drought, heat, flooding, and warmer, shorter winters, you have a death sentence for birches. What a waste.
Trees are the only part of infrastructure that actually appreciate in value while the rest depreciates. Designs are being sold to city councils for approval that show large trees photoshopped into the plan brochure. The projects won’t be approved without the trees. The people buying the project think some day they will have tree-lined streets. Usually, because of poor species selection, site conditions, and neglected routine maintenance, trees die in their infancy. The future owners and taxpayers are burdened with the costs of concrete and tree replacement, and the inability to achieve the original shade-lined promises. They are sold a lie.
We have learned that we can’t just stick trees in the ground like telephone poles. Trees are living things, not statues. If we simply rotate out trees annually, we are not going to reap the incredible benefits and services mature trees can provide for a healthy human environment.
Faith Appelquist, of St. Paul, is owner of Tree Quality, LLC.