I was traveling during most of September and missed what was occurring on West First Street, but I returned to see a few tree stumps and many holes where trees had been, plus relatively few broken pieces of sidewalk or grating.  One tree with a string of lights was left at the corner by city buildings and parkway; there were no birds or squirrels.  

The articles in The Palladium-Times indicate that persons on the Tree Advisory Board and the mayor were in some considerable disagreement about removal of trees which were viewed as damaged or unsightly. Also at issue is their replacement by one species of a presumably tolerant-to-everything Japanese lilac, presumably Syringa reticulata – a non-native species, although the specific variety may have been developed in the USA, but who knows; lilac species are native mostly to Asia and also Europe.  

It was a sad sight.

I taught courses on trees (and shrubs) many times during my 46 years at Oswego State.  My students and I walked the streets of Oswego and identified and discussed the species of trees and shrubs. Many of the students were also Oswego residents.  Seeds of many of the mature trees were brought here in the early 1900s and after World War II because the Port of Oswego made it easy to ship plants here, even if the trees were not the intended or main cargo.

We often noted the dangers of planting just one species of tree along not just one city block, but along a few in a row and the dangers of having their plantings embedded in a small strip of land 2 to 3-foot wide or in shallow, street-side tree-wells enveloped in the restrictive concrete of sidewalks, streets, and buildings and their basements.  The single-species plantings of European lindens, Norway maples, crab apples and other tree species along Oswego’s streets tell a story.  

We also noted, rather ruefully, that city planners never seemed to care because costs seemed to be a main factor in deciding which species and how many of one species to plant.  And, I’ll bet, that getting supposedly resistant non-native trees like a variety of the Japanese lilac was deemed cost-effective.  Did the city’s consultants or suppliers have any connection to the city authorities?  One of the most interesting things about trees (and shrubs) along roadsides of concrete/asphalt surfaces is that they will not live as long as trees in better settings and that these city settings can make them more susceptible to diseases, droughts, flooding, even when the species is not so susceptible normally.

However, there is one tree, a living fossil: the famous ginkgo or maiden hair tree, Ginkgo biloba, which has survived for a hundred million years as a distinct species that makes for a great city tree where there are adequate patches of land next to streets.  One really neat ginkgo still graces Montcalm Park — look at it as it changes colors this fall.  But, ginkgo grows into a large tree and is unacceptable for such narrow confines as West First Street.   There is another tree fairly resistant to environmental impacts, the post-WWII import dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, so long on earth that it too is a living fossil.  It also can grow too large, and one can see the effects of restrictive soil and sidewalks on a dawn redwood tree on the college campus.  

With the possible exception of the remarkable and venerable ginkgo, no known tree is tolerant to everything and even that species succumbs with age and damage.  Trees (and shrubs) will need to be replaced over generations, and why not use small, native tree species which have root systems and growth requirements somewhat suited to such restrictive tree wells?  I know why — it’s the cost.  Incidentally, both ginkgo and dawn redwood once inhabited North America long ago (for example, Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park in Washington).

Maybe the authorities do not want my comments on this beautification dilemma because I am no longer an Oswego city resident, having moved to the far away town of Minetto some 35 years ago, but I still frequent many establishments along West First Street and in the city.  The city authorities, in their infinite wisdom, chose to remove many perfectly good trees.  

According to the news, they also seem to believe that politics must have had something to do with the complaints about those removals, or is it that politics had something to do with their removal?  I frankly don’t know, but I do know that planting one species of a tree along a block of a city street like West First Street is not stupid —it is really stupid.   

It may not be politically wise to note, but diversity and variety are necessary in this biological world – including for successful and beautiful tree plantings along city streets.

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