Street and Wayside Trees

Date Published: 
August, 1902
Original Author: 
J. A. Pettigrew
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 16th Annual Convention

When your Secretary asked me to prepare a paper for your convention, I was in doubt as to the propriety of my doing so, knowing that I could not speak to you from the standpoint of one who has had a practical experience in your work in its relation to the modern cemetery. However, when he assured me that a few notes on any kindred subject would be acceptable, I thought it might be well to embrace the opportunity of calling the attention of your members to the importance of tree planting in streets and waysides. This is a subject that concerns all, while the influence which your body is able to wield in the direction of street ornamentation is very great. Without doubt each and every member of your Association is connected, either directly or indirectly with the planting and care of public trees, and recognizes the desirability of encouraging an interest in the prosecution of this work.

Recognition of the value of trees as an adornment to streets in this country dates from an early period.

In Mr. Albert Matthews’ intensely interesting address on the history of the trees of Boston Common, delivered last year before the Boston Common Society, we find that as early as March 3, 1655, interest was manifested in the preservation of trees. At a Town Meeting, held that day, an order was passed, "That whosoever shall cut, hack, or hew any of the trees planted in the Neck, shall pay for every tree so spoiled twenty shillings, the one-half to the informer, the other to the town."

On May 12, 1701, a by-law was passed, that "no person shall lop, peel, girdle, or deface any of the trees now standing or that shall hereafter be planted or set by order of the Selectmen, or by their approbation, upon any part of or place in the common ground of the town, under penalty for every such offense."

Although not so stated, it is presumable that there were public trees; but, whether or not, the order reveals to us the fact that the early pioneers of Boston recognized the value of trees as an adornment to the town and the necessity of their preservation.

In one respect we have not progressed much since that day, two hundred and forty-seven years ago; twenty-five years after the first settlement was made. We have with us today, as the early founders of Boston had, in 1655, those who "cut, hack, or otherwise ‘spoil’" trees; and it is to be feared that their numbers have increased since the days when the Puritans made the order. We have, also in goodly numbers, the small boy, with his ever ready pocket knife, to whom the smooth stem of a tree is a sore temptation---a temptation as irresistible as was the cherry tree to George Washington in his boyhood days.

Then too the trees on the curb of every street bear ghastly evidence of the gnawing of generations of unhitched horses; indeed, it is not an uncommon thing to find hitching rings driven into fine old trees. In addition to the despoilers of trees of "ye olden time," we have the modern gas companies and the City Sewerage and Water departments whose employees, seldom giving thought to the destruction they are working, cut off more roots from our street trees than would be necessary were the work done under intelligent direction.

To counterbalance, as it were, the lopping off of the roots under the surface, we have the cutting and slashing of the branches; by employees of the various corporations whose business requires the use of overhead wires, leaving ugly gashes, like the path of a tornado, on the lines of their wires.

Trees may be ranked among the noblest products of nature, and their adaptability for beautifying and shading streets is a great boon to city dwellers, and one that is not appreciated to the full: else why should such mutilation be perpetrated, or why should it be permitted by those in authority, whose duty it is to protect the interests of the public? Ignorance of trees and their requirements undoubtedly has much to do with it. Carelessness, thoughtlessness and the fierce fight for gain are among the causes which despoil our trees, and when we consider that, in addition to this danger from the hand of man, there are still to be added the ravages of insects and lower organisms, the wonder is that so many beautiful trees are to be found in our streets.

It has often been a source of amazement to me how so large a number of cultured people could seemingly be of one mind in the exclusion, almost, of trees from fine residential streets, resulting, as it does, in such inhospitable barrenness. Beacon, Marlboro and Newbury streets, in the Back Bay district of Boston, are cases in point. To pass through these streets in summer, unrelieved by the shade of trees, the sun baked walls reflecting the heat absorbed by the asphalt, one ceases to wonder that the houses on either side are deserted. In the fitness of things it seems proper that from such conditions, people should flee, seeking the shade and comfort denied them at home---denied because of their own careless neglect of the advantages they might secure by planting trees in their streets. It may be, however, that the summer hegira from this district has something to do with the lack of tree planting: not being present during the heat of summer the great need of shade is not observed. Yet it is not only in summer that trees are attractive: in spring the swelling buds give added charm to the delicate spray-like effect of the branches that is so beautiful in winter; and at all seasons trees lend a softness to the hard architectural lines of the houses. This treeless condition should not be. There is no reason why these streets and wide sidewalks may not be embowered in trees, and thus relieve much of the Back Bay from its dreary, un-home like appearance.

It is to be regretted that in laying out new streets, the tendency of the day is toward the narrowing of the sidewalks and the omission of any provision of a tree planting space. Boston and its suburbs are suffering from this evil, which portends badly for the beauty of its streets in the future. The absence of provision for planting will quickly relegate such streets to squalor and obscurity.

Considering too what a large amount is expended, every year, in the United States for schoolhouses, it is sad to think that so little attention is given to the school yards. How many of them are bare and uninviting, when a small expenditure of money would plant and maintain shade trees, at least around their borders! No better opportunity could be offered to the school children, to know and learn to love trees, than by their close association with them at school. The trees could be of as many different species as space might permit, thereby extending, as much as possible, the variety of trees at the command of the teacher for her demonstrations of their different values and uses and of their relationships and their beauties.

The early public records demonstrate the fact that the Puritan Fathers in the midst of their strenuous life, had in mind the beautifying of their surroundings, by the planting of trees and that they ordered, through their selectmen, that trees should be planted by the town. Quoting again from Mr. Matthews' address: "On February 11, 1711-1712, it was voted by the selectmen that a convenient number of trees be provided to plant on the sides of each burying place where it shall be thought proper."

That the early settlers of New England transmitted their love for trees to subsequent generations, the magnificent elms to be found in the streets of our New England towns, give evidence.

The New England elms are noted, far and wide; the charm they add to the wayside is beyond price. Is it not important, then, that every effort should be made to encourage the growth of and to protect, all wayside trees?

Washington's trees, as an attraction to the city, divide honors with its best architectural features; not because of the individual beauty of the trees as fine specimens, but because of their value as a whole in the adornment of the city. This results from an intelligent control of the planting and care of the trees, the work having been placed in the hands of competent commissioners, among whom have been numbered John Saul, William Saunders, and William R. Smith, the only survivor. The results accomplished in Washington are just as attainable in any community; all that is necessary is wise legislation and the education of the people to the importance of the subject.

Great interest is now being manifested throughout the country in the preservation of objects of natural beauty, in the regulation of the billboard nuisance, which everywhere disfigures the landscape and in the general improvement of towns and cities along aesthetic lines. This
betokens a general public awakening to the importance of civic beauty.

Societies having these objects in view are being organized in every direction. We are glad to note that a large share of the attention of these societies is devoted to the planting and preservation of trees. These influences, properly directed, cannot but have a good effect in the furthering of the work of making the city (and the country also) beautiful. The members of your association can be of great service in promoting the work of these societies by giving freely of their practical knowledge of true culture and gardening.

Laws, making it obligatory on the part of towns to elect tree wardens, who shall have the care and control of all public trees, except those already in charge of park commissioners, have been enacted in Massachusetts, while in various cities throughout the country, laws and ordinances have been framed looking to the care and planting of trees in the public streets and highways.

The Massachusetts statute is mandatory with regard to the appointment of a warden and the scope of his power. The provision for furnishing funds; for planting and care is permissive which will largely induce negative results. The idea, however, is sound and when certain of its defects have been remedied and the knowledge of tree culture increased," its influence on civic beauty will be very powerful.

The simple passage of a tree warden law does not alone insure that there will be protection; that trees suitable in kind will be planted; or that their requirements shall be furnished to them. Let it be a popular service to see that competent wardens are elected, and that their duties are faithfully performed. Laws and ordinances are of little avail unless supported, in their execution, by the hearty cooperation of the public. The requirements of these trees are simple: good soil, and protection from the vandal hand, is all that is necessary for favorable results. But money must be provided to pay for these, as well as to meet the expense of pruning and fertilizing; also to combat with the ravages of insects, which infest trees in towns and cities-----a consequence of the disturbance of Nature's balance, resulting from the banishment or destruction of insect-eating birds.

Tree planting and improvement associations have done much to advance the cause of tree planting in public streets. The Brooklyn Tree Planting Association recommends the cooperative plan. Under this plan competent foresters may be consulted or engaged and trees may be bought, and the ground prepared for planting more cheaply than could be done by individual effort. Associations of this character, however, are difficult to organize. Not everyone possesses enthusiasm enough to enter into the work of planting young trees. The results seem too distant, and planting for posterity appears, to many people, too great a self sacrifice.

In the absence of competent civic control of tree planting, the cooperative plan, or any other plan looking to the planting of trees in the streets, should be adopted by every citizen who has the interests of his city at heart. No excuse can be offered for the absence of trees on every suitable street and on every roadside. The matter is easily within the power of each municipality to correct.

What to plant for street trees? And how to plant them are important questions, on the answers to which depend much of the success in planting for street embellishment.

Of trees suitable we have an abundance from which to choose. I will enumerate a few that I consider most fitted for the purpose:

First, and foremost, comes the American elm, a grand tree of vigorous growth. It must have room to develop and a rich soil, fairly moist. A good tree for city streets and without an equal for wayside planting.

The European elm (Ulmus campestris) is a noble tree. It has not the graceful, pendulous habit of the American elm, yet it possesses; in its columnar trunk, a stately grandeur scarcely equaled by any other tree. It thrives well under adverse conditions. As a sidewalk tree it has many valuable qualities, conspicuous among which is the persistency of its rich, green leaves, lasting as they do until late in the autumn. In some seasons its summer growth does not become sufficiently ripened to stand the winters in this latitude; yet this trouble is not so serious as to prevent its use for any situation where shade trees can be grown. It loves good soil.

The horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is a tree from Europe. It grows very freely and gives dense shade and is a popular favorite on account of the beauty of its flowers in the early summer. Its foliage ripens and falls early in the autumn. It is a suitable tree for city streets.

The soft maple (Acer dasycarpum) is a fine tree for wide streets or waysides, where good soil is abundant. It requires space and sunlight to get the best results. It is reputed to be ea lily injured by storms on account of weakness of fiber; this occurs only when it is grown under crowded conditions.

The American ash (Fraxinus Americana) is an adaptable tree. It grows fairly well as a sidewalk tree, but it is not so desirable as many others, on account of the late leaving out and early ripening of its foliage. On poor soil, and in dry localities, it is apt to be attacked by borers and the scale insect. In rich soil, its growth is rapid, producing a picturesque tree.

The buttonwood, or sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), is a lofty, quick growing tree, but not to be recommended for planting in this district, on account of its liability to be infested with fungi, which blackens the leaves. Its near relation, the oriental sycamore, resembles it greatly in appearance, although a little more compact. This species is much valued south of this latitude.

The maiden tree (Ginkgo biloba) is from Japan. This tree has not been used as a street tree, to my knowledge, except in Washington, where two streets are planted with it and where it has proved most satisfactory. In good soil it grows rapidly and it seems to have no insect enemies. It forms a handsome avenue, as can be seen on the Agricultural Building grounds in Washington, or on Pierce Street, where the planting before mentioned has been done. Boston and vicinity probably is the northern limit of its hardiness, or rather, I should say, of its free growth. Fine trees of this species can be seen in the Public Garden and at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

The hard or Sugar Maple (Acer saccharinum) does not make a good city tree. It is impatient of rough treatment; paved sidewalks and paved streets are fatal to it. It is, however, a good tree for suburban conditions, or for a country wayside tree. It is one of the handsomest of our North American trees. This tree will adapt itself to a thin soil.

The Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) is an introduction from Central Europe. It forms a rather wide spreading, handsome top, with a wealth of large leaves, forming a dense shade. It thrives fairly well as a city sidewalk tree, but on account of its width of spread, it is only suitable for wide streets. As a wayside tree it scarcely can be equaled.

The sycamore maple (Acer psuedo platanus) also from Europe is a wide spreading tree, with large, somewhat leathery leaves. It is a noble tree in its native habitat, but does not take kindly to the United States. It is subject to borers and is not to be recommended.

The American beech (Fagus ferruginea) is one of the most ornamental of American trees, but on account of its low branching habit in the open and its surface rooting propensity, it is not adapted for city planting. This tree loves too well the soft, leafy mulch of its native woods to bear transplanting to the heated sidewalks.

The silver poplar (Populus alba), introduced from Europe, is one of the best trees for hard conditions. In smoky, dusty and thickly populated localities, or in poor soil, it will exist and make a brave show. By many, it is esteemed an ugly tree. The poplar trees planted (I have been informed, by Strauch, the originator of the lawn treatment of cemeteries) in Cincinnati, however, would convince anyone to the contrary. Or without going further east than Boston, one could have found in Maverick Square, two fine specimens until two years ago, when they were removed to make way for the new tunnel entrance. This tree has a disagreeable habit of suckering.

The American Linden (Tilia Americana) also is a tree that will accommodate itself fairly well to street life, provided it is given good soil and protected from the tussock moth, to whom it seems to be a favorite food plant. As a wayside tree, it will grow well in thin and sterile soils and for such a purpose, is well adapted, being of quick growth and of handsome proportions.

The European (Tilia vulgaris), as its name indicates, is from Europe, and has a well deserved reputation as a fine shade tree. Planted in good soil, it will grow under very crowded conditions of street life. At South Boston it can be found growing in brick paved sidewalks and persistently putting forth leaves each spring, which are as persistently eaten off by the tussock moth caterpillar. It forms a tree of stately growth, holding its leaves well into the fall, while, in early summer, with its near relative, the American linden, its flowers charge the air with a delicious perfume.

The tree of Heaven (Ailanthus glandulosa). This is a tree of the tenements. No city conditions, be they ever so hard, seem to discourage its growth altogether. It can be found on Beacon Hill, in narrow courtyards, throwing up its handsome foliage to the housetops; and in many parts of Boston it can be found in corners by the stoop, thriving equally well. Apparently, it has not been used as a street tree in Boston, probably from the reputation which male flowers have of emitting a disagreeable odor. I have lived on Long Island, where the Ailanthus is naturalized, and where the finest street trees are of this kind, and I have never been able to detect any odor, unless I placed the flowers to my nostrils. In rich soils there might be kill-back in winter, from under-ripened wood; but, in poor soils, I feel sure, this trouble would not occur. I am confident that no mistake would be made in planting this tree where hard conditions exist.

The white willow (Salix alba), introduced from Europe, was, undoubtedly, a favorite with the early settlers, as fine trees are to be found throughout the coast of New England. The variety of Cerula is the one most suited, I think for street planting. It is not particular as to soil and if a little care is given to the training up of a leader, it forms a handsome tree. The willow does not lend itself to neat and precise, or formal, work. Its value as a street tree lies in its adaptability to adverse conditions, its early budding forth in spring, and in its holding its bright shining green leaves until late in the fall.

The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) is another good tree for suburban and wayside planting. It is impatient of restraint or hard usage, but under proper conditions, it is one of the finest trees of the forest.

The red oak (Quercus rubra) and the scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) are both grand shade trees for the streets in suburban districts, or for the wayside. The prevalent notion has been that these trees are of slow growth, which accounts for their not having been used for street planting. This idea is erroneous, especially as regards the red oak which I think will outstrip a hard maple in growth. On the Boston parkways, the red oak has been extensively planted for shade. The growth, since the trees became established, has averaged two feet, each season, and in some of them a growth of from four to six feet has been made in one season. The oak will not thrive under paved street and sidewalk conditions, but no better trees can be planted for roadsides, or even for suburban streets, than the red and scarlet oaks.

The pin oak (Quercus palustris) this oak is a very graceful tree in its young state. Its lower branches drop with a curved sweep to the ground consequently it should be planted only in such positions as will allow the lower branches to be retained. As a street tree, in ordinary locations, this cannot be done, and the most beautiful feature of the tree is thus lost. Without its lower branches, this oak is much inferior in appearance to the red or scarlet oak. It loves moisture, however, and may be utilized on low grounds.

The planting of street trees requires as much care as does their selection. It is not enough to merely dig a hole and crowd the roots into it. Any expectations based on such planting are doomed to end in disappointment. In laying out for street planting, let the first stakes be set at the street crossings. When the abutting streets also are to be planted; place two stakes at each corner, a bout thirty feet from the point of intersection of the curb line, on each street. Then space off the intervening distance, setting the stakes equally distant apart, but not less than sixty-five feet, as the shortest distance.

Trees generally are planted too thickly. Sometimes this is done with the intention of cutting out alternate ones, as the growth of the tree requires. This, however, is seldom done and the trees grow up too thickly, thereby overcrowding and injuring each other, destroying also the individual beauty of the trees and the symmetrical arrangement which an avenue of trees should have.

For sanitary and hygienic reasons, streets ought not to be too much shaded. The sun should be permitted to shine on the walks, and on the walls of the houses, in turn, as the earth moves in its course. Glimpses of light and shadow, too, have an aesthetic value, which is worth considering.

Sixty-five feet apart is the minimum distance apart, I think, at which street trees should be planted. For large growing trees as the elm or soft maple, seventy-five or one hundred feet apart would be none too much space to allow. Wayside or highway trees need not be set with the same precision as street trees. An irregular, planting; conforming, in general, to the surrounding scenery, would be in better harmony. In places, an accentuation of existing groups of trees may be all that is necessary, or simply a thinning out of overcrowding trees, or of poor trees which are damaging more valuable ones; for let it be an axiom with the tree planter who is planting for ornamental effects, never to permit the growth of one tree to injure that of another.

An important matter also in the care of trees is the pruning of all broken or diseased limbs or branches, by cutting the branches off at the next lateral below, and cutting the limbs off closely at the bole of the tree, leaving no stumps projecting which the bark cannot grow over to carry rot into the tree. Cut off smooth, and paint over the wound with coal tar.

If the soil is good, no preparation for planting is necessary, other than loosening up the ground for each tree for a space of from seven to ten feet in diameter and from two to three feet in depth. When the soil is poor, not less than ten yards of good soil should be substituted for an equal amount of poor soil excavated from the hole. The same loosening up of the ground should be made.

If planting is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well, for on this depends the well being of the tree. It is safe to say, if you have $20.00 to spend on planting a tree, let nineteen and a half dollars of the amount be spent on the preparation of the ground to receive it. It should be borne in mind that the same conditions which will produce a good hill of corn will grow trees well and nothing else, will serve.

In the planting of groups or masses of trees for ornamental or woodland effect, the soil should be plowed and subsoil plowed several times. The trees should be planted thickly, always remembering the old gardener's motto: "Plant thickly, but thin quickly." More trees are ruined from crowding than from any other cause. The plantation should be treated precisely as a good farmer would treat a crop of corn. Give clean cultivation. Thick planting gives the advantage of shelter, (each tree protects the other) and the further advantage of a greater number of trees from which to select the permanent ones. It also gives the effect of foliage mass the quicker.

These notes are written in the hope that they may help to intensify the interest now manifested in the planting and protection of public trees. The subject is of such importance as to merit the earnest attention of all.

The insect question I have not touched upon. This, however, is so exhaustively covered by our Entomologists that no one need work in the dark, for want of knowledge of how to exterminate insect pests, or at least to hold them in check.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the16th Annual Convention
Held at Boston, MA
August 19, 20, 21 and 22, 1902