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Thread: City Trees Outgrow Rural Cousins

  1. #1

    Default City Trees Outgrow Rural Cousins

    July 10, 2003

    City Trees Outgrow Rural Cousins, and Study Credits Urban Chemistry


    Everyone knows that trees grow in Brooklyn. Now, scientists have discovered that they also flourish in the Bronx and Queens. In fact, cottonwood trees grow twice as fast in the chewy air of New York City as they do in the pastoral reaches of the Hudson Valley and eastern Long Island.

    In today's issue of the journal Nature, Jillian W. Gregg, a research ecologist, and colleagues report that Eastern cottonwood cuttings grown over several seasons in New York City and in rural areas of the state showed a consistent pattern. Each September, when the researchers measured the trees, the city saplings were twice as big.

    The result may seem to fly in the face of common sense. Sure, city rats are known to grow to the size of Shetland ponies, and cockroaches can multiply faster than a math whiz at the Bronx High School of Science. But trees?

    The explanation, it turns out, has to do with ozone. It is known to harm plants and animals, and it can be worse in rural areas than in the city. In general, Dr. Gregg writes, rural areas in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have higher concentrations of ozone near the ground than cities do. (In the stratosphere, ozone forms a layer that protects life on earth from ultraviolet radiation; that layer has been decreasing, while ozone concentrations in the air that people breathe have been increasing.)

    Dr. Gregg was a graduate student in ecology at Cornell University and at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., when she conducted the research, along with Clive G. Jones, an ecologist at the institute, and Todd E. Dawson, a plant physiologist who was then at Cornell and is now at the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Gregg has just finished a postdoctoral stint with the Environmental Protection Agency.

    She started with genetically identical rooted cuttings of cottonwoods planted in irrigated pots at urban and rural sites. The city cottonwoods were set out in open fields at the New York Botanical Garden and Hunts Point in the Bronx; the Con Edison fuel depot in Astoria, Queens; and Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, Nassau County, the last being not quite New York City, but close enough.

    The country trees, also in irrigated pots, grew in fields in Millbrook; at Cornell University's Horticultural Research Laboratory in Riverhead, Suffolk County; and at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, also in Suffolk. When the saplings were harvested by the researchers, the city trees were often found to be almost six feet tall, the country saplings waist-high. The researchers dried the wood and then weighed it. The results showed that the city saplings were not just tall and skinny: they weighed twice as much.

    Dr. Gregg did not set out to give the city good publicity. Nor was she focusing on the effects of ozone. In fact, she said in an interview, she suspected that the sheer variety of nasty chemicals in city air would make the city saplings unable to match their country cousins.

    In scientific terms, she wanted to examine a complex system that would subject the trees to the combined effect of all forms of air pollution. To measure the effects of air pollution alone, she controlled most other conditions — soil, light, water and genetic composition. When she sorted through the effects of pollutants, only one seemed to make a difference. Higher cumulative concentrations of ozone in rural areas had handicapped the rural trees, she concluded. It was not so much that the city trees were thriving as that the country trees were suffering.

    In one sense, said Eva J. Pell, a professor of agricultural sciences at Pennsylvania State University, the study is "not so surprising." Plants vary in sensitivity to ozone, said Dr. Pell, who is not connected with the study, and cottonwoods are known to be somewhat sensitive. It is also known that pollution in urban areas could produce larger ozone concentrations downwind.

    But Steward T. A. Pickett, a colleague of Dr. Gregg's and Dr. Jones's at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies, said the research was significant because of the complexity of the situation, the many pollutants and effects considered, and the "very elegant and controlled way" that the action of ozone emerged from a welter of other influences.

    Thomas M. Hinckley, a tree physiologist at the University of Washington, agreed. "It's how she conducted the study that makes it so robust," he said. It is easy enough to take a canary into a mine, but all canaries are different, and in this case, he added, "she eliminated the variability from one canary to another."

    The research also dealt with particularly complex atmospheric chemistry. Cities do have more kinds of pollution than rural areas, and some of these pollutants are the chemical precursors of ozone, like nitrogen oxides. Sunlight acts on these substances, initiating chemical reactions that produce ozone.

    Paradoxically, in cities, ozone is not only produced but is also broken down by a variety of processes, including action by some of the very chemicals that are precursors. In cities, ozone is created and destroyed, created and destroyed, like celebrities and cultural fads. In rural areas, which lack this atmosphere of ferment and change, ozone lasts and lasts.

    Unfortunately for the most dedicated urbanites, Dr. Gregg's study has little relevance for sidewalk trees. Ozone is the least of their worries. There is winter salt, excessive heat, lack of sun and the abiding nightmare of every sidewalk plant: the dog.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

    Default City Trees Outgrow Rural Cousins

    How about the higher concentrations of carbon dioxide? *With all those city vehicles, burning gasoline and producing CO2, I'd think that the concentration of the gas would be higher in the city. *And it has been proven that higher concentrations of CO2 help plant growth.

  3. #3

    Default City Trees Outgrow Rural Cousins

    Good thought, very plausible.

    Don't move to the country - way to polluted. *

  4. #4

    Default City Trees Outgrow Rural Cousins

    Heed the Manhattan Ministorage billboard ads:

    Bad things happen when you leave the city.

  5. #5

    Default City Trees Outgrow Rural Cousins

    I don't know if the conclusion about dogs that harm sidewalk trees is serious or humoristic. I guess this has something to do with the fact that they pee in the streets... If only more restrooms had been installed for them.

  6. #6

    Default City Trees Outgrow Rural Cousins

    This curbside beaut must throw acorns at dogs.

  7. #7

    Default City Trees Outgrow Rural Cousins

    The Morning News

    New York’s Real Skyscrapers
    Clay Risen, 25 July 2002

    In a city of parks, Inwood Hill stands out as one of New York’s most gorgeous – and idiosyncratic – green spaces. Tucked into the extreme north corner of Manhattan, the 196-acre spread contains the last primeval forest on the island, a bald eagle reintroduction site, and Sharakkopoch Rock, where Peter Minuit made the first of Manhattan’s ridiculous real estate deals by purchasing the island from the Reckgawawanc Indians for 60 guilders.

    Compared to the city’s other large parks, such well-coiffed affairs as Central, Prospect, and Bryant, Inwood Hill is a shaggy rebel. It has a mere 40 acres of grass, just enough room for a few baseball fields, four tennis courts, and two soccer pitches. The rest of the park is dense forest that runs over and around the tip of Washington Heights and contains some of the oldest things in the city: untouched pine glades, glacial deposits, massive tulip poplars.

    Walk under Inwood Hill’s towering trees, sit on the banks of the Harlem River overlooking the Spuyten Duyvil; you’ll easily forget you’re in a city dominated by skyscrapers. You may even forget that you’re in a city that was ripped apart by an attack on its two tallest skyscrapers, just over 10 months ago. And yet as home to some of the island’s last majestic tulip poplars, Inwood Hill maintains a symbolic link to the other end of the island: Both are dominated by their own monolithic testaments to power, the soaring bank buildings to the south, the enormous trees to the north.
    New York is still reeling, albeit more quietly these days, from last year’s tragedies, trying to redefine itself in an era when tall buildings evoke feelings of insecurity instead of dominance; nevertheless, in casting about for a symbol for the post-Sept. 11 age, few have considered the possibility that nature might present the perfect emblem to bind the city’s future with its past. Finishing a walk through Inwood Hill, you may just ask yourself: Why not the tulip poplar?

    So called for their tulip-shaped leaves, tulip poplars (also known as tulip trees, yellow poplars or Liriodendron tulipifera) are some of the oldest living things – plants or animals – in the country, the Eastern Seaboard’s answer to California’s redwoods. Many of New York’s tulip poplars are more than 200 years old, and researchers estimate some tulip poplars found in the Appalachians at more than 600 years old. The trees still grow in abundance throughout upstate New York and New England, and once prospered across the city’s five boroughs – the city’s first skyscrapers. But from the farming days of colonial New York through the commercial 1800s and the urban explosion of the twentieth century, the city’s trees largely disappeared, and today exist almost completely in parks, mostly in the outer boroughs.

    But for anyone who has ever laid eyes on a tulip poplar, the idea of it disappearing seems preposterous. The trees aren’t just the granddaddies of the forest; they’re patriarchs, looming over even the elms and oaks that make up most of the city’s deciduous population. Many boast an 18-foot circumference; The two current titleholders for largest tree in the city are both tulip poplars – the 133.8-foot-tall Queens Giant and Staten Island’s 119-feet-tall Clove Lake Colossus. The city’s most famous tulip poplar, which stood on the site where Minuit’s famous deal went down but died after being struck by lightning more than 60 years ago, measured 20 feet around and stood 165 feet high. As the plaque-festooned rock that replaced it notes, the tree ‘was, until its death in 1938 at the age of 230 years, the last living link with the Reckgawawanc Indians who lived here.’

    New York is a city famous for its ability to recreate itself and infamous for its willingness to pave over the past, but these days there’s an almost palpable desire for some sense of groundedness, knowledge that life goes on, as it always has, despite tragedy and the inexorable passage of time. Just recently the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation released the six potential plans for the site, and though (and perhaps because) all of them pander to an acceptable middle ground, few people are excited by any of them. Whatever we get – a plaza, a garden, a square, a promenade – we’re guaranteed another swatch of sterile flat greenness, corporate landscaping to reflect the commercial interests driving the LMDC’s plans.

    So here’s for something different: a grove of tulip poplars. Living things to replace death, majestic trees to last hundreds of years. Just as today’s tulip poplars link us to the distant past, a grove at the World Trade Center site will stand as a vibrant memorial into the far future. And it would tie the city together, bringing tulip poplars to the south end of the island just as the commerce borne of the financial district brought urbanization all the way to Inwood Hill. The trees’ growth would reflect the city’s ability to overcome the attacks, while their towering presence will remind visitors of what was once destroyed. And they just may encourage a few folks to visit the city’s lesser-known parks, and see New York’s first skyscrapers.

  8. #8


    January 25, 2004


    It Grows in Brooklyn

    Q. What is the biggest tree in New York City?

    A. According to "New York City Trees; A Field Guide for the Metropolitan Area," by Edward Sibley Barnard (Columbia University Press, in consultation with the city Parks and Recreation Department, 2002), the tree with the largest diameter is an American hornbeam in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, southwest of the Boathouse. It measures 144 inches in diameter, or 4 yards. (This is former Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern's favorite tree, the book notes.)

    A tulip tree beside a home in Riverdale, the Bronx, measures 150 feet tall.


    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  9. #9


    March 27, 2004

    In Obscurity, the Tallest and Oldest New Yorker


    There is a tulip tree that towers in relative obscurity in Alley Pond Park in northeast Queens. Tree experts call it the Queens Giant and say that, at 134 feet tall and as much as 450 years old, it is the tallest and oldest living thing in New York City.

    The Queens Giant usually goes unnoticed by shoppers at the nearby Douglaston Plaza Mall, by most local homeowners and by drivers on the Long Island Expressway some 200 feet away. And the city wants to keep it that way.

    "The Queens Giant is a true wonder of the city, but we've adopted a policy of benign neglect toward it," said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who also called the tree the city's tallest. "There is something to be said for leaving it in a bit of obscurity. It's part of the reason it has survived this long. If everyone is attracted to it, it increases the chance of something bad happening to it."

    But some of the tree's admirers are complaining that this neglect has turned malignant, possibly endangering the Queens Giant.

    "Whether it's in danger or not, I'm no expert, but it's certainly not being protected," said Frank W. Hammelbacher, 57, of Flushing, who examined the tree yesterday on one of his regular visits. "This is a treasure, and I just think the city and all New Yorkers should be more aware of what we've got here." He said he noticed yesterday that another large tulip tree nearby had begun leaning perilously close to the Queens Giant. He called the Parks Department's forestry division, but hung up after 20 minutes on hold, he said.

    Mr. Hammelbacher was standing in the wooded grove, in a remote corner of Alley Pond Park near where the Long Island Expressway crosses the Cross Island Parkway. He stared at a rusty chain-link fence that had been crushed and no longer protected the majestic tree. Another huge tree growing 10 feet away from the giant had fallen, "luckily, the other way," noted Mr. Hammelbacher, who makes his living as a dealer in antique stock certificates. The interior of the giant's hollowed-out trunk, which is spacious enough for a person to step inside and do calisthenics, is blackened and charred. Mr. Hammelbacher also looked warily at the payloaders and dump trucks being used by a construction crew paving a pedestrian pathway.

    Finding and getting to the tree is no easy task. Yesterday, Mr. Hammelbacher stepped off East Hampton Boulevard and picked his way through an obstacle course of branches, boulders and sticker-bushes and through ruts made by large construction vehicles.

    The grove in which the Queens Giant stands is one of four ancient forests still existing in New York City, said Bruce Kershner, a forest ecologist and vice president of the New York Old Growth Forest Association. He estimated the Queens Giant's age at 425 years. In 2002, he measured the circumference of the tree (19 feet), and used a laser range finder to measure the height, which put the tree at 134 feet tall, though it could be a foot or two taller by now, he said.

    "As trees go, you can't get much better than this," Mr. Kershner said. "It is so astonishing to have old-growth forests left in a city, and the city doesn't seem to care about it.

    "This tree was born in the 1500's, before any white European settlers were here," he said. "Once it's gone, you can't bring it back. So why are they neglecting the tallest and oldest living thing in the city?

    "A windstorm could take it down, or vandals could light a fire in it," he said. "The Parks Department doesn't even put a fence around it. The tree's certainly not robust, but it's not near death. It's got another century of life."

    Mr. Benepe called the tree "absolutely safe."

    "It's nice that people are worried about the Queens Giant, but it's an enormously hardy tree and we're keeping a watchful eye on it." he said. "To build a nice, fancy path to it would bring lots of people."

    The crew paving the pedestrian path near the tree did not seem to take much notice, except for the foreman, Sal D'Amato, 59, of Bayside.

    "I was staring and staring at it, and then the other day, one of the guys on the job told me about it being the tallest in the city," he said. "It's impressive in New York City, I'll tell you that."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  10. #10


    Cobble Hill Journal

    A Sapling Grows Into a Giant; The Streets Around It Change, Too

    Bess Greenberg/The New York Times
    Caroline Melamed, 16, in her family’s home on Kane Street. A mulberry tree, beloved in the neighborhood, dominates the view.

    Published: June 20, 2008

    It may have been a sapling, but it looked like a stick. Diane Dillon, for one, was fairly skeptical that the branch her elderly neighbor stuck in the ground in front of his Cobble Hill brownstone one day in the late 1960s — a twig, no thicker than her finger — would ever amount to much. She was pretty sure the wind would just blow it away.

    Bess Greenberg/The New York Times
    The mulberry tree on Kane Street in Cobble Hill, which was planted about 40 years ago.

    But the neighbor — Ms. Dillon remembers him only as Mr. Greiner — must have had a feeling about that stick. As the neighborhood around it was transformed, from a rough-edged enclave of immigrants to one of the most sought-after ZIP codes in the city, with the prices of houses climbing from the low five digits in the 1960s to millions today, the twig grew as well.

    The tree, on Kane Street near Tompkins Place, became a giant, with branches that reach across Kane, roots that have torn apart the sidewalk, and a trunk wrapped in vines that leans into the street like an old man warning cars away.

    “This is what it has become,” said Ms. Dillon. “This little tiny branch we thought would never survive.”

    In recent weeks, though, residents who live appreciatively in the mulberry’s shade feared the tree faced a new threat: a city chain saw. In May, a note on green paper appeared in the mailbox of the Melameds, who live in Mr. Greiner’s old house, announcing that a city inspector had determined the tree was facing removal pending review because it was diseased.

    Then, one morning in early June, Mark Melamed saw posted signs explaining that trees on the street were scheduled for trimming or removal. The family feared the worst.

    The Melameds’ 16-year-old daughter, Caroline, went to school that day “close to tears,” her mother, Helen Melamed, said. The mulberry’s branches scraped Caroline’s window, providing a leafy prism on the neighborhood. She anxiously called home from school to find out what had happened to the tree.

    Was the tree’s success something like the neighborhood’s? Just as the houses are now so expensive — too expensive for some who grew up there — now perhaps the tree had grown too large, damaging the sidewalk, raining mulberries and branches on cars, and even endangering those who walk beneath it.

    In 1966, when Ms. Dillon moved to the neighborhood, there were few street trees in Cobble Hill. The brownstones sold for $10,000, and many had been cut up into rooming houses, where Irish, Italian and Syrian immigrants rented space for about $100 a month. Feuding gangs, the Playboys and the Black Diamonds, shared the streets with the knife sharpeners and the horse-drawn fruit carts. Parents in Brooklyn Heights told their children not to wander south of Atlantic Avenue. Banks called it a “transitional neighborhood,” Ms. Dillon said, and it was hard to get a mortgage.

    But a well of civic pride fed the residents of Cobble Hill. They fought for the park that today sits next to the mews houses on Verandah Place, and they issued a design guide for preserving brownstones that was circulated in historic neighborhoods in New York and beyond.

    And they planted trees. George Polimeros, an engineer who was the tree manager for the Cobble Hill Association, led the effort. “He planted more than 2,000 trees,” said his widow, Demetra Polimeros, who still lives in the neighborhood. Her husband, who died in 1979, would go from house to house with his guitar to persuade residents over drinks and music to contribute money to the tree-planting effort.

    Mostly, he planted the disease-resistant London planes. “They were hardy, and would tolerate the salt the city would throw around during a snowstorm,” Mrs. Polimeros said.

    Ms. Dillon has forgotten the first name of her neighbor, Mr. Greiner. She thought that he was German and had a wife named Rosa, and she remembers him as a fearless home improver, known, when he was in his 70s, to hang from a rope to paint his house. But one year, she forgets exactly when, Mr. Greiner chose to plant a mulberry, an aggressive tree that needs no coddling. Of the nearly 600,000 street trees in New York City today, about 1,200, or 0.2 percent, are mulberries, according to Jennifer Greenfeld, the director of street tree planting for the city parks department.

    “It’s not a tree we recommend planting,” she said. “They’re opportunistic.”
    The sapling came from a mulberry tree in Mr. Greiner’s backyard.

    But now ...

    The branches nudge the neighbors’ trees, and wind around a nearby lamppost. One massive limb has reached clear across Kane Street, nearly touching a house on the other side. “I’ve never seen one that large,” said Tom Synnott, the chairman of the Cobble Hill Tree Fund.

    And the tree is something constant in a neighborhood where the pace of change seems to accelerate daily. The homes on Kane Street are now called “town houses” by property agents, Ms. Dillon noted with a laugh.

    Atlantic Avenue, that once-feared divide, is dangerous only for those afraid of shopping.

    Mrs. Melamed and her family are part of the change, having moved to Kane Street from Manhattan three years ago. On the day that they feared the mulberry would be cut down, she joined the latest wave of neighborhood activists, calling the parks department’s Brooklyn Forestry Office to learn the tree’s fate.

    The news was good. A man who answered the phone told her the mulberry had won a “stay of execution,” for now.

    Unsure how long the reprieve would last, the Melameds posted a polite, pleading note on the mulberry’s trunk, addressed to Andy Rabb of the Brooklyn Forestry office. “We are very anxious that this tree be preserved if it is at all possible,” they wrote. Then they waited.

    On Tuesday, the parks department said that the mulberry, which was inspected again last week, would not be cut down.

    Parks officials said they had received complaints about the damage to the sidewalk under the tree, and about the branches and mulberries that fall off it. But they said that the tree was healthy, and added that the crews on the day in early June were there to prune the tree.

    “We had our fingers crossed,” Mrs. Melamed said.
    Mr. Synnott, of the Tree Fund, said he would monitor some rot on the tree’s base. “It’s become a neighborhood icon,” he said.

    Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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