A few years ago I witnessed the falling of a street tree in my San Francisco neighborhood. It felt crazy and surreal, right out of a Hitchcock movie.
How could this be? It’s the middle of a dry, sunny Spring afternoon. No winds to speak of.
I thought to myself: Are the beautiful street trees lining Hyde Street in Russian Hill trying to tell us something?
Why is this beautiful urban giant falling over, under no apparent stress on a perfectly calm and ordinary day?
And I was lucky. I had just walked by the tree, fifteen minutes before to drop mail into the mailbox. After the first tree limb crashed doing damage to the bus stop (photo to right), breaking the glass and scaring the heck out of people in the area, came a second crash (20 minutes later).
This one was the falling of another major limb, which ended up doing damage to the van pictured. It was a bad time to be driving by. 🙁
Unfortunately, this incident is not an isolated one. Since that time several Indian Laurel Fig trees (Ficus microcarpa ‘Nitida’) have had limbs come down. Fortunately no one’s gotten hurt, just vehicles and bus stops. Yikes!
I’ve woken up a couple of mornings to the sound of chainsaws; the city’s tree workers fast at work to clean up and cut up more giant limbs that have torn off and come crashing down.
The hardest thing is having witnessed this Fig tree, (top left) one of the grandest Figs on the street, tagged by the city for removal. You can see by the severe lean and bare interior branches from lion’s tail pruning, it’s potentially “hazardous.”
It was very sad to see this…going from a tree, to a stump, grinding the stump, and finally pouring concrete over it, as if it never existed.
So how can we avoid this– The failing limbs? The cutting down trees?
Cutting Down Trees Isn’t the Answer: Planting Appropriate Choices IS!
Like other examples of trees that sounded good at the time for their positive qualities: Monterey Cypress, Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus, the Indian Laurel Fig looks gorgeous, stays evergreen, gives the street that lines the cable car route a green canopy. However, the tree is clearly too big and rambunctious for the space that it was given. Not any fault of the tree…
The most important thing is choosing the appropriate tree for your space. Lessons sometimes take a long time to learn. It’s very sad to witness any of our street trees demise, and the fact is, it’s largely due to pruning that needs to be done to accommodate people, businesses and buildings. Also, poor pruning practices need to be stopped as they disfigure, weaken and harm the tree – roots and all!
Curious to hear your take on this topic? Do you feel connected to the trees in your neighborhood? What are good tree choice suggestions where you live?
p.s: Here’s a short video I just watched that discusses the importance of not over pruning or over managing Ficus trees.