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In Praise of Trees 

By The Garden Commando

Recently an acquaintance remarked to me that many Toronto residents take trees for granted. They tend, she felt, tend to assume that the city's trees are "forever", and pay little attention to the continuous assault on trees in the urban forest. 

Unfortunately, I have to agree with her.

The part of the city in which I reside held a particular charm precisely because of the large numbers of beautiful, mature trees lining many of the streets.  I say "held" because in the past 15 years, I have seen many of these lovely trees hacked down in the name of "progress" in the form of huge, towering apartment buildings; oversized "monster homes" (you know, the ones that have a garage out front, and a big two or three story box attached) and of course, the inevitable road widening to accomodate all the new construction.

It seems that while concerned residents are trying to get tree bylaws in place, petty bureaucrats are working just as hard to thwart them (at least that is how it appears to tree advocates.)

The bottom line, however, remains that we are rather quickly losing our urban forest.  To me, that is a major problem.

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What is the Urban Forest

The urban forest is all the plant material - grass, flowers, shrubs and other vegetative material - that is planted throughout the inner city and out into the adjoining suburbs. It includes the parks, parkettes and other outdoor recreation areas; the industrial and commercial landscapes; shrubs, flowers and grass on boulevards in the city and suburbs - but most importantly, all the trees - both those on private property, and on city property. 

Trees are a precious resource. 

We tend to our shrubs, flowers and grass - fertilizing, watering and pruning them, but how many of us do anything special for our trees? Not many. 

Unfortunately, expert tree care is expensive and people often shy away from spending what seems like an unreasonable fee to prune or maintain a tree. In the long run however, timely preventive maintenance can both save you money, and help to preserve a tree. 

Incorrect pruning can lead to pests and disease attacking and weakening your tree. As a result, it will look unsightly and may eventually die. Inexpert tree removal is dangerous, and can cause personal injury and property damage (and possible lawsuits). Doing nothing can lead to problems such as dead limbs falling and causing damage; reduced health and vigor due to poor nutrition, or the tree dying and coming down unexpectedly. 

We really have to look out more for our trees. In addition to their own trees, people sometimes mistakenly attempt to prune or remove City trees, which (in Toronto) is illegal. When a new home is built or a renovation takes place, often valuable, mature trees are bulldozed or damaged by heavy equipment. Call the City if you see a public tree being vandalized, damaged, or removed by an unauthorized person. It takes only minutes to cut down a mature tree - but it takes a lifetime or more to regrow one of equal size. 

Before you cut down a tree, call in a tree expert, and see if there is another solution. Everone in the community benefits from trees. 

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Trees help to control air pollution; they act as a noise barrier; a wind-screen and help control soil erosion. Trees provide shade and attract wildlife. They also help to increase property values and serve to protect watercourses. 

Trees help to soften the visual impact of concrete and steel structures and provide natural beauty in the cityscape. The stark appearance of parking lots is improved by the strategic placement of islands and large planters containing trees. Even sterile shopping areas and malls are made more pleasant by the addition of small trees and shrubs. Some malls have atriums with many hanging plants, and large indoor plants, such as Ficas benjamina. Some have also added outdoor landscaping with variations in grade, and groups of trees screening the parking lot from the street, and vice-versa. 

In the 1800's there lived a man of great vision called Frederick Law Olmsted. He believed that an urban environment was incomplete without trees and grass. Among other accomplishments, he designed New York's Central Park (1858). He spent his life dedicated to his vision of social changes that would bring beauty into the everyday lives of ordinary people. We too should learn to conserve and nurture our trees, because the urban forest of our various cities is vital to the well-being of the people that live within its confines. 

Our trees are the promise of future generations. 

Bibliographical notes
Information to support the remarks made in this article was obtained from Etobicoke Department of Forestry, the Ministry of the Environment, The Ministry of Agriculture and from the text used in The Urban Trees course at Guelph University.

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This page was updated August 8, 2004

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