Local tree guide update offers ‘antidote to plant blindness’

An icon in the Morris Aboretum, a multi-trunk katsura tree is among those specimens featured in “Philadelphia Trees.” Planted in early 1900. Credit: Paul W. Meyer

Asked to name his favorite tree, Paul W. Meyer, the former director of Penn’s Morris Arboretum, likens the task to “asking a parent to name his favorite child.”

Meyer mentions Morris’s iconic and sprawling katsura tree, but also shares his admiration for a giant American sycamore that grows on the east side of Philadelphia’s Washington Square. “It actually grows on a sidewalk,” says Meyer. “It’s a huge tree that should no longer be alive by any objective measure. But it’s just thriving.”

Such a passion for trees weaves through the pages of “Philadelphia Trees,” a field guide originally published in 2017 and updated and republished this year by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Meyer co-authored the pocket-sized, 280-page work with Catriona Bull Briger and Edward Sibley Barnard.

The book is divided into three major sections: one on some of the top tree-watching locations in Greater Philadelphia, another that profiles 50 notable trees in the area, and a field guide that includes 168 species to help readers identify the trees that are more possible. to meet locally. The book also includes a brief history of Philadelphia’s “arboreal heritage,” authored by Penn alum David Hewitt. a quick reference guide to locating trees in their taxonomic groups on the inside cover of the book. more than 1,000 color photos, maps and line drawings. and bibliography.

“The book is intended for a general audience, someone like me who is interested in trees but might not know the difference between a black oak and a red oak,” says Barnard. “It’s going to be very readable and accessible.”

Inspired by city trees

Barnard had a long career in publishing. After retiring from Reader’s Digest, he developed a greater interest in natural history. On a walk home in New York’s Riverside Park, he tripped over some fallen gum and was inspired. He began work on what would become “New York City Trees,” first published in 1999 by Columbia University Press in collaboration with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the New York Tree Trust.

In 2010, Barnard moved to Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill neighborhood to be closer to his grandchildren and met Meyer, who proposed creating a similar tree for Philadelphia. The two enlisted the help of Briger, who has a background in landscape architecture as well as writing and design, and together they located, photographed, mapped and wrote about some of the most spectacular trees and viewing locations. of trees in the city.

The team went on such expeditions over several years to create “Philadelphia Trees,” originally published by Columbia University Press in association with the Morris Arboretum. The selection of areas and trees included was made with the expertise of Meyer as well as Hewitt, who has a background in botany and has written extensively about Philadelphia’s trees. Joel Fry, curator at Bartram’s Garden. and Ken LeRoy, a knowledgeable arborist.

“In those years when we did tree walks and afternoon missions, you would feel a bit like an explorer or a detective,” says Briger.

Local tree guide update offers 'antidote to plant blindness'

The authors visited locations throughout Greater Philadelphia to locate particularly impressive trees. Among those that caught their eye: a white oak in Lemon Hill, a holly in North Philadelphia and willows in Society Hill. Credits: Paul W. Meyer (right and left), Edward Sibley Barnard (center)

In the five years since the book was originally printed, much has changed in the tree-dwelling world of Philadelphia, and the trio of authors decided during the pandemic that it was time to revamp their publication. They partnered with Penn Press to do so, again in partnership with the Morris Arboretum.

“When you focus on big, old, mature trees, they’re much more at risk than a young tree,” Meyer says, meaning some of the trees highlighted in the first version were no longer alive.

An example is the famous Philly tree pictured on the cover of the first edition: an imposing confectioner on the Belmont Plateau. With much fanfare, the city removed that diseased tree in 2021, planting in its place a stand of black gums whose vivid fall color rivals that of maple.

Bridger notes additional losses at Temple Ambler University Arboretum. “In 2021 there was a tornado and they lost about 75% of their trees,” he says.

As a result, Barnard, Meyer and Briger returned to each of the locations they had recorded in the first edition, some visits resulting in a wholesale rewriting of these sections.

Special trees, close to the house

Penn’s campus gets its own special section in the book’s “Best Places to See Trees” section, the authors call attention to the Elm Convention that overlooks College Hall, the Japanese zelkovas that line Locust Walk, the southern magnolias near the Wistar Institute, and the diverse collection of species at James G. Kaskey Memorial Park, not to mention the fact that the campus itself is a designated arboretum.

The Morris Arboretum, similarly, is called out as a site of interest, with a tree map, designed by Briger, orienting readers to 23 trees with notes. Another special map shows 26 remarkable trees just steps from Penn’s campus in Woodlands Cemetery, the former estate of plant collector William Hamilton.

Overall, the authors express a desire for their book—designed to be slim enough to fit easily in a pocket or bag—to empower people with the knowledge to better understand the plants around them and develop a deeper appreciation for their value for the landscape. to the environment, to our health and well-being and to future generations.

“Most people walk into this world looking at a green mist. They don’t really see plants. They don’t really see trees, they just see this green background,” says Meyer. “I really hope that this book is an antidote to blindness – that you will learn how to see trees, then pay more attention and not just appreciate the beauty of trees, but also be more aware of trees” needs and to you are a better steward of the urban forest.”

Provided by the University of Pennsylvania

Reference: Update of a local tree field guide offers ‘antidote for plant blindness’ (2023, March 17) Retrieved March 17, 2023, from https://phys.org/news/2023-03-local-tree-field-antidote. html

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