January 20, 2009

Tree Walk: Recollections of favourite trees

First, at the time of this writing, these United States have a new president, Barack Obama. The tree (an oak?) featured on the *President* Obama Tree Logo T-shirt is among my favorites.

Around my childhood home grew many trees: lime (genus Citrus), almond (Prunus dulcis), pear (avocado), June plum (not a true plum), apple (Otaheite or Malay), mango (genus Mangifera), coconut (Cocos nucifera), sweetsop (Annona squamosa), cherry (Muntingia calabura L.), and ackee (Blighia sapida), the national fruit and with saltfish, the national dish. Where was this yard of "exotic" trees? The parish of St. Catherine in Jamaica. Of these, my favourites were the lime tree in the backyard and the almond tree in the front yard. My brother and I spent time in the deep shade of the lime tree, picked the fruit, cut and sprinkled the halves with salt, and happily ate them. As for the almond tree, we ate the fruit too, but my fondest memories are of drinking lemonade with my mum beneath its branches and swimming in our plastic pools which were set in its shade.

Do you recall the baobabs in "The Little Prince"? I saw one of these trees in Nxai Pan, a national park in Botswana.

I have written elsewhere in this blog about my work as a community and urban forester in New Haven, Conn. and Boston, Mass. The first coniferous evergreen I planted was an eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana L.) at the Ivy Narrow Bird Preserve in the New Haven. I am partial to broadleaf deciduous tree species (sweetgum, tuliptree, ginkgo and the like). However, the fact that this J. virginiana was among the first trees I ever planted and my special relationship with the site and its stewards contributes to its special place on my list of favourite trees.

Did you know that a giraffe will eat willow branches? In my capacity as Boston's urban forester, I assisted the tree warden in collecting branches from a willow along Agassiz Road to bring to an ailing giraffe at the Franklin Park Zoo. Salicylic acid (aspirin) is derived from willows (genus Salix) The willow in question is located in the Boston Fens, a few blocks away from my former apartment. Closer to work, were several horsechestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) planted in the sidewalk. The loveliest blooms in the spring! Sadly, one was killed during a car accident (the driver of the car was unharmed).

Now I live in Berkeley, California. Regular readers of this blog might guess that one of my favourite trees here is the quince in my backyard. Northern California is renowned for its coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). Nearby, where Adeline Street intersects Shattuck Avenue at Ward Street, there is a grove of redwoods in the median. I've seen redwoods in park settings, but these redwoods are my favourites. (The jog in the street at the Adeline-Shattuck is a remnant of the East Bay's streetcar system, the former Key Route System, which played a pivotal role in the formation of Berkeley streetcar suburbs like Ashby Station.)

4 comments:

  1. Wow, a childhood in Jamaica! What a wonderful bunch of trees to grow up with (and under). Salted limes fresh from the tree...I'm going to have to try that someday, when I get back to citrus country. Willows have so many uses and strengths - I've heard that the shoots can be used as a natural rooting hormone for cuttings. I always meant to ask a neighbor with a tree for some to try this out but then we moved. Another thing on my list to try someday!

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  2. Salted limes with sugar cane was another favourite. I don't think I could eat salted limes now.

    In the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, you can buy various salted fresh fruits like salted strawberries (delicious).

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  3. Today I read about "jal jeera," a "salted limeade with cumin and mint" drink popular in Delhi (Travel+Leisure, Oct. 2008).

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  4. I am with you on Juniperus virginiana, they are common like dirt here but great trees. Many Virginia plantation drives are lined with ancient specimens. I hope I have a change of pants if I ever get to see a Baobab in the wild.

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