Thursday, May 7, 2009

Urban Trees

#10 Name five trees in your area? Are any of them native?

One of the things I've come to appreciate about Phoenix is the enormous diversity of trees growing in the city. Though the surrounding desert is mostly lacking in trees, except along watercourses, the well-irrigated urban landscape supports a lush forested landscape of trees from all all over the world. There is even a Department of Urban Forestry for the City of Phoenix that promotes planting trees in the city.

My favorite five around here are:

Desert Willow: This one is native to the Sonoran Desert, growing along washes all the way from Grand Canyon down the Colorado River drainage to the southeast corner where Arizona borders Mexico. They are not willows at all, but have long slender leaves like many willows. Unlike true willows, which are mostly wind pollinated, Desert Willows have huge showy orchid-like flowers that attract many types of pollinators. They are in full bloom all summer long, from April through October, defying the stifling heat and periods of drought that send many desert plants into dormancy.

Jacaranda: This is a tropical relative of the Desert Willow that is imported from Brazil. Huge clusters of extravagant bright purple flowers contrast with elegant white trunks and bright green fern-like leaves. These thirsty trees are not exactly a great choice for desert landscaping, but there are many of them established especially in older parts of the city and they are gorgeous in bloom!

Ironwood: A hearty native famous for very dense wood, ironwood is another spectacular bloomer. These ones burst into a cloud of pale violet about now, and are so pretty in the early morning light. I haven't succeeded in capturing the ethereal quality of flowering ironwoods on film or microchip, but this is sort of what they look like.

Sycamore: In canyons and along the big rivers, sycamores are the giants of the native desert trees. Some of the older ones have trunks up to 3 feet in diameter! These are one native you don't see so much in landscaping, but I'm not sure why. I think they need a little more shade than is available in the city to do really well. This picture was taken along the Upper Salt River. The great white trunks are silouetted in the desert side canyon, survivors of the early days of the Salt River Project, which removed most of the great cottonwoods and sycamores along the river because they "used too much water."

Washington Palm: I love these guys. And they are native! There are a few wild remnant populations in the state, but now they are more abundant in city than in the wild. One of the coolest things about palm trees is that they are most resilient in the high winds of monsoon season. Last fall when we had a huge storm that brought down huge old pines and eucalyptus trees all over downtown Phoenix, the palms just laughed and remained standing. I love the way they look with their skirts, but people are obsessive about shaving them off in the city because they don't like the fact that birds and rats like to nest in them.

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