Apr 1, 2008

The Worst Tree Ever

You know that beautiful, majestic, mature redwood tree in your neighborhood — maybe even in your yard? The one that's the pride of your community?

Kill it.
Cut it down.
Do it now.

"What?!" He's gone mad, you're saying. There's no — how could — what??!!

But the disturbing fact is, a grown redwood sucks up more water each and every day — 500 gallons or more! — than any other garden plant, including the oft-demonized lawn. Even the most water-unthrifty among us, spraying the lawn (and sidewalk and gutter) 10 minutes every day at 25 gallons per minute, might spend 250 gallons a day… but not 500 per plant.

And that's not even to mention that redwoods, like wolves, are hardly solitary creatures. They grow in groves, and if you've ever been to Muir Woods, you've seen it: as soon as one tree dies, a "fairy ring" sprouts up around its base. One down, five take its place. So now instead of 500 gallons per day, we're talking 2500 gallons. Do you want that water bill? I don't.

Will your garden be next?But it's not just water. The fairy ring is a perfect example: is there any better definition of a noxious weed? I mean, we curse the fluorescent yellow oxalis this time of year, but in a few months it's gone. We lament the smothering of our native hillsides by scraggly Scotch broom, but at least we can still see the hillside. A fairy ring gets going in your next door neighbor's lot, you may as well get yourself an old Underwood and start composing manifestos.

Plus, redwoods create fire danger. Their copious duff and bark are rich in tannins, which suppress not only weeds but also fire, which would be all well and good except that, as the wise people in our government who are paid to think these things all the way through know, the West's wildfires are becoming more catastrophic because there are fewer small fires occurring, so that when a fire does get going, it's got more and larger trees (i.e. more fuel) and spirals out of control much faster.

El Palo not-so-Alto-anymore
Quite honestly, redwoods are such a menace it's difficult to understand why they're the state tree of otherwise enlightened California — or why my own fair city not only hasn't cut down its decrepit namesake and renamed itself South Menlo or Steve's Town or something actually worthy of its citizenry, but actually has accorded these monsters "heritage tree" status; and so protected, they'll continue to grow and consume even more water — leaving even less available for the rest of us in these near-drought times.

Look: I appreciate the spirit of well-meaning groups like Save The Redwoods and Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy, who valiantly endeavor to preserve the few remaining places that are so pristine it's almost a transcendent experience to visit. It just breaks my heart they so willingly ignore no less than Time magazine's reporting that "redwoods create their own microclimate" (which explains why gardening around them is an ambitious affair at best) to lionize the legendary Sequoia as if its utter domination of the landscape is somehow a good thing. "Drippy, dark and closed in," says one of California's foremost native plantsmen of a Sequoia habitat. "Cut the forest down and you usually get Northern Coastal Scrub."

Sequoia-free = tabula rasaThe irony is that once a redwood is removed, instantly it becomes apparent how much light and air are available to the gardener and the garden. Roses can grow where only ferns dared try; moss and musty odors disappear overnight; our dream of a water-wise garden actually has a chance of becoming a reality.

Still want a tree in that spot? Now you're free to choose. Plant a mighty oak! (Uh, well, except that oaks can drink 250 gallons a day and still become overbearing monstrosities that can never be cut down. Nevermind.) OK, plant a… willow! Or a birch! (Um, wait, those are both riparian species, so they'll suck up all your water and invade your sewer line.) A jacaranda, then! (Actually, it gets a little cold here for those to really thrive.) Jeez, a magnolia! (Yeaahhhhhh… despite their ubiquity, they actually heave hardscape like crazy and look pretty bad without constant moisture and humidity. Not a good choice for our summers.)

Look, what's wrong with you?! Why are you so hung up on specifics?! Once that damn redwood is gone, you can do whatever you want! Okay, I'll take the initiative: so that we can write the last chapter of this nightmare, I'll personally contact every city council on the peninsula, as well as the California EPA, and implore them to rescind the redwoods' heritage tree status.

Just… not today.


Brian said...

Too funny! Happy April Fools day!

Anonymous said...

This post has me cross-eyed for sawdust and woodchips.... Bought myself a gas-guzzling, 250-horse-power Hummer of a chain saw, which I intend to use liberally this weekend.