Trees: The Canopies of Our World

Oak Tree

Trees are some of the oldest living organisms on Earth, being in existence for over 370 million years, an estimated 25 to 35 percent of the world’s plants, and spanning the globe in both diversity and commonality. They provide oxygen, habitat, food, and shade while devouring carbon emissions, managing rainfall, and stabilizing different soils. They lend a permanence and maturity to the landscape that expands beyond most our lifetimes. With the tallest trees reaching heights of almost 400 feet and the oldest of them estimated at 9,550 years old, it’s no wonder they demand so much amazement and respect.

To stand mesmerized under the majesty of a wide canopy, gaze upwards towards the towering tips, or marvel at the massive trunks is how most of us engage with the trees around us, but no doubt trees are part of our everyday environment. Besides products from harvested trees, like medicines, furniture, and paper, living trees provide continual fruit, nuts, oils, coffee, and much-needed organic matter back to the soil, not to mention the very air we breathe. Very little distinguishes shrubs from trees, though growing conditions can greatly vary the specifications of identical species.

Planting trees has historically been a cultural ceremony, but now is often a city or neighborhood event with planning, management, and care all under critical examination. With an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 species in the world, there seems to be a plethora to choose from, but many are specific to site quality or growing conditions and may just not be appropriate for some locations. Very careful consideration is needed for a statuesque tree to be allowed to reach maturity and age gracefully in place with its surroundings. Consulting an arborist or botanist is an extremely wise first step in adding these beauties to your landscape. City guidelines should be checked for restrictions on species, size, gender, and location of any tree added to a cityscape.

In addition to thoughtful choices regarding species and location, there is much continued care needed for our large trees to stand the test of time. Soil quality and tender care when planting are often the largest overlooked primary elements that can drastically alter the results. Since most of the canopy you see is mimicked in root growth, soil health and room to grow become vital to reaching a mature size. Not all dirt is soil, and not all soil is equal. Keep this in mind when utilizing soil additives, like compost or beneficial mycelium, both highly recommended. Watering, pruning, mulching, and protecting trees until they are of a set age is key, with attention given to dry periods through the lifetime of some city-dwelling trees. Local utilities have limitations and logical rules to be followed as well. Developing a relationship with an arborist can greatly assist in identifying structural pruning issues, insect management, and disease prevention. Diversity is certain to boost habitat, be more resistant to infestations of any kind, and visually provide the best show as the trees age in seasons and over the years.

Dwelling in the Madison area means our planting zone usually falls in the cold index range of 4A and a warm index range of 5B, meaning microclimate help is needed for the extremes. Our soil is mostly alkaline, riddled with clay, and roughly a 5 to 6 on the pH scale. Organic matter is as crucial here as anywhere. Canopy trees that can age into retirement among us include the mighty oaks (Quercus): white oak (Quercus alba), red oak (Quercus rubra), bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), and black oak (Quercus velutina). All are extremely common and often mixing in with aspen (Populus tremuloides), shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), silver maple (Acer saccharinum), linden or basswood (Tilia americana), poplar or cottonwood (Populus), catalpa (Catalpa), larch (Larix), white pine (Pinus strobus), spruce (Picea), and hemlock (Tsuga).

Science and aesthetics align in wonder at these far-reaching and far-aging greats in our plant kingdom. Well-being for the human mind and spirit as well as crucial elemental health for our planet can both be founded in trees. They are a gift for our future generations for hundreds if not thousands of years, equating in permanent positivity for our environment.

Karina Mae is the designer and team leader at Garden Search & Rescue.

Garden Search & Rescue
Madison, WI