Monday, May 17, 2010

A Tree Grows on State Street

A Gingko (Gingko bilboa) tree is now growing at the corner of State and Elm streets in New Haven, just outside the entrance to Channel 8. I helped plant it on Saturday as part of a work crew made up of volunteers participating in the Yale Day of Service, student interns from the Sound School and Common Ground High School, and interns and staff from Urban Resources Initiative (URI).

This tree was chosen for its grace and hardiness. It’s a male, which means it will never bear the messy and odoriferous fruit which some love to eat but none love to smell. This corner is a tough location for a tree — lots of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and nothing to block the harsh sun. “My” tree occupies the space of a failed predecessor. The Downtown Management Team requested the State Street trees; the Town Green Special Services District has pledged to keep them watered. That is how the program works. A person or group can request a tree or trees, but the request will only be honored if someone makes the commitment to care for them.

Tree planting is hard work. Until I tried it, I did not know how much a root ball weighs, how much effort it takes to dig a hole as deep as the ball and twice as wide, what supplements new trees need (kelp is good), or the many other steps there are to prepare a tree for a long and healthy life in a challenging urban setting.

We planted eight trees today — two Gingkos, two Honey Locusts (Gleditsia triacanthos), two American Lindens (Tilia americana), and two Golden Rain Trees (Koelreuteria paniculata), which will bear fragrant yellow flowers and papery seed pods that look like lanterns. With these trees in the ground, the City of New Haven is well over 1/4 of the way toward achieving its goal of planting 1000 trees by the end of 2010.

This ambitious tree planting program is actually a partnership between the City of New Haven and URI, carried out with the help of volunteers. The City provides the funds for purchase of the trees, volunteers supply the labor, and URI selects the trees, carries out all the logistics, provides training, and supervises the planting. Each summer, with funding from outside groups, URI is able to offer internships to Yale undergraduate and graduate students in environmental studies. This year the program expanded by offering paid internships to students in two city high schools, who planted trees and were trained to supervise volunteers (like me).

American poet Joyce Kilmer wrote at the turn of the last century, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree…” Trees also provide homes for birds and wildlife, improve air quality, give shade that cuts down on the need for air conditioning, and calm traffic. 

As a resident, you can request a tree in front of your home, but you have to pledge to care for it. My friends made such a promise and now a Princess Dogwood is growing in front of their home on Pelham Lane.

271 and counting… There is still a way to go to reach 1000 by the end  of November. Trees make the world a better place for us all. Wouldn’t you just love one?


  1. Given New Heaven's glorious past as "The Elm City", I was struck by the absence of any of the disease resistant elm strains from the planting plans. I have read of their existence, but have no idea just how resistant they might be nor how hardy they are for an urban setting. Maybe this is good fodder for a future post... ;-)

  2. That is a very good question. I will look into this. And, you are correct, that would make a good future post.