Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Dearth of Trees

Maple Street, Maynard, 1910. Second tree on left appears to
be same tree as in photo below. Click on photos to enlarge.
Using Maple Street, Maynard, as a perhaps not entirely typical example, there is strong evidence for attrition of the urban treescape. A postcard in the collection of the Historical Society shows both sides of Maple Street (and the east side of Brooks Street) lined with maple trees; a 1910 photo shows the same trees  on Maple Street, larger, and allows for an estimate of perhaps forty trees at least six inches in diameter. Today, 110 years later, only four survive – one slowly dying. The greenway between the street and sidewalk contains these plus three replacement trees. The business district has suffered a similar loss. Roughly fourty sidewalk squares along Nason, Main and Walnut streets plus grass islands in the municipal parking lots were designed to host trees; many are treeless. Lastly, construction of the Assabet River Rail Trail through the center of town resulted in the loss of more than 600 trees more than four inches in diameter. Replacement plantings were perhaps one-fifth that number, and most of those north of Summer Street.

Maple Street, Maynard, 2019. Sickly tree on left is one of the
originals, most likely planted when houses were built in 1870s.
In addition to deliberate deforestation, our trees are at risk to species-specific diseases, invasive insect species, invasive plant species, uncompensated storm damage and deferred maintenance. Nationwide, chestnut blight took out three billion trees, elm disease another one hundred million. The larvae of Emerald Ash Borer have a fatal impact on ash trees, as does the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid on hemlocks. Oriental bittersweet vines grow into the tops of mature trees, overshadowing the trees’ leaves and breaking branches with weight, until the trees die.

Urban trees have value. A study conducted at Devens, MA, concluded that house prices in tree-rich neighborhoods are higher, energy costs needed to cool houses when trees provide share are lower, and asphalt streets have a longer lifespan before repaving is required due to a dampening of the daily heat/cool cycle. Trees capture rain, reducing the needs to channel and process stormwater runoff. Trees provide shade for outdoor activities, and muffle street noise. Plausible research suggests that patients in hospitals need less of pain relief meds and heal faster if their windows look out over gardens and trees versus a parking lot.

Nason Street, Maynard: stump of
removed urban tree. Eleven replace-
ment trees will be planted soon.
Counter to this, there is persistent lack of funding for urban forestry, consequence of tight budgets and an attitude that trees are “nice to have” but not necessary. Once a town or city has fallen behind maintaining an existing urban canopy, reversing the trend with an accelerated planting program is seen as too expensive. Only when a community recognizes that the commercial and personal health benefits of a trees sustainability program are real and important do annual budgets reflect the need. As of 2019, Nason and Main streets have lost most of their sidewalk trees.  

Norway spruce trees flanking house,
Glendale Street. 
Not only is Maynard suffering from a dearth of trees, it has no examples of remarkable trees. A pair of Norway spruces on Glendale Street approach 100 feet. There are sugar maples and white pines here and there that top 100 feet. Prior to the arrival of European colonists, New England’s white pines could top 160 feet, sugar maples 135 feet, eastern hemlock 130 feet, and tulip poplar trees 120 feet. Groves of 100-foot tall trees with trunks exceeding three feet in diameter were common, likewise trees 300 to 500 years old.    

The dearth of big trees rests on our history. To the colonists of the 1600s, every tree deserved an ax. Wood burning for household heat was so profligate that visitors from England wrote home that people were so extravagant as to having more than one fire burning at the same time! By 1850, more than half of New England was field or pasture, the remaining forests were second or third growth, good for firewood but not lumber. Locally, much of what had grown in abandoned farmland was leveled by the 1938 hurricane. A fair guess is that Maynard is home to no trees more than 200 years old, and that the majority is under 100 years old. What we have are adults with growing ongoing.

European copper beech, Acton Street, Maynard, MA.
Estimated 90' tall and 90' wide. 
EXTRA: there are two European copper beeches that may be the largest-trunked trees in Maynard. One is next to St. Bridget's Church. The other is in a side yard on the west side of Acton Street. The oldest known introduction of copper beeches to the United States dates to around 1830. The church beech may have been planted when the building was completed, in 1884. It has a girth of 14'11' at four feet from the ground, meaning a diameter of roughly 4.75 feet. European beech trees can reach ages of 250 to 300 years and diameters of 10 feet, with a few exceptional trees exceeding 500 years and diameters of 20 feet. Maynard's two stately copper beeches will likely be with us and holding us in awe for decades into the future.

The Town was designated a Tree City USA in 1999 and 2000, and refiled the necessary documentation for re-certification in 2001. Allowed to lapse, but applied and approved in 2016. The DPW Highway Department is responsible for the maintenance of all public shade trees.


  1. There was an enormous and extremely tall tree on Tremont street up until it was cut down in the last few years. The massive trunk still exists right next to the road in front of 21 Tremont st, with a huge portion of lifted sidewalk and front walkway for that home due to the size of the roots. It must have been at least 4 or 5 ft in diamter.

  2. There are a couple of tall, but not quite as massive sugar maple trees on King Street, adjoining Tremont Street, so possible that all a similar age. Another large sugar maple is in the back yard of 12 Maple Street.