In the cramped environs of U.S. cities every inch counts, especially if attempting to make space for nature. But now city planners and urban foresters have a resource to more precisely select tree species whose growth will be a landscaping dream instead of a maintenance nightmare.
The U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station recently published a technical manual and launched the most extensive database available cataloging urban trees with their projected growth tailored to specific geographic regions.
“Knowing a tree’s maximum size can avoid future conflicts between roots and sidewalks or branches and power lines,” said Greg McPherson, research forester for the Forest Service and lead author of the technical report and database.
The products are the culmination of 14 years of work, analyzing more than 14,000 trees across the U.S. Where prior growth models typically featured only a few species specific to a given city or region, the newly released database features 171 distinct species across 16 U.S. climate zones. The trees studied also spanned a range of ages with data collected from a consistent set of measurements.
“There are very few studies, if any in the world, which can compare to this in terms of scope with regard to the number of trees studied, the species analyzed, the geographic range and ages, and so forth,” McPherson said.
Advances in statistical modeling also have given the projected growth dimensions a level of accuracy never before seen. Moving beyond just calculating a tree’s diameter or age to determine expected growth, the research incorporates 365 sets of tree growth equations to project growth.
“Although tree growth is the result of complex processes, growth equations capture changes in tree size with age in a surprisingly simple and accurate way,” said Natalie van Doorn, a Forest Service research urban ecologist and co-author on the study.
In addition to predicted tree growth, the manual provides species-specific data on foliar biomass, or amount of foliage, that is critical to projecting uptake of air pollutants.
Written in a way to be accessible to non-technical users, the technical report gives step-by-step instructions on how to use the equations to calculate tree dimensions, biomass, carbon storage and other features of interest to urban foresters.
“The research and publication were done with the urban forester and city planner in mind,” said van Doorn. “Urban trees benefit communities in innumerable ways, and it’s this information that can help communities make the most of these natural resources.”
Write a Response
I read about your study of So Cal trees threatened by borers and learned that you have compiled a list of fifteen trees that may be immune to borer attack and would be appropriate for planting in urban settings. The article did not name the trees you have chosen. Where could I get a list of these trees and a copy of the report that this article describes?
I think we should be involved in Tucson with a tree beautification project.Is there any programs in Tucson, AZ?
Nicholas E. Mares
@Nicholas E. Mares - thank you for your comment. The particular study that resulted in the Urban Tree Database cited in this blog did not cover Tucson, AZ. However, the Pacific SW Research station collected data in Glendale, AZ, which should be in the same climate zone (Southwest Desert). It would be appropriate for programs in Tucson to look at the results from Glendale, AZ.
Looked at this, and it is, indeed, highly technical. For forest or park department planner, perhaps. I am wondering if you have something written in plain English, for lay people, describing what trees are best to plant in urban environments and why, ect. If it matters I'm in NYC. Thank you.