A tree falls in Pasadena, and lessons are heard: Guest commentary
|September 8, 2017 - Tim Martinez takes a look at recent tree accidents and concludes that more native trees should be selected for future plantings. They are safer and better adapted to local conditions. Couldn't agree more.|
Pasadena Fire Department officials look at a eucalyptus branch that fell, injuring three children, on Aug. 29. (Photo by Walt Mancini/Southern California News Group)
I was saddened to learn of the injury of three small children, one of them critically, by a falling 20-foot eucalyptus branch at the Linda Vista Children’s Center, a daycare facility, in Pasadena late last month.
The good news is that the 2-year-old Altadena girl hurt most badly is now home from the hospital and recovering from a broken leg, broken vertebrae and a skull fracture.
People have long known how eucalyptus trees rot from the inside and then come crashing down. It happened several times while I was a student at the now-closed Linda Vista Elementary School, site of the current children’s center, in the 1990s.
This incident mirrors other similar incidents in recent years. In April 2015, a heavy eucalyptus limb fell in Brookside Park and nearly blinded a 7-year-old boy. A few months later, an Italian stone pine fell and injured eight children near Kidspace Children’s Museum, also at Brookside in the Arroyo Seco just south of the Rose Bowl.
Each of these incidents involved trees that were under stress because of drought and other environmental factors.
Eucalyptus, with their dozens of varieties, were once imported from their native Australia and planted to drain water from swamps and wetlands, as they consume large amounts of water. They also were used throughout California as wind breaks, and, with our climate so similar to Down Under’s, thrived here. They became such a familiar part of the California landscape, in paintings and photographs, that many people probably assume they are native.
But branches of eucalyptus and other trees are often made heavy when they consume extra water when temperatures rise, and then break off under the increased weight. In the case of the Italian stone pine in Brookside Park, an arborist determined that the tree’s limbs had become heavy with water following recent rainstorms, and its shallow root system simply could not hold up the weight of the 85-foot-tall tree.
Given the discussions and concerns about trees in our city, I couldn’t help but notice that in each of these cases it was non-native tree species that fell. Anecdotally, I cannot recall a single time when any similar damage or injury has occurred with the mature oak trees in my neighborhood. Having worked to restore native habitat in our region, I know that many native trees are resilient and adapted to the long, hot, dry summers and short, cool, wet winters of Southern California.
Torrey pines, oaks, black walnut and other drought-tolerant native trees seem less likely to succumb to climate-related stress than non-natives, which have more shallow roots and more brittle branches. Native trees also seem less prone to damage sidewalks and property, even in their maturity. Oaks, for instance, send down deep roots to access groundwater, while ficus trees send roots sprawling outward in search of surface water.
When an opportunity arises to plant new trees or to replace existing trees on city-owned property, wouldn’t it make sense for Southern California cities to consider planting native tree species? Choosing regionally appropriate native trees for our parks, playgrounds and parkways might improve public safety, and would certainly save water and reduce damage to sidewalks.
Pasadena is a city that loves its trees, and the quality of life they provide. I hope that city officials will consult with native plant experts, and consider the benefits of planting native trees. California’s wealth of native tree species offers many solutions to help us enhance life in our beautiful region.
Tim Martinez is program administrator for the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that acquires, restores and preserves open space.
Arroyo Seco Foundation, 570 W. Avenue 26 #450, Los Angeles, CA 90065-1011
PO Box 91622, Pasadena, CA 91109-1622 (323) 405-7326 firstname.lastname@example.org