On September 29, 2021

Not “just a bunch of trees”

By Gary Salmon

Just as fall is appearing, two trees pop into the landscape whose color will be okay but whose form is what catches the eye. They both live in Rutland, one on Court Street across from Grace Church and the other, a quiet life at the Godnick Center out on the Deer Street side. Even the species are not remarkable — one is a Norway and the other, a sugar maple.

Deer Street maple

So what gives?

A tree growing in an open space will develop a set of horizontal branches to take advantage of sunlight on leaves. The result is an ever expanding rounded crown which gets larger as the tree gets taller, and most hardwood trees develop in this manner. It is what your eye likes to see in a tree and certainly sets the palette for displaying fall colors. These will have color but it is the form that makes them stand out from all those others around them. They are columnar varieties which grow as tall as their more common maple cousins but with very narrow vertical crowns. “Bunch” is not a word used very often in describing trees and when used it encapsules usually a group of trees of the same size and species in a similar looking space.

Court Street maple

Beautiful planning, I’m told, is created by designing the hardscape and then finding a place for the trees to “fit.” Planning beautifully involves integrating the landscape so that both buildings where we work and play can exist with the trees that will fit there. That is the origin of these two variants — tree genetics — which developed a tree that would grow where a tree was needed and whose form would not interfere with its environment (near sets of wires, between tall buildings, or on narrow greenspaces, for example).

Of all the places around for these trees to fit, there weren’t many except for more urban environments where much of the planning above built a demand to create these variants. So they never were very popular trees for planting but appear occasionally in Vermont. A quick trip to Horsford’s Nursery in Charlotte confirmed that they were in demand a few years ago but that they carried none of these two variants now. They did say, however, that if they had a few of the columnar sugar maples they could probably sell them.

Trees and fall foliage are in season so enjoy them. But don’t exclude form when your eye examines trees, and you will be surprised at what is growing in front of you. So stop by on Court or Deer Streets and take a peek. You can’t miss them as one has a gingko tree growing right across the street and the other has a planted American chestnut, complete with fruit, adjacent to it. So get out explore, the fall landscape, and remember that what you are seeing is not “just a bunch of trees.”

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