By Jean Cox, VP of Friends of Pinchgut Creek
TRUSSVILLE — Trussville’s historic streets are lined with old Oak trees, most of which are Water Oaks. When the Cahaba Housing Project was built, the yards and roadsides were all planted with Water Oak seedlings. The species was more than likely selected because they are incredibly fast-growing, big trees. It only took a couple of decades for them to mature and cover the streets with shade. In the short term, the choice was great. But, like most fast-growing trees, these Water Oaks are short-lived. Their average life expectancy is around 80 years. We are now seeing the rapid decline and death of our historic oaks. With proper care and treatment, many of our 80-year-old Water Oaks could possibly survive to be centennial treasures. Unfortunately, though, most will not make it that far. Instant gratification always comes at a cost. When it comes to trees, our children and grandchildren will pay the price if we continue to only plant fast-growing trees.
Eighty might seem old, but for trees… and determined humans, that really isn’t very old. The oldest living Oak tree in the world (The Pechanga Great Oak) was a seedling around the time Jesus was born. We have some Oak trees right here in Trussville that have the potential to live over 400 years. One of those beauties, a truly impressive Post Oak, is growing right next to ChalkvilleMountain Road, just uphill from the mall. It is well over 100 years young at this point, and hopefully, it will be around for many more generations. If you ever stroll down that sidewalk, take a moment and try to wrap your arms around that slow-growing giant.
Before humans determined the landscaping in this area, our local forests were home to the greatest diversity of oak species in the world. There are still places in Alabama where you can find that amazing biodiversity. But, in the Birmingham metro area, those old forests were cleared, and progress came with an altered forest canopy, fewer slow-growing species, and areas of total monoculture.
To be better stewards of our urban forest canopy, we must plant more native trees, a greater variety of trees, and we must include slow-growing giants. This can be challenging because some of our native trees are hard to find from landscape suppliers. Some growers have been working to improve this, and native species are becoming more readily available. If you are searching for a native long-lived variety, you should be able to find Post, Nutall, Shumard, or Swamp Chestnut Oaks in nearby garden centers. If you plant one of these beautiful trees, you could be helping to make sure Trussville is still beautiful and shaded hundreds of years from now.
If you would like to learn more about the interesting history of trees in our region, mark your calendars; on February 23, Henry Hughes, retired Director of Education at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, will be the speaker for the Arbor Week Tree Talk at the Trussville Public Library.