Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Street Trees and Village Shade
There is little doubt that trees beautify the landscape in any large city or small town. Street trees are aesthetic treasures that may be ignored at times but gain attention when they are flowering in the spring and proudly showing off their brilliance in sun-lit splendor in the autumn.
Having and maintaining street trees can be a costly proposition, especially in large cities because they must be integrated into an infrastructure that is not readily adapted to accommodate all trees in all places. But even the largest and busiest cities full of hustle and bustle are welcoming of the silent grace and passive beauty that stately trees add to the tableau.
Most European cities have a long tradition of planting street trees and indeed, one expects to share the civic pride of witnessing the seasonal displays of floral finery. “Unter den linden” is a classical German song that refers to the fabled linden trees of Berlin. And the well-maintained street trees of Southern France are spectacular. The huge Dipterocarps and Shorea trees lining the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam number in the thousands and have been adorning the boulevards there for well over a hundred years. Hundreds of teak trees play the same role throughout the streets of Seoul, Korea.
It is debatable whether street trees as aesthetic entities are worth the cost. When they come crashing down in a hurricane, many people will curse them. Yet, they persist in most cosmopolitan cities despite being ignored most of the time.
The situation regarding trees planted at public places in villages takes on a much larger scope. Village shade, particularly in African villages, has implications that go far beyond an aesthetic viewpoint. In many small villages scattered in arid and semi-arid regions of many African countries, the presence of just a few mature trees in central locations makes a huge difference with social implications. Open-air schools are often taught under the shade of the broad crowns of trees that were planted to serve community interests. People tend to gather in the relative coolness of shade provided by village trees that were established and maintained with calculated awareness of their functions. In so many villages too numerous to mention, there may be only one or two mature trees that might be described as village trees. They are like magnets.
The welcomed shade benefits people and animals alike
Because establishing and maintaining trees intended for the whole community must fall on the shoulders of a limited cadre of individuals who make it happen, the story of growth into maturity is only written over several years. In the interim, the would-be village trees go through seedling, sapling, and juvenile stages; while being threatened by desiccation through drought, disease and insect attack, predation of its branches by roaming goats, sheep, or other animals, and disfiguration by vandals. Any tree planted in a public place is subject to perturbations but in the African milieu, the risks and hazards are more numerous and more compelling than meets the eye.
Very few mature trees are present in some arid lands. In some countries like Namibia and South Africa, there are road signs announcing to motorists that there is a roadside tree a mile ahead. In some cases, the road signs also show a tree and a picnic bench. Not exactly village shade, but a welcome public shade that is heavily used.