An Ode to the Ailanthus
I've always been a fan of survivor trees. A tree growing on the edge of a cliff. A redwood in California's Muir Woods sprouting from dead and growing several hundred feet tall. And, of course, an ailanthus growing in some back alley in Chicago.
Ailanthus (Ailanthus altissima), AKA tree of heaven, ghetto palm, tree from hell, is a tree that simply survives. You can find it growing in places where other trees would have never had a chance.
Their aggressive sprouting and seeding nature allow them to sprout up in opportune places. Many of them have remained because they are in such places, such as alleys and abandoned properties that nobody has cared enough to remove them. Of course, this aggressive nature means it can be invasive and thus shouldn't be allowed to grow in places where it might take over natural habitats. But anyway...
Aside from being survivors, these trees provide actual benefits. It provides food for some silkworm moths. It's wood is useful for some types of cabinet work. It is believed by some to have medicinal properties.
Would I plant an ailanthus in my front yard? No. I might even remove it if it were in a spot that could be better occupied by another species. But in its place an ailanthus is a tree that adds to a property and the greater environment.
So if you have an ailanthus (or some other survivor tree such as a mulberry) on your property, just leave it be. Be thankful that it's adding something to your property that other, less tough tree species wouldn't be able to.
What other underappreciated tree species are you a fan of?
Tree Campus USA is a program run by the Arbor Day Foundation that helps colleges and universities and universities around the USA establish and sustain healthy community forests. It's basically the school version of the better-known Tree City USA. Tree Campus USA requires that schools meet five standards for recognition:
- Campus Tree Advisory Committee
- Tree Care Plan
- Tree Program with Dedicated Annual Expenditures
- Arbor Day Observance
- Service Learning Project
There are many benefits to becoming a Tree Campus USA. Here are five of the most important:
1. Student and Community Engagement
The requirements for an Arbor Day observance and service learning project present an opportunity to get students involved with the care of campus trees. Tree plantings are a popular choice for both, but other projects could include a tree inventory, tree benefit tagging or small tree pruning/mulching. Involving students helps improve their appreciation for campus trees and their care requirements, and may help gain support for including trees in the campus budget.
A tree benefit tag.
Image courtesy www.cityofvancouver.org
2. Cost:Benefit Improvements
It would difficult or impossible to efficiently budget for tree care activities if a current budget is not known. Tree Campus requires a school to determine how much they are currently spending on caring for their trees. By analyzing their tree care budget, a campus can determine inefficiencies to better spend the money currently set aside for trees. A school can also be more likely to receive grant funds from various funders if tree expenditures are known. The program suggests a goal of $3 per student, but this is not required.
Environmentally aware students, faculty and staff may be attracted to a school if they see that management cares for natural assets such as trees. Caring for trees can also help lead to certification through programs such as LEED, STARS and SITES. Such certifications can further enhance marketability of a school as sustainability-oriented.
4. Improved Management
Tree Campus requires the creation of a tree care plan. While this doesn't have to be overly comprehensive, the more detail a school puts into its creation the better. The plan should detail such practices such as prohibited species, goals and targets, damage assessment and tree preservation. Simply by going through the process of creating a plan, a school may become more aware of the benefits of comprehensive tree care. Hopefully, standards and policies created as part of the plan will be made enforceable by the school.
There are many funding sources available for community, schools, nonprofits and others to maintain and plant urban trees. Below is a list of funding sources I am aware of. Please comment below if you know of any other good sources, and I will add them to the list.
State Urban Forestry Coordinators - The best place to start in searching for funding would be to contact your state urban forestry coordinator. They'd be able to point you to other sources in Indiana that might not be available in other states.
Arbor Day Foundation TD Green Streets - They run the Tree City USA program (and have various tree planting programs to help communities. Schools can participate in a similar program, Tree Campus USA, and there are sometimes funds available for campuses as well.
Global ReLeaf- A program run by American Forests, a non profit, to provide reforestation grants to communities.
Alliance For Community Trees- Another nonprofit that facilitates urban forestry grants for communities.
Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)- their grants for stormwater management and environmental justice have both been used by communities for tree planting/forestry projects. Community development block grants through HUD have been used by communities to purchase trees as well.
Home Depot Community Impact Program - Grants, up to $5,000, are available to registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations and tax-exempt public service agencies in the U.S. that are using the power of volunteers to improve the physical health of their community. Grants are given in the form of The Home Depot gift cards for the purchase of tools, materials, or services.
National Recreation and Park Association - RPA’s Partnership and Business Development department works with funders and like-minded organizations to make an impact through local parks across NRPA’s pillars: conservation, health and wellness, and social equity.
Grants.gov - Learn about and apply for federal funds. This site can be less than user-friendly, but there are a lot of potential opportunities available.