By Janet Goetze
For the Star News
Roseway neighborhood residents are gradually replacing the fading fruit trees in the 72nd Avenue park blocks with trees of longer life and a range of benefits and beauty.
The five blocks, from Fremont to Prescott streets, were planted with plum, crabapple and other fruit trees in the 1950s, according to Catherine Clark, head of the Roseway Tree Team, and Jim Gersbach, an Urban Forestry staff member.
The trees bloomed beautifully each spring for nearly three decades, but they are past their normal life span of 30 to 40 years, said Clark and Gersbach. The two outlined plans and ideas for replacement trees as they walked through the blocks with about two dozen people in late February. Their information also could help other neighborhoods planning new or replacement trees.
Most of the surviving fruit trees have been damaged in winter storms, said Clark, a former biology teacher who has lived on the park blocks for four years. Her team has been working with Urban Forestry, a part of the Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau with a mission to manage the city’s urban forest infrastructure which, its website says, “consists of 220,000 street trees, 1.2 million park trees and innumerable private property trees.”
“They are a great partner,” Clark said of Urban Forestry. In decades past, planting all the park blocks in one type of tree followed a classical European landscaping idea, said Gersbach. However, it has drawbacks from both ecological and aesthetic standpoints, he said.
Fruit trees don’t have long lives, he said, and they all bloom at one time of year. They drop their leaves by fall, leaving bare branches through the winter. They aren’t tall enough to provide shade for cooling pavement and yards in hot weather. They also offer limited support to bees and other pollinators because they flower in only one season. Also, if a particular disease or pest arrived in Portland, many trees could be at risk of dying, Gersbach said.
Diversity is a goal in selecting new trees for the 72nd Avenue blocks, Clark and Gersbach said. The variety is intended to avoid a disease or pest catastrophe, to gain blooms in several seasons, to add color year round and to provide more shade with tall trees, they said. Some of the new trees will provide wildlife with berries or nuts and winter shelter, they added.
Among the new plantings are evergreen conifers, in contrast to the city’s high number of deciduous trees, or those that drop leaves, said Mason Wordell, a tree plan coordinator and AmeriCorps member working with Urban Forestry. The conifers provide a year round canopy, or overlapping branches that cover the area beneath them. They provide shade and many live for a couple hundred years. They help manage storm water runoff and they filter air pollution.
Several new trees blooming at different times of the year will support pollinators. These include catalpa, crape myrtle and yellowwood, said Wordell and Gersbach.
Another addition to the park blocks is Oregon white oak, a tree native to Oregon, Washington and British Columbia that grows up to 90 feet tall. Its numbers were diminished as land was cleared for farming and, later, housing development, Gersbach said. It is accustomed to being dry in summer and wet in winter.
While many trees were selected for long life expectancy, others, including a Monterrey oak, were selected as potential survivors as the climate changes, Gersbach said. The tree likes full sun and is drought tolerant. Gersbach said it may do well as temperatures grow warmer in Portland.
Other oak varieties have been planted, too, with the hope that they aren’t wiped out by sudden oak death, which has affected trees in other areas, Gersbach said.
Another tree expected to do well in warmer temperatures is the California black oak, the dominant variety in the Yosemite Valley. It grows naturally as far north as Roseburg, Gersbach said. Many birds and mammals like the acorns, which are more than an inch long.
The park blocks, where kids play and neighbors socialize in warm weather, also attract residents of nearby neighborhoods. Pam Eros, of Rose City Park, said, “I walk a lot and this is one of the places I like.”