Our Willow is Gone

Until yesterday, there was a huge willow tree on Columbia Road between the road and the beach.  There was nothing like it from Castle Island to UMass.  It shaded and cooled us, and it was a haven for birds.  It gave me a jolt of pleasure every morning I ran by it. I marveled at its gracefully twisting trunk and deeply veined bark and at the grace of its boughs festooned with thousands of strands of willow leaves.

Every living thing has its time to die.  This hundred year-old tree met its end through a lightening bolt yesterday afternoon.  While it is sad to lose such a magnificent tree, what turns this event into a tragedy is to know that there will never be a tree that large on Columbia Road again.   The average tree planted today in Boston lives seven to ten years, according to the City of Boston Parks Department.  Part of the reason the trees aren’t growing is that pollution from car exhaust and other sources creates ground-level ozone, a pollutant that damages the DNA of trees and causes cancer and asthma in humans.

Some studies have shown that tree growth is reduced by 30-50% in high-ozone years.  Even outside urban areas, scientists estimate that ozone pollution has reduced tree trowth in northern and temperate mid-latitudes by 7% already, and we are headed to a 17% reduction by 2100.  But a scientist is not needed to see that we are losing our trees here in Boston, including our hundred year-old heritage trees.  In the future, our children may not see trees the way we do today.   For them, a tree will be a spindly, stick-like plant about twenty feet high.  When you tell them that there used to be huge trees that you couldn’t put your arms around, they will smile politely and nod, just as we nodded when our great-grandfathers told us about the herds of buffalo so large that they extended as far as the eye could see.

Although we can’t do anything about the dead willow, there is a tree less than a mile away that we can save if we all work together.  It is the largest tree in Andrew Square.  This tree has provided shade, cooling, and cleaner air to thousands of passersby over the decades.  It is now slated for removal as part of the Andrew Square renewal project.  While the project does provide for planting new trees, these trees will simply join the ranks of the hundreds of others that the city has planted that wither, die back, and then die over the next few years.  I am not aware of any money provided for maintenance and no money provided for replacement if the trees die.

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