reLeaf-ing Seattle

The City of Seattle’s Trees for Neighborhoods program is up and running, taking applications from residents for up to 4 free trees to keep the city green. Many tree species even have wait-lists! As a public partnership with the community, Green Cities wants to highlight four majestic trees that are still available….for now! If you have room for these larger trees in your yard, they will bring that much more value to our urban forest for years to come.

Frontier Elm

– Frontier Elm –
The Frontier Elm is a unique cultivar of Chinese and European elms. While most elms turn yellow in autumn,  ‘Frontier’ is a trail blazer with striking burgundy-red foliage. An exciting addition to your backyard!

– Japanese Cedar –
Despite its name the Japanese cedar isn’t really a cedar, instead this bluish needled tree is a member of the Cypress family. An evergreen with true year-round interest!

A young Western Red Cedar

 – Western Red Cedar –
Lewis and Clark thought that Western red cedars were amazing enough to be called the “trees of life” -arbor vitae. Plant one in your backyard and bring life to your neighborhood!

– Fernleaf Beech –
The Romans believed carrying around a piece of beech wood could bring good luck. Let the Fernleaf beech bring good fortune to your yard with its whimsically shaped leaves, and help to increase your neighborhoods tree cover!

You can get your own through Seattle reLeaf’s Trees for Neighborhoods program!


Free Trees for your Restoration Site!

Forterra’s exciting new C3 program (Carbon Capturing Companies), spearheaded by Pearl Jam, is working to engage local businesses about their carbon footprint.  In addition, this is creating an amazing opportunity for community-lead tree planting for carbon sequestration.

ImageA bunch of great local companies from the Seattle Sounders and Seahawks to Cherry St. Coffee and Molly Moon’s Ice Cream have committed to reducing their carbon usage and sequestering carbon through tree planting. These efforts will be completed on urban parks in the communities where the businesses work and their customers live and play.

Submission period has been extended through September 10th!

Forterra is looking for homes for these companies’ carbon. This means free trees!  Native conifers will be available in the late fall to all who apply and agree to maintain and monitor the trees through their establishment. Application and more information available on the Forterra webpage.

For questions, email me:

Thinking about restoration: invasive weeds

We spend a lot of time worrying about the impacts of invasive species in the Green Cities world.  As we say in the 20-Year Forest Management Plans, “The dominance of nonnative plant species…is a major cause of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation in urban forest.  These invasive weeds lack natural population control and are capable of rapid reproduction; they can quickly blanket the understory and prevent native plants from reseeding.”  It would seem that getting rid of them would be the smart thing to do, so get rid of them we do.  Volunteers in Seattle have spent tens of thousands of hours grubbing out blackberry and rolling up ivy in parks across the city.  The work isn’t easy and can easily leave one cursing the invasive scourge.  The clear-and-present danger invasives pose to our cherished natives, in harmony with the blood, sweat and tears needed to remove them has created the perfect environment for what I call ‘The War on Weeds.’  Grab your hand tiller or pulaski and HAVE NO MERCY!  It is an easy way to get motivated and a good outlet for aggression.  But, it can be a morally dangerous mindset.

A volunteer group sizes up an ivy patch at last week's Day of Caring event in Interlaken Park
A volunteer group sizes up an ivy patch at last week's Day of Caring event in Interlaken Park

Invasive weeds are our fault.
Humans are the vectors for the introduction of new species in areas all over the world.  Globalization has led to a redefinition of boundaries; the world is getting smaller.  Species have always traveled (on the wind, waves and winged creatures) and have always disrupted established ecosystems, just at a much slower pace.  Stability was achieved and species were naturalized, but it took time.  We have given organisms a lot more chances (sometimes intentionally), a lot faster modes of travel, and we have also created the disturbances that new species need to take hold.  The problems we experience with invasive species are entirely our fault, so why should we blame the plants which are simply filling the niche we have carved for them?

Aside from ignoring the root (no pun intended) of the problem, I believe the ‘War on Weeds’ is morally questionable as well.  Anthropomorphizing plants draws unnecessary comparisons between unwanted plants and unwanted people.  We can’t allow ourselves to adopt the same antiquated perspectives of the eugenicists of the early 20th century.  We should be embracing diversity and accommodating change instead of fighting whole-heartedly to protect ‘our own.’  The things that make our native trees unique are in the ecological role they play for our region’s fauna and the services they provide to our cities, not their status as Northwest icons.  Native conifers do an amazing job at retaining stormwater, preventing erosion, sequestering carbon, scrubbing pollutants, providing habitat, etc.  Invasive plants are typically not as good at these things.

The Green Cities Partnerships are really good at looking at the big picture, which I believe is the way to go.  If we frame our efforts positively, we will get a lot farther than if we are focusing on ‘eradication for the sake of eradication.’  We should also be working to demonstrate to others why we’re better off not introducing these species and creating the disturbances in the first place.  You can still buy English ivy for your garden at local nurseries.  Huh?  Our communities have the opportunity to embrace change and ferry the health of our urban forests through tough times, but only if we recognize that we hold the keys to the solutions as well as the problems.

More to come in the next few months.


* This is the first of what will be a monthly feature on the native trees, shrubs, and groundcover plants of the Puget Sound region.


Pseudotsuga menziesii

These are some of our biggest trees in this region and can get to be 210’ tall. Look for a tall evergreen in the canopy with thick, rough, “fluted” bark. You can’t mistake the characteristic 2-4”-long “mousetail” seed cones – the story is that when there was a fire in the forest, the mouse climbed up into the cones of the Douglas-fir to safety, and their hind feet and tails dangled down from the scales. Flat scales have two white lines on their undersides. These are not true Firs (which are in the genus Abies), but are actually in a separate genus called Pseudotsuga.

View the Douglas-fir native plant ID card by WNPS