Human Flower Project

What’s an Urban Forester?

Georgia Silvera Seamans walks us through the basics of several city arboreal occupations, strolling past some of Boston’s finest trees along the way.

imageWinter tulips: Liriodendron tulipifera in Boston

Photo: Geneva Wirth

By Georgia Silvera Seamans

In the City of Boston, there are several types of tree professionals, including urban forester, tree warden, and arborist.  I worked as an urban forester there, managing street-tree planting contracts.  But thanks to my training as a community forester, a resource person for community groups who desired to create and sustain neighborhood green-spaces, I expanded my original responsibilities as city forester. I created a website, an urban forestry brochure, and an annual tree contest. On behalf of the Boston Parks Department, I co-directed the Boston Urban Stewards, a youth-focused urban ecology and stewardship program.  These new community-focused programs earned the city a Growth Award from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. 

Massachusetts also has tree wardens: under the state’s General Law Chapter 87, the tree warden is responsible for the control of public shade trees, though the law does not require the tree warden to be an arborist. An arborist is a certified tree professional.  Most states have an arborist association.  In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Arborist Association administers the certification.  I became a Massachusetts certified arborist in 2002.

The arborist exam includes a tree identification section.  One of the places I practiced my tree identification skills was the Arnold Arboretum in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston.  The Arboretum is a 265-acre living collection of 7,082 individual plants.  The trees of the Arboretum are spectacularly maintained and catalogued, which made it a great place to study.  My job as an urban forester had also given me the opportunity to study. I developed my identification skills visiting nurseries to select street and park trees, monitoring the health of street trees during the contractual maintenance period, and working with young people and community groups on street tree inventories.

imageA research team undertakes tree identification in the snow at Arnold Arboretum, December 2010

Photo: Emerald Necklace Conservancy Green Team

Along the way I discovered some amazing tree-places: the majestic ginkgos (Ginkgo biloba) on Tonawanda Street in Dorchester and American elms (Ulmus americana) on a quiet street near Constitution Beach in East Boston.  An East Boston resident nominated one of the Constitution Beach elms for the 2004 tree contest and, 43” in diameter, it was a finalist.  The Christian Science Plaza in the Back Bay is planted with tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), named because the flowers of the tree resemble the tulip.

Other tree-places were closer to my home.  I have lived in three of Boston’s twenty neighborhoods.  When I lived in Mission Hill, I would walk along the Southwest Corridor Park, a five-mile linear park. In the late 1960s, the State of Massachusetts acquired and assembled, via eminent domain, land for an eight-lane interstate highway. The park is the culmination of two decades of community protest, activism, and planning. London plane trees (Platanus acerifolia) line the park’s pedestrian path near my old apartment. 

In Jamaica Plain, I lived three blocks from Jamaica Pond, part of the Olmsted-designed Emerald Necklace.  Olmsted developed an extensive tree list.  As a result, there are many interesting trees located around the Pond: European and American beeches (Fagus species), willows (Salix species) as well as red and pin oaks (Quercus rubra, Q. palustris) that line The Jamaicaway.  Some oaks, like Monterey (planted in Austin, Texas) and Laurel oaks (planted in Georgia), are classified as semi-evergreen. This might explain why the red oaks are among the last trees to drop their leaves in Boston.

image A willow tree on Agassiz Road, between Park Drive and the Fenway

Photo: Local Ecologist

I also lived in the Fenway, home of Fenway Park, the Red Sox, and the Back Bay Fens, another Olmsted-designed park.  Of the many trees in the neighborhood, I have a particular fondness for an old willow tree on Agassiz Road between Park Drive and The Fenway. There, I had my first tree climbing lesson.

I also helped the tree warden (also a certified arborist) collect willow branches for a sick giraffe at the Franklin Park Zoo. Of the various greens fed to the giraffes, the willow was preferred by the sick one. The basis of aspirin is the extract of white willow bark.  I actually cannot remember the species of the willow tree we harvested but it seems very likely it was a white willow (Salix alba).  What I do remember is that the warden and I were allowed into the giraffes’ pen and to the feeding galley, where I was face to face with my favorite animal.

Editor’s Note: Another version of this essay was first presented in Local Ecology, January 2007. Thank you, Georgia!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/30 at 10:20 PM


Commenting is not available in this channel entry.