Everyone has fears. Why do you think psychiatrists can charge $100 an hour with a straight face? Spiders and snakes are favorites.
By Nan Chapman
Everyone has fears. Why do you think psychiatrists can charge $100 an hour with a straight face? Spiders and snakes are favorites. Strangely, clowns rank high on the list—along with nuclear war, public speaking and high places. There are countless known phobias. But trees? Yes, trees. The Missouri Department of Conservation recently warned homeowners about a dangerous tree — the Bradford Pear. Okay, using the word dangerous might be a bit over the top, but the warning certainly suggested the genus had the potential to do great harm. When they were introduced many years ago they enjoyed great favor with landscapers. So pretty and adaptable. It took several years before the bad news began trickling in. It turns out they grow too quickly to be stable. They break easily in the wind, allowing the trunk to split and/or branches to fall. They were supposed to be sterile so they wouldn’t spread unchecked. Wrong. It seems they adapted, bred and began producing baby Bradford Pears that crowded out good trees and snarled up weed cutters and other equipment. Also they stink. Rotten fish was the least repulsive aroma ascribed to them. Which brings to mind another tree that once enjoyed many admirers, but is rarely offered for sale in nurseries now. The experts say the Gingko smells like dog poo. Not a very scientific description, but we get the point. Is there anyone reading this who doesn’t have a Silver Maple in his or her yard? For goodness sake, how could a pretty tree like that create angst? Got a crack in your sidewalk? Or sewer pipes that back up? Blame your maple. It seems their roots grow so close to the surface that they play havoc with concrete and clay pipes. The wing-like seeds that fall in the spring are nuisances in the yard and can clog gutters faster than a tennis balls caught in a downspout. Neither of these problems is lethal, but they do great damage to a homeowner’s bottom line. The Weeping Willow has sinister characteristics. It sucks up water like a shop vac. The only plant that can be certain it won’t die from thirst if it’s nearby is a cactus. Sadly cacti and willows don’t much like each other’s habitats, so that symbiotic relationship will never happen. The Eucalyptus tree that covers millions of acres in California is universally despised. Koalas think they’re delicious, but those cuddly little critters only live in Australia (the native land of both tree and critter), so that positive feedback doesn’t help their reputation, which is that of an uninvited visitor that destroys and invades. Somewhat like Goths, Vandals and robocalls. Quaking Aspens are beautiful. Folks drive hundreds of miles to watch their hypnotic response to mountain breezes. Alas, that’s all they’re good for. They don’t make good firewood or lumber, and because of their growth patterns they crowd out other trees that are useful to man and do not harm the environment. Their roots intertwine to form large areas where nothing else can grow. In Colorado there is a system of these roots called the Ponda that weighs 6600 tons. That’s right—6600 tons. Even more amazing, it is estimated to have been forming for 80,000 years. Odds are it’s here to stay. The Black Walnut has distinctive bark. Some naturalists think it is lovely and unique. Beyond that it has a poor reputation. It is a virtual pollen megafactory, spreading sneezes and watery eyes to anyone within miles. The only thing they make more of than allergy irritants is nuts. Black nuts that are harder than pig iron. Black nuts that require more time than energy to crack open and pick than a safe at Fort Knox. If that’s not bad enough they also secrete a growth-inhibiting toxin that discourages healthy grass, shrubs and flowers in the vicinity. Other trees listed on the internet that harm people, nearby flora or construction are the Leland Cypress (fire danger), the Mulberry (too much pollen, messy fruit, grass killer) and the Lombardy Poplar (disease-prone, attractive to bugs, raggedy growth). Another tree that did not make the list, but should be banned from civilized society is the Sweet Gum. Besides being poisonous to dogs, this vicious bit of botanical growth produces seeds in the form of a small round ball with spikes that should be listed by the federal government as a lethal weapon. Stepping on a Sweet Gum ball while barefoot and root canal therapy without Novocain both register nine on a ten-point pain chart. The lady down the street read through this list and realized that if she chopped down all the cited unpopular trees, she would be left with a pecan tree that produces no nuts, a couple of lop-sided oaks, a Norway Pine that loses so many lower limbs every year that it’s beginning to look like a totem pole, an elderly redbud, a crabapple and an ugly locust tree that refuses to die. She’s thinking about cutting down the bad ones and finding new, desirable trees to replace them. Then again, she’s always loved western Kansas and the tundra area in the Rocky Mountains. Trees aren’t absolutely necessary. Besides, you never know when one will go rogue and become dangerous. Nan Chapman, of Chillicothe, is a contributing writer whose columns appear regularly in the Constitution-Tribune.