116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Contractors hired after the derecho to mark damaged trees for removal put an orange X on the trunk of a Katsura tree on Blake Boulevard SE, but City Arborist Todd Fagan gave the tree a pardon.
After all, it was one of only 38 Katsuras on city-owned property before the derecho and one of the biggest, with a 7-inch-diameter trunk at last measurement. Katsura trees come from Japan, but grow well in the Midwest and have peachy-gold leaves in the fall. And with subalternate buds — something only a “geeky tree guy” would know — Fagan couldn’t let the tree be cut down.
“No, you’re not,” Fagan said, pointing to the orange circle he sprayed around the X last year to spare the Katsura from the chain saw.
In 2015, Cedar Rapids created an inventory of all trees on city rights of way.
Before the derecho, the inventory helped city employees maintain a pruning schedule, know which trees to treat for emerald ash borer and set a value of the urban forest. A city intern visits one-quarter of the trees each summer to make sure they still are standing, record new trunk size and note significant damage and disease.
After the Aug. 10 storm destroyed nearly 20 percent of the city-owned trees, city staff are using the inventory to track which trees have been removed, which stumps still need grinding and which species to replant and where, Fagan said.
“It helps with the overall management of the canopy,” he said.
By year’s end, Fagan expects the city will be done updating the inventory to show which trees were lost in the derecho. To do that, they will combine data from DebrisTech, the contractor hired to remove trees, and from city tracking. This information eventually will be updated on the CR Street Tree Viewer, an interactive online map.
Diversifying the canopy
Before the derecho, the Cedar Rapids tree inventory included 39,989 trees, ranging from the most common — ash, maple and honey locust — to trees that only have one or two on city land. Some of the onesies are the Turkish filbert, mimosa, Camperdown elm and the yellow birch.
Some trees exist only in ones and twos on city land because they don’t grow well beside roads, where salt, sand and heat can be a problem, or they drop a lot of messy branches, fruit or nuts.
“If you want to put it in your yard, fantastic,” Fagan said of some of these tree varieties. “On the right of way, though, if there are a lot of them, it can be kind of a nightmare to deal with.”
Having a diversity of trees means if a pest or disease attacks one species — as has happened with the emerald ash borer beetle — the impact on the city’s canopy is reduced. Now that post-derecho replanting has started, Fagan would like to see some species planted in greater numbers.
He took The Gazette to see some of these specimens, one of which is the Kentucky coffee tree, a drought-resistant, pollution-tolerant tree with distinctive bark and compound leaves with 40 or more leaflets. Some residents don’t like how the Kentucky coffee tree looks as a sapling, Fagan said.
“I just tell them to wait because it’s kind of an ugly duckling that turns into a swan,” he said. The city had 674 Kentucky coffee trees before the derecho.
The swamp white oak — 1,077 on city land before the derecho — is another good option for replanting, Fagan said. The two-toned leaves are noteworthy, and oaks provide habitat for all sorts of critters, including squirrels, birds and insects. The shingle oak — only 166 on city land — doesn’t have lobed leaves like most oaks, but it’s still a good choice for hardiness in the parkway.
Fagan also wants to add more American yellowwood, musclewood/blue beech, bald cypress, upright columnar oaks and Manchurian maackias.
Cedar Rapids has about 100 Western catalpa trees, including a monster on Third Street SE, near NewBo City Market. Fagan went to check on this tree in the days after the derecho. The tree with a 47-inch-diameter trunk is hollow inside, which Fagan worried would make it vulnerable to high winds. But the tree weathered the storm and its new growth — including distinctive long, skinny pods — shows it is doing well.
Catalpa has been on Fagan’s list of trees not to add to the inventory, but because so many with hollow trunks survived the derecho, he plans to plant more.
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