City Beautiful: The Secret Life of Trees

Despite tree-hugging tendencies, I’m trying my hardest not to hate trees and other blossoming urban flora right now as they wake up from a long winter and their wanton pollination causes my awful allergies. To feel a little better, it’s a good time to remember that while urban forests dish out suffering to those of us with sensitive immune systems, they do take a lot of abuse from us too.

In late February the New York Post reported a shocking expose: in 2010, New York City police fined over 100 citizens for acts of  “arborcide,” where people attacked trees, tore them limb from limb in some cases (unknown was how many of these attacks were due to pollen-induced allergy rage). Aside from assault, our urban canopy deals with a host of indirect attacks too. They filter our air but can suffocate when their little leaves clog up with pollution, their roots retain stormwater while we inadvertently poison their soil, they calm us down even after having insomnia from the damn street lamp next door that stays up all night long.

So instead of cursing all the happy little trees out there for my imploding head and stuffy nose, this week’s City Beautiful collects images of street trees the world ’round and the uncharacteristic uses and abuses they take from the humans with whom they cohabitate.


Mexico City: Gum was supposedly invented by the Aztecs, who would chew on sticky resin from the chicozapote tree as a way to clean their teeth. In a way of giving back for the bounty we have received from nature, people now stick their gum to tree trunks, which isn’t very nice but does end up forming some interesting patterns. Check out this story on about another landmark gum tree that was cut down in Philadelphia a few years ago.

Photo credit: Flickr user choppington

Delhi: The banyan tree – the exotic, pensive Sacred Fig. Buddha was believed to have attained enlightenment under one, in Hinduism the tree symbolizes eternal life.  In cities the big tangles of trunk, roots and branches make them quite nice to sit on or under for shade, though they can make for beautiful but difficult neighbors. This 400-year old one in Delhi invited itself in for tea.

Photo credit: Flickr user Mr. Matt

Singapore: Another sacred banyan tree, this one enveloping a shrine in Singapore’s Little India.

Photo credit: Flickr user cathdupuy

London: The Stokenchurch Shoe Tree is a big ash that lacks a better explanation than “There’s a tree there that people throw their shoes up” (though not just shoes – if you look closely there’s also a bike tire).  Spending £265,000 on an investigation as to why only yielded the same tired explanations for why people do strange things with trees: fertility or putting a hex on someone.

Photo credit: Flickr user Stephskimo

New York: I’ve locked my bike to trees a few times and always felt terribly guilty about it for unclear reasons. It just seems disrespectful, which this photo of a burly New York chain lock choking a little elm tree confirms in my mind.

Photo credit: Flickr user mogaphoto



  1. You have found some great pictures of trees to share here. I like the one in Delhi best.

  2. Pingback: City Beautiful: The Secret Life of Trees (via Encountering Urbanization) « Urban Choreography

  3. Even though that last image displays some disrespect for a tree, it’s also quite beautiful.

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