Most of America’s 3,143 counties would be enriched by developing their own Tree Treasures website to identify, celebrate, and better protect the special trees within their borders. Tree advocates can use Lancaster County’s website as a model for such efforts, modifying some details as necessary to fit the particular nature of their own county forest.
Tree Treasures conceptualizes special trees as falling into 10 categories, as described in the “About” section of this website. These 10 categories have accommodated virtually all of Lancaster County’s significant trees, with some specimens appearing in more than one category (e.g., Age and Size). Certainly, fewer or more categories might be used in other counties but the whole point of this effort is to acknowledge that trees can be special in ways that have nothing to do with sheer size (unlike the emphasis of champion tree programs) or history (as emphasized by heritage tree programs).
Here are some other suggestions:
(1) To develop a list of special trees, project supporters would do well to generate a newspaper article about significant trees in their county…an article that also solicits nominations from the public. Suggestions can additionally be solicited from arborists and garden clubs. And certainly county specimens that are already listed on the state’s champion tree list are a good place to start.
(2) Each tree entry ends with a sentence or paragraph that begins with “This amazing species…” This permits an opportunity to include an interesting fact about the special tree’s species. (Only positive facts are included, rather than negative information like species invasiveness, nuisance tree litter, etc.) Other counties are welcome to use the same facts found on the Lancaster County site as may be appropriate.
(3) Photos on “champion tree” sites are primarily intended to document the specimens listed there, whereas photos on a Tree Treasures site are meant not only to document but to celebrate as well. This means that in order to enrich the entries, photos of trees in esthetic compositions or in different seasons (showing spring blossoms, fall colors, etc.) can be usefully included. Photos of deciduous trees in winter are often better able to convey form and branching than when trees are in leaf.
(4) Tangential topics, accompanied by a photo or two if possible, also add to the richness of entries. For example, if leaf galls are on a special tree, then photos of both the gall and the associated insect can be included for that entry, along with brief explanatory text.
(5) Some trees are special only because of their provenance — i.e., they are the offspring of a famous tree. In Lancaster County we have offspring of a famous white oak, a famous witness tree, and a tree beneath which Hippocrates lectured. In the entries for these trees, include a google photo of the parent tree if possible, even if the parent is deceased or lives in another country.
(6) Tree Treasures includes palms that are tree-like in form even though botanically they are akin to grasses. Disciplines other than Botany sometimes define tall palms as trees because they produce timber (Forestry) or because they serve tree-type functions in habitats (Ecology). In colloquial conceptualization, of course, tall palms are most definitely trees. And some southern states (e.g., Florida) include tall palms on their champion tree lists. Of course palm species that are more shrub-like or vine-like in form would not be listed in a Tree Treasures compilation.
(7) While Tree Treasures does not generally cover shrubs, those plants that fall within the nebulous border between “shrub” and “small tree” can be listed for the sake of inclusivity. Other inventories of trees may have precise physical cut-offs to distinguish trees from shrubs in order to eliminate the latter from their lists. Pabigtrees.com, for example, requires a plant to have a trunk caliper (diameter) of 3 inches at breast height, and a height of 13 feet, to be considered a tree rather than a shrub. But Tree Treasures has no need for such rigor. If a tree-like plant is included even though it might fall just short of formal tree status, where’s the harm? Mother Nature herself does not observe absolute boundaries among lifeforms (e.g., there are micro- organisms that are both plant and animal at once, and there are invertebrates that are both male and female at once). To paraphrase biologist Michael Marshall, Mother Nature sometimes “plays merry hell with our attempts to classify organisms into neat groups.” Tree Treasures bows to that reality.
(8) If a “story” emerges about a particular tree, concisely but fully include that story on the tree’s page. Websites aren’t limited in space the way that books are, and stories impart interest and appreciation. For example, a group of trees in Lancaster County were brought back as seedlings from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. And another group of trees were sent from Japan to honor a citizen from that county who had died in Lancaster over a hundred years ago.
(9) The “Cemetery” category is important. Some special trees might have recently died, and yet their memory and their story is part of a county’s history in the same way that a prominent, deceased citizen would be. As the years unfold, of course, all of a county’s special trees will die, and so “Cemetery” will eventually become the largest category on any Tree Treasures website.
(10) Including the category of “Tree Sculptures” might seem a stretch. Often, however, sculptures carved from the trunks of fallen trees reflect the property owner’s sadness at loss of the tree and a desire to maintain some remnant of it. In other words, tree sculptures show people’s emotional connection towards trees…a connection that doesn’t exist towards, say, a wooden spoon in one’s kitchen drawer. [This category also permits the inclusion of notable sculptures of trees.]
(11) Be liberal with including the names of people in the Acknowledgements section. Anyone nominating a tree, anyone whose name appears in a tree’s story, and any author of a referenced article or book can easily be included. There’s no reason to leave them out.
(12) Although the Lancaster County website does not have one yet, a county map that notes the locations of special trees should be included. Website visitors may want to visit the described trees, and a map can facilitate that. Such a map might only show trees living in publicly accessible spaces, not those on private property.