Monday, March 26, 2012


Arthur Plotnik writes in The Urban Tree Book:

 …most tree species are out of their element in the urban scene.  Between pollutants, drought, compacted soil, poor drainage, salt spray, bugs, dogs, heat, construction, vibrations, vandalism, and opportunistic diseases, many trees simply give up the ghost.

On my worst days, I can’t tell if Plotnik is talking about trees or citybillies.

There’s no doubt about it: trees have it tough here in the city, no thanks to that long list of obstacles quoted above. 

I’d add two more to the list.  

The first would be solitary confinement.  Only on a city street or a mall parking lot will you see trees plotted out in perfect alignment, each one confined to a small quarter of a sidewalk square, every one equally spaced between the next one down the block.  Trees don’t grow like that in the wild, and for good reason.  Healthy competition among trees encourages healthy trees.

The second obstacle is even more heartbreaking, far more dangerous and damn near impossible to control or change…and it originates from one of the most sinister, lifeless settings you’ll ever find on this spaceship Earth: a committee. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Tonight is the rising of the Budding Trees Moon and, with that rising, spring has begun in Philadelphia.

Sunny days, pleasant evenings and foggy mornings: that’s what it takes to make all these barren, leafless branches pop with spring.  Like most citybillies, I have an uncanny sense of weather and I predict that, by the end of next week, Philadelphia will be all leafed out.  It’s happening right now.


This is the season of the Angiosperms, the tremendous clade of flowering plants that first took over the world 140-million years ago, just when the feathered dinosaurs were evolving into birds on the banks of the great super-continents.  The Gymnosperms, with their evergreen needles and their naked cones, rule the winter moons but for the rest of the year, it’s all Angiosperms and those lovely modified leaves that we call flowers.

Do I sound happy and bright?  Can’t help it.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012


What’s the most common odonym in the United States?  Second Street.

What’s the ninth most common odonym in the United States?  Oak.

What’s an odonym?  Look it up.

Like most crowded, noisy cities, Philadelphia has a street named after the Quercus.  Philadelphia's Oak Lane is located along the northwest border of the city, and there are two neighborhoods named after the road itself: East Oak Lane and West Oak Lane.  East Oak Lane has the notable distinction of being one of Friend William Penn’s first neighborhoods, one of the many arboreous sanctums that he mapped out to surround his “green countrie towne” of Philadelphia.

East Oak Lane?  West Oak Lane?  I’ve been to these neighborhoods but I don’t know them very well.  I hope to get out there more. I can see lots of good tree-hunting grounds in these neighborhoods. 

There’s Awbury Arboretum, fifty-five acres of historic grounds right in the middle of its sprawl, and there are two great cemeteries: Northwood and Chelten Hills.  Like most tree-hunters, I am drawn to cemeteries and graveyards.  Plus, being so close to the northwest border of Philadelphia, these neighborhoods are a suburban abut to the great Catfish-Creek Woods of the Lenape Indians, commonly known as the Wissahickon. 

I’ll get to these places.  I just have to remember to bring a good map.  Like most citybillies, I have an uncanny sense of direction but there’s something about the East Oak Lane and West Oak Lane neighborhoods that really sets me adrift.  It usually happens in some weird place where 7th Street meets 66th Avenue.  What’s going on over there when it comes to street names?  Philadelphia is famous for its easy navigation when it comes to street names and numbered avenues.  But out there in the Oak Lane neighborhoods?  The benevolent grid seems to fold and bend and eat itself like a hungry oroboros. 

What’s an oroboros?  Look it up.

Friday, March 9, 2012


I always knew the exact tree I wanted to hunt down for the beginning of this blog.  There was never any doubt in my mind.  It just took a while to get down there.  There's always too much to do, too many errands to run, too many hours of Law and Order on the TV.

Then, something happened.

I went to the CVS Pharmacy down the street from my urban cabin.  I needed a new hand-soap dispenser, some more paper towels, which I buy in bulk, and a new bottle of dandruff shampoo.  No matter what time I go to the CVS, there's always a line at the counter.  Walking around the store, I very rarely see anybody in the aisles but, as soon as I approach the register, there's suddenly a line of people.  It happens every time.

The person in front of me?  He was buying a 36-oz bottle of Mountain Dew, some canned soup and an assortment of candy from the impulse-buy racks in front of the register.  Then, he started filling out an application for a CVS Wellness Card to get the initial 10% discount.  That took about ten minutes and that's all it took.

It was time.  I needed to go tree hunting.  Like I said, I knew exactly where I needed to go.  

Friday, March 2, 2012


Welcome to the inaugural post of Philly Trees. 

This blog is about observing Philadelphia trees in their unnatural urban settings. 

Who am I?  I'm just an eager, reckless, cynical tree-lover who wants to hunt down, measure, observe and watch notable trees all around this city.  I'm in my thirties.  I live in a small, studio urban cabin.  It's about nine paces wide, eight paces long, on the third-floor of a corner building just a few blocks away from the rat-race of Center City.  I just got a new iPhone, first camera I've had in probably fifteen years.  I grew up just across the river in south Jersey and, according to the Native American Medicine Wheel, I am an Elk of the Thunderbird Clan, born under the Long Snow Moon of mid-Decembertime.  I'm single, obviously.  You can call me Jon Spruce.

If you're a tree-watching citybilly like myself, then you must love Philadelphia as much as I do, but let's face facts.