Eugeneans are an extremely interesting lot, famous for being opinionated, strong-willed, passionate, and more than a little quirky. They’re known for obsessing over every University of Oregon football game. They don’t believe spring has sprung until Eugene Saturday Market vendors say it has. And, without a doubt, they totally and wholeheartedly love their trees. In fact, some may describe their tree love as a tad fanatical—but how cool is that?
Love of trees, whether small or large, is nothing new. Throughout the ages, these botanical wonders have drawn admiration for their strength, spirituality, and protection. Trees are considered sacred in many cultures, and tree worship, in one form or another, has been practiced in almost every corner of our planet.
Trees have always proved to be invaluable, even more so in today’s modern world. They provide cleaner air (by absorbing carbon dioxide and creating oxygen), better soil, and, of course, durable shelter for birds and other living creatures. They also offer shade in the summer, warmth in the winter, and add aesthetic and economic value to our homes. Furthermore, trees produce countless varieties of foodstuff and enhance community pride and unity.
August Jackson is a longtime Oregonian, tree aficionado, and an interpretation coordinator at Mount Pisgah Arboretum, the 209-acre living tree museum and nature education center located in Lane County’s Buford Recreation Area. He says that trees have been and always will be a significant part of the local landscape.
“We have thousands of trees here at the arboretum,” Jackson says, noting that all of them are commonly-found species in the state, including Oregon ash, Douglas firs, big-leaf maples, ponderosa pines, several species of willows, and Oregon white oaks, to name a few. Regarding the latter, Jackson says that the white oaks have a strong relationship with human culture and are very prominent in the Willamette Valley and its ecosystem. “We have a really remarkable collection of Oregon white oaks out here,” he says. “They’re rooted in our area, but they have a global impact because of the migratory birds that feed on the many insects that are attracted to the trees.”
Jackson says that the mission of Mount Pisgah Arboretum, a nonprofit organization that began more than 45 years ago, is to engage people with nature through interactive learning and stewardship, which they do with the thousands of tree enthusiasts (both local and non-local) who visit the arboretum annually to participate in walks, tours, and educational workshops. “Trees mean a lot to us [at the arboretum],” Jackson says. “And this is Eugene, where people are really enthusiastic about their trees.”
One of those enthusiasts is Teresa Damron, general manager and co-owner (along with her husband, Nathaniel Sperry) of Eugene’s Sperry Tree Care, which has been providing traditional tree maintenance and arboricultural consulting services for 30 years. “I love trees, and I love talking about trees,” Damron says, adding that the primary goal of her business is “to create beautiful ecosystems in people’s yards” by helping customers make mindful decisions about their trees that are based on science, not fear. “I’m here to help trees and people get along,” she continues. “Sometimes humans think they know more than trees, when in reality, trees are the dominant species. Trees teach, and I swear they speak to me.”
Regarding local tree culture, Damron, who readily professes to being a bona fide tree hugger, firmly believes that folks who move to Eugene and choose to stay are drawn to the area’s temperate rain forest. “Where we live is very special,” she says, “and in Eugene, where so many people openly love their trees, we have not all come here by accident.”
Rebecca Snowdale, volunteer and planting specialist with Friends of Trees, Eugene Metro, shares Damron’s enthusiasm for these bark-covered beauties. “There are so many tree lovers here,” she says, “and this is such an awesome, strong community, which has so much to do with the Pacific Northwest and its many trees in natural areas.”
Friends of Trees is a nonprofit agency that started three decades ago in Portland for the purpose of schooling volunteers on how to plant and take care of trees, Snowdale says. The organization has grown considerably and now has numerous chapters throughout the Pacific Northwest, including its site in downtown Eugene. Snowdale adds that Friends of Trees is an amazing group devoted to bringing people together with the simple yet rewarding act of planting trees.
Raised in Florida, Snowdale says she’s extremely impressed by Eugene’s commitment to trees. “This wasn’t part of my experience before I moved here [three years ago],” she adds. “But, Eugene really lends itself to this type of activity and activism.”
Scott Altenhoff, urban forestry management analyst with the City of Eugene Public Works and Parks and Open Space departments, asserts that Eugene, as well as the surrounding area, has a lengthy history of being on the vanguard of environmental activism. He explains that Eugene is divided into two camps when it comes to trees: those who are hardcore conservationists and those who have commercial logging interests. It’s his job to help find a reasonable middle ground between the two camps. “We are trying to take a more holistic view,” he says. “It’s about pulling people together who are extreme either way—in either under-valuing or over-valuing our trees.”
Altenhoff stresses that forestry can be efficient and sound if done correctly, and it’s imperative not to lump everything into one category. “We have urban growth boundaries, so there are strict limits as to how far a city can expand,” he says. “We are about cultivating enthusiasm for trees and helping people understand that there are benefits to trees.”
A recent assessment revealed that the Eugene/Springfield metro area is home to 1,086,748 trees that are taller than 35 feet. A quarter of those are on public property, while the remaining grow on private property.
“It’s the grandeur of them,” Altenhoff says. “Trees do so much. They have a calming effect; they reduce stress; they receive rain and channel it to the ground—we utterly depend on them.”
Eugene is home to some pretty incredible biodiversity–our community’s evergreen atmosphere is evidence of that. The plant life that populates the place is the main culprit here, but there’s another denizen of our greenspaces that doesn’t get enough credit: lichen. Here are a few varieties of our fungal friends that you might see when walking around:
Old Man’s Beard (Usnea)
This fruticose lichen can be seen hanging from tree branches all over Eugene. Among the most common species in the area, there’s no doubt you’ll be able to recognize it for its distinctly beard-like appearance.
Shield Lichen (Parmelia)
A foliose lichen, this variety sports a number of leaf-like structures in a roughly circular shape, giving it the appearance of a shield. Being very hardy, it’s one of the most common lichen varieties.
Oregon Lungwort (Lobaria oregana)
Once used by the Hesquiat people to cure haemoptysis, this lichen is also commonly known as lettuce lichen for its leafy appearance. Best not to put it in a salad, though.
Mount Pisgah Arboretum
34901 Frank Parrish Rd.
Sperry Tree Care
227 W 13th Ave., #201
Friends of Trees Eugene Metro
338 W 11th Ave., #103
City of Eugene
Public Works, Parks and Open Space
1820 Roosevelt Blvd.