r Over time, but long before this town’s roads and sidewalks were covered with asphalt and concrete, Spanish Fork leaders planted the first of what eventually numbered 77 London planetrees.
Today, 67 of the trees with their mottled trunks and soaring branches continue to thrive, the oldest about 70 feet high in front of the city offices on Main Street.
“If they were planted in good soil, got enough water, didn’t have their roots damaged by road or sidewalk expansion or something else, they could live 200 years,” said Bill Bushman, Spanish Fork City Buildings and Grounds Manager.
April 28 was Arbor Day across the nation – a day to celebrate trees – and with Spanish Fork being one of about 4,200 members of the Arbor Day Foundation in Utah, it seemed a good time to write about Spanish Fork’s trees.
Today, by city fiat, one of a predetermined specific variety of tree stands every 30 feet or so on every street in Spanish Fork. But the first to be planted were the Londonplanes.
Some of the 10 that died over the years were hit by cars or weren’t watered when owners moved from their homes, Bushman said. A naturally hardy hybrid, the trees’ botanical name is platanus x acerifolia, a cross between an Oriental planetree and American sycamore. It is said on several internet sites to be one of the most efficient trees in removing small particulate pollutants in urban areas.
“[I]t was discovered that this hybrid could tolerate the smoke and grime of London,” according to the National Arbor Day Foundation’s website. “As a result, it has been widely distributed to cities throughout the moderate climate regions of the world for nearly 400 years.”
[Editor’s note: Watch for an article in June about the naming of “America,” which could explain how a tree was named “American Sycamore” decades before there was an America.]
There were no trees to speak of in the valleys that dropped off precipitously from the Wasatch Mountains when settlers arrived in the 1850s, said Nate Orbock, arborist with the TreeUtah nonprofit organization.
“They wanted trees for the same reasons as now,” Orbock said. “They were used to trees back home, and they liked them, and it was hot and dry in the valley without any. They wanted shade. They wanted fruit. … So they planted trees.”
Trees “clean air and water, slow climate change, ease poverty and hunger, prevent species loss, and feed the human soul,” according to Arborday.org.
“Trees improve our quality of life in multiple ways,” according to TreeUtah.org. “Trees renew our air supply by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. … Trees lower air temperatures by releasing water vapor through their leaves, and shade trees can make buildings up to 20 degrees cooler. Trees also improve water quality by slowing and filtering rain water as well as protecting aquifers.”
Title 15 of the Spanish Fork Municipal City Code – starting at page 102 – delineates the regulations regarding landscaping. New construction property owners – residential or commercial – must plant trees within one year of acquiring an occupancy permit. The list of acceptable trees that can be planted on public street frontage are beech, catalpa, elm, ginko, hackberry, horsechestnut, linden, oak, sycamore and zelkova.
Sufficient watering is essential for survival in the first years of a tree’s life, Orbock said.