Thursday, January 3, 2013

Western Nebraska Town Trees

When I recently traveled to my home town of Kimball, Nebraska to partake in some holiday fun, I spent some time walking around town evaluating trees (and other things). It's tough to be a tree in western Nebraska where weather extremes are, well, extreme. Drought is frequent in this part of the world and in recent years, annual growing-season precipitation has frequently been less than 10"! In these conditions, trees are typically absent unless planted and cared for. One exception is the Siberian elm, that tough-as-nails tree that seems able to survive on dust and dog pee.

The number of street trees across Kimball has been in decline for decades.

For as long as I can remember, Siberian elm has been the dominant deciduous species in Kimball and in the less-cared-for parts of town it is often a very ragged and ugly tree, not doing the town any favors for its appearance. And yet for as ugly as it is, it is certainly providing the service of shade and shelter and wildlife habitat and a case can be made that it is better to have them than not. Though beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the outcome of such a debate would be far from certain as that tree is uuuugly!

Siberian elm is the dominant deciduous tree across much of Kimball.

Fortunately, if one takes a closer look at the trees of Kimball, it becomes pretty clear that there are other species proven tough and adaptable to the community. Colorado spruce is perhaps the second most dominant tree of Kimball and it rises prominently like green spires sprinkled throughout the community. These trees are especially noticeable as one drives down into Kimball from higher elevations to the north or south. Indeed, many visitors to town remark about the lovely spruce trees. Other proven evergreens include ponderosa pine and Austrian pine, both tough as nails stalwarts for the community.

Kimball is marked by many nice Colorado spruce trees.
My favorite tree for Kimball would be the bur oak (OK, its my favorite tree period). Though they are few in number, the bur oaks found here and there all seem to be doing well, many with no extra care or watering to survive the frequent droughts. Where they get just a little care, they are fantastic and are able to grow relatively quickly. If I lived in Kimball, I would set a goal of planting a large number of bur oaks across the community each year.

Bur oak should be planted more. Imagine if trees like this one from North Platte were more common across town. 

Some of the other deciduous trees of prominence around town include hackberry (of course), honeylocust, coffeetree, catalpa, American elm, green ash, linden, cottonwood and silver poplar. A species that really catches my eye and that deserves much wider use is black walnut. That is an amazing tree in its adaptability to tough conditions.  So come on Kimball - plant more trees including more of these proven and deserving species. And give them just a little bit more care.

The black walnut (left in photo) is doing well with very little care.

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