Urban Tree Elegance: Copper Beech, with Jean Zimmerman

One of the the Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center copper beech “cousins,” this individual showing less coppery late summer foliage. Photo by Jean Zimmerman

Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica Atropurpurea Group)

By Jean Zimmerman, Council Board Member and Commercial and Consulting Arborist for SavATree

When I was growing up we gathered beneath “The Elephant Tree,” which stood on the overgrown lawn of an abandoned mansion. The massive local landmark, its knob-kneed trunk resembling nothing so much as the columnar legs of its namesake animal, offered a self-contained world. From the outside, long branches twisted sinuously from the crown to the ground, spreading outward like the spokes of an umbrella. Inside this protected space we found ethereal cathedral light and branches that were perfect for climbing. Kids hid there, gossiped there, made out there. The trunk was hashed with initials and hearts. We gave the tree its nickname, but the world of dendrology had a more scientific label, now known as Fagus sylvatica Atropurpurea Group.

The copper beech. Tree guru Michael Dirr chooses it as “one of my great plant loves,” and from childhood it has been one of mine, too.

Having been brought to America in the 1600s, the towering, always impressive European beech (Fagus sylvatica) tops out at a full 70 feet (21 m). The copper beech (Atropurpurea Group) shares the characteristics of the species but with distinct foliage color. While not a street tree, copper beech takes its place among landmarked gardens and properties that are part of the urban landscape around them.

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Underutilized Trees for Urban Use: Quercus michauxii

Author Jean Zimmerman with one of Ithaca’s thriving swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii) street trees, about 15 years old.

Council Board Member and Commercial & Consulting Arborist for SavATree Jean Zimmerman provided this superb story and photos. Jean is also an extensively published author (jeanzimmerman.com), centering much of her fiction and nonfiction around the history of Manhattan.

When saplings of swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii) showed up on the streets of Ithaca, New York in 2007, even some knowledgeable arborists might have been surprised. Rarely seen in the colder northern precincts of Zone 5 central New York, Quercus michauxii hails from the Southern United States, where it keeps its feet wet in swamps and mixed hardwood forests. When I encountered striking specimens in the college town recently, I wondered how michauxii had wound up on the streets of “Mythaca.”

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Arborist & Author Jean Zimmerman on Her MFI Experience

Arborist and author Jean Zimmerman. Photo by Maud Reavill

Council Member and SavATree Arborist Jean Zimmerman recently attended the 2020 Municipal Forestry Institute (MFI) with partial assistance from a Council scholarship. With this MFI class, more than 750 urban forestry and affiliated professionals have completed the weeklong leadership training. Jean’s account of her experience is literary in nature because in addition to being an arborist, she is a published author.

Sugar white sands. Crashing waves. The occasional parabolic arc of a dolphin off shore. We gathered along Alabama’s famously gorgeous Gulf Coast, sixty-five pilgrims from all over the country and abroad. We had come to sharpen our leadership skills at the Municipal Forestry Institute (MFI), a long-running (since 2006) continuing education symposium that is celebrated as one of the best in the world. I remember arriving at the Gulf Shores Hilton, being unsure of whether I could fit in.

My fellow MFIers came from varied backgrounds. Some were urban foresters at municipalities of varying size, from New York City to Denton, Texas. Others hailed from not-for-profits, such as TreePhilly in Philadelphia. One participant, a champion tree-climber, represented the happiest place in the world, Disneyland. Another traveled from Sweden. There were representatives of PlanIT Geo and Davey Tree. I came to Gulf Shores from SavATree, the third largest tree care company in the United States, where I work as a commercial and consulting arborist.

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