Creating Diverse Urban Forests

Princeton American Elm

Most of us don’t think of the trees in the cities as a forest, but for many creatures that live within our municipalities, they experience the urban tree canopy much like a forest.  City trees provide birds, mammals and insects with shelter, food, nesting, food storage and safety, even though the environment is an extremely varied and complex mix of buildings, streets, powerlines, parks, gardens and trees rather than an unbroken tree line.

We humans are also part of the environment and fortunately we have an opportunity to make it a better place for all the critters including ourselves, by making it as geologically diverse as possible.  By planting trees of many different varieties, we can increase the diversity of our urban forests.  We all seem to love maple trees, but by mixing in disease resistant elms, oaks, lindens, honey locust, hackberry, aspen, birch, willow, ornamental trees and others, we will create a richer and healthier plant community.  It will also be visually varied and beautiful and less vulnerable to future disease and pest outbreaks.

For many decades, most people have avoided planting elm trees, due to the devastation that occurred when Dutch Elm Disease spread throughout North America.  Thankfully, good research and extensive testing has brought many elm varieties to the market that are extremely resistant to Dutch Elm Disease.  These disease resistant elms are fast growers and tolerant of a very wide range of soil types, making them a versatile and wise choice for almost any landscape.  We often see elms thriving where urban tree varieties have struggled or failed.  Including a disease resistant elm tree in your landscape is likely to provide you with a sizeable and good looking tree in just a few years time.

Excellent elm varieties that are available now include Princeton, New Harmony, Colonial Spirit, Prairie Expedition, Triumph, Accolade, New Horizon and Patriot.  With slightly different sizes and shapes, one of these disease resistant elms will be a good choice to provide welcome shade and a tough, long lived place for birds to hang out as they move to and from your bird feeders.