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Free Trees! (but not these cottonwoods...)

Lower foliage like willow, upper leaves like cottonwoods

Bear with me if you want a free tree: I kid you not! But first...scroll back the clock to late August when Mike Bone and I had the privilege to wander the sandy steppe of Northeasternmost Kazakhstan near the Altai Mountains. One of the strangest plants we encountered was a somewhat schizophrenic cottonwood: Populus diversifolia. If you look carefully in the picture above you will see the leaves at the top of the tree are shaped somewhat like our native cottonwood (more, perhaps, like the bigtooth Aspen of the eastern states) while the lower, juvenile leaves are linear. Another example, perhaps, of that biological principle that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" (translated as "the development of the individual repeats the evolution of the species": a doctrine not to be taken too literally, perhaps).

Leaf of "Mature" form of Populus diversifolia

This "different leaved" cottonwood (the literal translation of the Latin: diversifolia--meaning it has two different kinds of leaves) is rare to the point of endangerment. It is found sparingly throughout much of Central Asia from Mongolia (where it has been featured on a stamp complete with Latin name!), Xinjiang and westward where it morphs into (and has been lumped with) Populus euphraitica. Growing as it does in some of the driest, coldest places on Planet Earth, this would be an intriguing plant to observe in cultivation: as far as I know, however, it has never been grown in North America...

This last picture shows our guides in Kazakhstan next to some gnarly specimens....but what about these free trees I promised you? The Park People, an active local group that volunteers to support the Parks in Denver, is responsible for providing thousands of trees to residents of Denver at very reasonable rates ($25 ): the tree canopy in many neighborhoods in Denver has become so sparse that residents in those neighborhoods can obtain trees for free. Click here to read more about this program. Please note that all these trees are designated only for planting in parking strips--not just anywhere in your yard.

The Park People are some of the principal partners of Denver's remarkable Mile High Million Program: led by the indefatigable Sara Davis, this initiative was started by Mayor (now Governor) Hickenlooper, a visionary who recognizes the importance of trees. Do explore both websites: trees are not just beautiful and interesting sentinels that hover over us benignly, almost like guardian angels. Don't forget that trees filter chemicals, convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. But they have an enormous economic benefit in providing a shade canopy in summer that reduces the heat island effect of cities significantly (i.e. they are living air conditioners). They are proven to provide huge economic savings on reducing cooling costs and the strain on utilities in summer during the hottest weather.

How does one measure the aesthetic impact of a city enhanced with beautiful trees as opposed to blighted, treeless slums? I have a hunch anyone reading this blog or getting this far knows that this is a no-brainer! Hurry up and get your tree! There's only a week left after all--and you might even qualify for a free one!



Cindy Newlander
The USDA Forest Service created a Web based tool to measure the value of trees. Many communities and individuals are using i-Tree to determine carbon offsets, stormwater reduction benefits, value to property, and decreases in energy use due to trees. http://www.itreetools.org/index.php
Diane Jean
What a wonderful plan! Alas, I don't live in Denver.
Kathleen Cain
Oh, how I wish I'd known about Populus diversifolia when I was writing my book about cottonwood trees! Thanks so much for the fascinating info. Kathleen Cain

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