The Portland Heritage Tree Quest: Group 1 - Vuelta a Iberia - CycleBlaze

August 29, 2019

The Portland Heritage Tree Quest: Group 1

Firs and maples

The Portland Heritage Tree Program

Comments on the trees of Overlook Park that we saw in the previous post directed me to the Portland Heritage Tree Program, which offers legal protection to trees that have been designated to be of particular interest to the city.  The program was established by city ordinance in 1993, which specified procedures and criteria for designating heritage trees.  It is against the law for a person to injure, destroy, remove or cut a heritage tree.  It is the only tree preservation program in Oregon with significant legal teeth.

There is a downloadable guidebook for the program which includes an index and map for all of the city’s designated heritage trees, of which 308 are currently alive.  The guidebook helpfully lays out the location of these trees in a grid:

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The Quest

Now this looks like worthy material for a quest.  It might take me a few years, but there’s material here for quite a few local outings when we’re in town.  It feels like just the right size.   Also, there’s a lot of redundancy in the list - 308 trees, but only 120 species.  I don’t think I need to check out all of the 23 Oregon white oaks, for example.  I’ll just pick one of each species on the list.

There are some options on how to approach this, but since I’m looking for one tree per species I think I’ll take it on in alphabetic order, by scientific name.  Again, very helpfully the guidebook includes an index to the trees by species, with the index listing the location and key facts about each tree: 

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So, there’s The Heritage Tree Quest: through a series of bicycle outings, I’ll strive to view and photograph an instance of every species on the list, and create a post for each outing.  Assuming I can ferret out about ten species per outing, and given that we’re only in town a few months of the year, we’re probably looking at a two to three year endeavor.  

Let’s get started.

Today’s list

Starting from the top of the list, ten distinct species takes us through just two genera: firs and maples.  Awkwardly, they weren’t planted or strewn together by species - they’re scattered all across town, so I’ve got a bit of a challenge just coming up with an efficient itinerary.  Here’s my plan for the day, starting and returning from home and working through the list in the most logical order:

Firs and maples, as the crow flies: about 30 miles
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Since I’m an old crow but no actual crow, it looks more like this: about 45 miles, best case. This might be a two-dayer.
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The ride, and today’s trees

So the ride didn’t unfold quite as planned.  This is a pretty slow process!  I was out for almost five hours, averaged only 8 miles an hour while biking, and spent over an hour and a half stopped completely.  I only made it to five of the ten trees I had originally targeted for today, and one of these didn’t even count because it was delisted just last month and is targeted for removal because it’s in very poor health.  By early afternoon I gave up for the day since we have a social commitment in the afternoon and I was running out of time.

It took a long time for multiple reasons.  Even though the trees are well placed on the map, it still takes awhile to find the specific tree.  In Pier Park, for example, the heritage Grand fir is just one tree in a whole stand of Grand firs.  It took a bit of sleuthing to find the one with the tree marker.  And, it takes a while once you do find each tree, because they’re all amazing in their own unique way and merit some time spent looking at them from multiple angles.  And, along the way there are other reasons to stop too - even if you wear mental blinders and stay focused on the main goal, you can’t really filter everything out.  

And, navigation itself was a challenge.  I just drew out a map on the iPad and took a picture of it rather than loading it to the GPS, so I was frequently stopping to pull out the iPad, look at the map, and get my bearings.  Worse, early in the ride the batteries died on my GPS so I couldn’t track my actual location as I biked along.

As it turns out (big surprise), visiting trees in alphabetical order is a pretty terrible paradigm.  I quickly realized this when I was almost two hours into the ride and still hadn’t gotten to tree number two.  I could see from the map that I was biking past a different heritage tree though, so I decided to stop and check it out as long as I was here.  I picked up two other trees in this way, and on future rides I’ll take a regional approach as being much more efficient.

So, we fell a bit short of the goal today.  I was planning on ten species, but ended up with only seven.  Not bad, considering through no fault of my own the sycamore maple in grid G7 has been delisted, and I couldn’t find the big leaf maple in Lone Fir Cemetery, buried somewhere in the middle of a thousand other wonderful trees.  As compensation though, I picked up three other trees that weren’t on the original list.

None of this discourages me about the quest though.  It feels like a great one for me - each of these trees is a fascinating discovery, and inspiring enough to get me off the bench and out the door a bit more often than I might otherwise.

Seven down already, and only 113 to go!

The ride started with a dash down the West Bank of the river and across the Saint Johns Bridge. These first ten miles went fast, making me feel like I’d be fine completing the planned circuit.
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In Pier Park in the Saint Johns neighborhood, wondering where the big Grand Fir is. While I’m looking around, I can also take a minute to admire this row of cedars.
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Aha! This is heritage tree no. 377: Abies grandis (Grand fir), 177’ tall, 13.9 feet in circumference, listed in 2018.
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There’s a whole grove of Grand firs here. The heritage tree (marked by Rodriguez) looks a bit grander than it’s neighbors, but not by much.
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So this is what a Grand fir looks like!
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Forty-five minutes later, I’m still slowly working my way to the second tree on my list. Looking at my map though, I see there’s a different heritage tree here in Columbia Park, a spot I’ve never seen before. I decide to improvise.
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In Columbia Park: heritage tree no. 243 is the Quercus phellos (Willow oak): height 88’, circumference 7.7’, listed in 2003.
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I’ve only seen a few willow oaks, but they always surprise me. With these smooth, slender leaves they look nothing like an oak to me.
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One of my original targets, this is tree no. 177, the Acer saccharum (Sugar maple): height 76’, circumference 11.8’, listed in 1998.
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Sugar maples were one of the common trees in the forest when I was growing up in West Virginia. I’d forgotten what they look like.
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In some ways it’s a shame to be doing this in midsummer. I’d love to see this tree in the autumn when it’s leaves turn.
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The third tree on my list, a Sycamore maple, is a disappointment and saddens me. It was just delisted, and is coming down soon. For good reason, looking up at its bare, dying branches spreading above the house behind it.
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There are other Sycamore oaks in the register, so we’ll look for one of those later. I’d better hurry though - the species is on Portland’s nuisance plant list and can no longer be planted on city property. For now we’ll just look at the skeleton of this one.
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Another diversion slows me down and puts me further behind schedule. This is Peninsula Park, one of my favorite spots in the northeast. It looks like it was inspired by the garden of chateau along the Loire.
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Jen GrumbyI love Peninsula Park! Wonderful you got to stop there.
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3 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyIsn’t this the best spot though? There’s so much about it, including the feeling of the community.
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3 months ago
In Peninsula Park
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#103, Liriodendron tulipofera (Tulip tree): height 110’, circumference 15.4’, listed in 1996.
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There are actually two heritage trees here. #104, also a Tulip tree, is directly behind this one. Note also Rodriguez there in the shadows at its base, providing scale (as he will do for all of these trees).
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The Tulip tree is another one best seen in a different season - in the spring, when in blossom; or autumn, when it turns a brilliant pale yellow.
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These two Tulip trees must be a private sponsorship, by the house next door. I liked this poem they have posted next to them.
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#106, Acer campestre (Hedge maple) height 73’, circumference. 11.2’, listed 1996.
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This is another pairing. The tree behind it is #105, also a Hedge maple. These are the only Hedge maples in the register.
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I’m going to Lone Fir Cemetery because it houses a heritage Bigleaf maple, one of the trees I targeted for today.
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Lone Fir is a special place, and one new to me. It’s not natural to access by bike, because it’s bounded by arterials. I didn’t know it was here, really. One of the nice things about this quest is that it’s leading me to new spots in the city I wasn’t aware of previously.
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I’m sure there’s a message of some sort in this almost completely overgrown headstone. It’s a pretty appealing vision for the end of your days, I think.
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Jacquie GaudetA little Lord-of-the-Rings-ish, if you ask me.
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3 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jacquie GaudetOoh. A good take on it.
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3 months ago
I never could find the Bigleaf maple I came for, but there are many tremendous but unlisted trees in Lone Fir Cemetery. This huge chestnut, for example.
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Such a great tree. Shouldn’t someone nominate it and give it the protection it deserves?
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As long as we’re here in Lone Fir Cemetery though, we should stop to admire the Douglas fir that is its namesake.
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Heritage tree #294: Pseudotsuga mensiesii (Douglas fir). Height 109’, circumference. 13.7’, listed 2009.
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Our last tree of they day, an Incense cedar, also stands tall in Lone Fir Cemetery.
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#293: Calocedrus decurrens (Incense cedar). Height 121’, circumference. 11.1’, listed 2009.
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Keeping track

I’ll clearly be at this for a good long while apparently, so I better get organized and keep track of what I’ve already seen.  For the record then, here’s what we’ve bagged so far after one round:

  1. Grand fir
  2. Willow Oak
  3. Sugar Maple
  4. Tulip Tree
  5. Hedge Maple
  6. Douglas Fir
  7. Incense Cedar
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Suzanne GibsonSounds like a never ending quest - not a bad thing. And it will keep you coming back to Portland instead of settling in a small French village where they only have plane trees.
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3 months ago
Jen GrumbyAn admirable, educational, and rewarding quest!

Look forward to this continuing journey through Portland's great trees.
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3 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Suzanne GibsonYou’re right, on both counts. As lovely as a small French village would be, I’m sure I’d get restless soon. Maybe when I’m older, and if I took up boules.
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3 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyI’m pretty happy with it myself. I feel grateful to Bruce for unwittingly steering me in this direction. Almost makes me wish we could just stay in Portland and look at the trees, but unfortunately we’ve already bought our tickets for Santiago.
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3 months ago
Jen GrumbyHow great it will be, at the end of Vuelta a Iberia, to return to both a beautiful home base *and* a fascinating quest.
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3 months ago