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The Truth About Trees

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

While trees grown in nurseries are often uniform in habit, those allowed to develop naturally have a unique style that says, “Take me as I am.”

grove of trees

By Luke Miller

Ever notice on soap operas how everyone looks like they belong in a fashion magazine? The mob boss looks like George Clooney, the nurse could double as Halle Berry, and the waitress at the diner has the Miley Cyrus thing going on.

Of course, real life is a little different.

It got me to thinking about trees. Nurseries pride themselves in developing handsome cultivars with uniform characteristics. Perfectly shaped and programmed to grow into a specific size and habit, nursery trees take the guesswork out of what will happen 10 or 20 years down the road. One glance at the plant tag and you can see into the future.

red maples on street

That’s good. It prevents problems. City planners and landscape architects in particular appreciate knowing what to expect with street trees. And, truthfully, an allée of picture-perfect trees really does look nice. Just take a gander at these red maple hybrids on a downtown street in fall.

oak with damaged trunk

But just like we don’t all look like soap opera stars, trees don’t all develop into ideal specimens either. They’re shaped by weather, competition, disease, insects, birds, animals -- and by people. See that big boo-boo at the base of the oak tree? It may have been caused by a car accident in the distant past.

multi-stem tree

This sycamore had its own problems. The trio of trunks probably arose after deer or rabbits browsed on the tree when it was very young. Facing a quick exit from this world, it immediately shot up multiple stems to increase its chances of survival. Surely, animals wouldn’t destroy all the stems. Nope, three remained . . . and created this work of art.

Learn how to view trees like an artist.


multi-stem tree

From the moment they germinate, trees are in survival mode. So while the oak is busy sealing off an old wound and the sycamore is outwitting hungry animals, this maple is just trying to feed itself. There’s an entire sky’s worth of sunshine to help with photosynthesis, but this tree isn’t taking any chances -- one limb is nearly bent to the ground in stubborn pursuit of sunlight.

tree sentinel by sidewalk

Finally, we have this battered ash tree. It was on the scene long before the sidewalk arrived, and it has seen its share of hardship over the years. Shorn by wicked weather -- and more recently by errant construction equipment -- it’s not long for this world. Yet this lonely sentinel faces its final years with grace and distinction.

Pretty? Nah. Pretty inspiring, though.

See more by this author.