The Improbable Sycamore

When we bought our house twenty-nine years ago, it came with an assortment of pinyon pines and junipers, some pfitzers, and a well-established sycamore that partly shaded the master bedroom, even though it’s not that close to the house. It looked to be a sturdy stately tree, and the only one of any height, since even mature pinyon pines seldom exceed fifteen feet and junipers aren’t much taller.

My first mistake was to confuse the solid trunk with sturdiness. My wife the professor was more skeptical, asking, “Why did anyone ever plant a southern tree here?”

I didn’t understand at first. Then came the first windstorm. Now, for readers not familiar with the climate where I live, there are reasons why the only indigenous trees in the area, besides sagebrush, are pinyons and junipers. One of those reasons is that we live in high desert. The second is that we have high winds – on and off all the time. Fifty mile an hour gusts are always a possibility. Thirty- thirty-five mph winds are common. Higher wind speeds are not uncommon, and without storms. One clear-air storm ripped most of the shingles off a house just up the street. Another ripped the vinyl siding off a house a block away. Every year or so we get seventy mph wind gusts. They blow semi-trucks off the interstate.

Then, even though we live in a desert, every second or third year we get heavy snows in either early fall or late spring. One Mother’s Day we got fifteen inches of heavy wet snow, just after we’d started a major remodeling/addition project, but that’s another story. Earlier this week we got a mere eight to ten inches of heavy snow – far too much for the wide leaves and the soft wood of our southern sycamore tree – which is why I woke up to several hundred pounds of broken limbs surrounding the “stately” sycamore, which, as a southern tree, doesn’t deign to shed its leaves until at least mid-December, despite the fact that the nights have been freezing for at least a month and a half by then.

It’s also why, when the sycamore finally relinquishes its leaves, it looks gap-branched and most irregular despite the efforts of local tree-trimmers, who aren’t ever available until I’ve cleaned up the immediate carnage and sawed and added limbs to the firewood pile. The sycamore, crippled as it is, remains the tallest tree by far around our part of the hill, and I don’t know whether to bless or curse the idiots who planted it.

1 thought on “The Improbable Sycamore”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    Apparently sycamore are rather tough even out of their native environment. Shallow roots or diseases/pests seem to be the main risks to them. Pruning may help keep them from becoming too top-heavy. Apparently the wind is doing the pruning for you, if not neatly.

    But sure, unusual choices can have both upsides and downsides.

    In the 40’s (and a few even earlier), cork oaks were planted in Phoenix, AZ. They grew very slowly, but a number of them still survive, and there are people who try to locate those that remain and discover their history.

    Then again, Phoenix has a sizable number of feral peach-faced lovebirds that seem to be doing quite well near the city (where they can count on shade and with the lake in Encanto Park or people supplying them, water); and since undeveloped desert would be a bit much for them, and there’s no shortage of nesting sites in or near the city, they don’t seem to be significantly displacing any native species.

    Not all imports are harmless of course, and some like palm trees are high maintenance (the dead frond stubs need to be removed regularly, since in sufficient accumulation, they could cause serious injury falling on people; and even the trimming is a bit dangerous, best left to pros).

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