Tree Talk: Strong as an oak

Tree Talk: Strong as an oak

Tree Talk: Strong as an oak

Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, as the saying goes. And if you want proof of that, take a look at the three mature oaks that wrap around the southwest corner of the intersection of Madison Street and McGilvra Boulevard.

These are Pin Oaks (Quercus palustris), deciduous hardwoods, among the finest oaks for residential and urban use. They’ll live for centuries, quite disease and pest resistant, providing dappled summer shade, statuesque form on the skyline, rigid straight trunks supporting strong limbs, and autumn color in yellows and reds.

With the first hard frost, the Pin Oak’s leaves turn a bronzy brown but hang on the tree through most of the winter, to be pushed off in spring by the buds of emerging new leaves. Reaching an eventual height of 50 to 80 feet, this oak is particularly happy in our cool, moist climate and acid soil. It’s a plant that, if your garden has the space, will provide limbs strong enough to hold swings for your great grandchildren. It also makes an excellent parking strip tree. When the acorns drop, squirrels gather them and stash them in the soil for meters in all directions, where, left unretrieved, they’ll sprout and grow into a form that can easily be transplanted the following November.

On Saturday, June 3, I led the Madison Park Tree Walk. The walk is in the second year of what has become a twice-annual event. About 75 residents showed up to learn about local arbors. As we wrapped up the walk near the Madison/McGilvra intersection, several of the walkers noticed pink ribbons tied around three Pin Oaks and other trees that bound the crossing. Some of the trees wore bold signs that read “Save This Tree.” What was going on here? I didn’t know, but I promised the group I’d look into it.

In the spirit of full disclosure: I bought and planted those three oaks 43 years ago from 15-gallon nursery cans, making them close to 60 years old at this point. Their planting is a product and reminder of a younger man’s zeal to beautify a busy street. So I have a vested interest in seeing them saved. The ribbons and signs had been put on a number of trees around this five-point intersection by an equally zealous tree-loving resident.

I went to work, first calling neighborhood residents and members of the Madison Park Community Council. These first inquiries led me to the Seattle Department of Transportation. Simply stated, a committee for the Community Council had worked for years to get traffic modification at this very unsafe intersection. These dedicated citizens secured a grant and, from there, the project went to SDOT’s designers to put together a plan. That plan is now about 90 percent complete, and it may necessitate the removal of some mature trees.

No final decisions have been made, and none of the trees considered for removal have been ordered to the chopping block -- yet. Paul Elliott, the public information officer for SDOT, told me that a meeting had been held recently with the Urban Forestry group to discuss the project and the fate of the trees. Once the plan is reviewed and complete, it will be presented to the Madison Park community at a public meeting.

I will add here that everyone to whom I’ve spoken has been forthcoming and direct. I asked Paul if I could suggest in my column that residents contact him with questions and he cheerfully responded, “Sure. That’s what I’m here for.” To that end, here is Paul’s contact information: is

What we have here, in my opinion, is an opportunity for citizens to work together with the government to make changes that both improve the safety of our neighborhood and preserve its history, beauty and ambiance. Hopefully that work will end in a result that is good for all. 

In these times of frequent contention between government and the people it represents, Madison Park has a chance to work with municipal bureaucracy amicably, setting an example -- albeit small -- of democracy in action.
Yes… Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow

STEVE LORTON is a Madison Park resident and former Northwest editor of Sunset.