Meet the new trees of Minneapolis

Move over ash trees. Up-and-coming new trees are taking space in Minneapolis parks and boulevards.

As the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board wraps up year five of its eight-year plan to counter the emerald ash borer infestation by removing all the ash trees in the city, the variety of trees grows every year. Many of these trees are still young, but the hope is that a greater diversity of trees will prevent disasters like those that nearly wiped out the city’s elm and ash trees.

One of them, the maackia, a tree of Asian origin, has pretty whitish green flowers that give it distinction.

“It’s a smaller stature tree,” said Ralph Sievert, the Park Board’s director of forestry. “We are trying to do a better job to match the tree to the site and not put a giant tree under a utility line.”

The corktree, another native of Asia, turns yellow in the fall. Corktrees, like maackias and the larch, or tamarack, another newer addition to Minneapolis’s tree stock, don’t have the pest problems that have plagued other tree varieties in the city. They also have proved to be durable in different soil conditions, Sievert said, especially during dry conditions in the summertime.

Larch trees get quite a bit larger than maackias or corktrees. Some, when they are fully grown, will reach 50 feet or more. Of North American origin, larch trees are a deciduous conifer.

“They have needles, but unlike a pine, they drop them in the fall,” Sievert said.

The Park Board has been planting these three varieties of trees on a small scale for the past five to seven years, according to Sievert.

“The whole change came with emerald ash borer,” he said. “We wanted to find more and more types of trees.”

During planting season last spring, maackias, corktrees and larch trees made up just 2 percent of the total trees planted by the Park Board — about 170 of each. Meanwhile, the oak, coffeetree, and planetree varieties took up a larger bulk of the new trees, at 12 percent each.

“One limiting factor on planting more varieties is the ability of the nursery industry to keep up with the demand for under-used trees,” Sievert said. “Since it takes time to grow trees, there can be a five-year lag until production catches up with demand.”

The majority of trees in Minneapolis are still maples, lindens and even elm trees, which either survived Dutch elm disease or are the disease-resistant variety. Sievert said the Park Board doesn’t plant many maples because there are already so many.

Meanwhile, the forestry department continues to take down ash trees. Initially concentrating on boulevard and park trees, where the grass is mowed around the tree, the department will now turn its attention to paths and walkways.

“We want to get the tree out of there before it poses a danger,” Sievert said. “It’s easier to deal with the trees before they die, because they decompose fast.”

Funding for the ash tree project, which involves cutting down ash, removing stumps and planting replacements, is covered by a levy. The superintendent’s proposed 2019 budget reduces funding for stump grinding and planting activities for other tree species.

The 2019 budget also reflects a plan to turn one forestry position into an outreach position, which according to Sievert is a position that used to exist but was eliminated in 2010 after the last person who held the position retired and wasn’t replaced due to budget cuts.

“We haven’t had the same contact with neighborhood groups,” Sievert said. “The idea is that this person would ramp up our citizen pruner program.”

 Wood plank trail

Wood plank trail spiffed up

New planks have arrived along the West River Parkway wood-plank trail between the Stone Arch Bridge and the Guthrie Theater.

The Park Board first installed two wood-plank trails on the parkway on either side of a wood-plank roadway between Portland and 11th avenues back in 2003, for a cost of over $1 million. The wood planks were installed to mimic the way the road used to look like in the Mill City days. But the planks used for the road soon deteriorated and were replaced by concrete in 2010.

The Park Board is now replacing the planks for the two sides of the trail a little bit at a time. Phase two of the project began in October with the replacement of an 85-foot section of trail using Douglas fir to replace the old white oak planks.

Planning staff is still evaluating the plank design before replacing the entire trail, which will occur as funding becomes available, according to the Park Board.