We often take trees for granted. They have always been there for us. As children we climbed them and played on tree swings and hung from their branches. We picked their fruit and consumed it on the spot. We roasted marshmallows around campfires made from their wood. As adults we also appreciate their beauty and cooling shade. And sometimes gripe about raking leaves.
So what’s so special about trees? Perhaps we a genetically programmed to think they are beautiful because we cannot live without them. Trees provide much of the oxygen that we require for survival. They produce food for us as well as the creatures along the food chain that feed us.
They keep us comfortable. Studies have found differences of 20 to 35 degrees between the temperature of a hard surface in direct sunlight versus that shaded by the canopy of a tree. You will believe that if you have gone barefoot to compare the temperatures of shaded vs. unshaded sidewalks.
They save us money. Properly planted trees can cut air-conditioning costs by 15 to 35 percent with an additional 10 percent energy savings when cooling equipment is shaded also. Shaded streets slow asphalt deterioration so streets need resurfacing less often and cost less for municipalities. Businesses with trees in the landscape are likely to earn more because potential customers are attracted to them. Trees in a home landscape have been found to increase property values.
Galveston was not always a forested island. The native vegetation on our big sandbar was prairie grassland and dune vegetation with a few scrubby, windblown coastal oaks. European settlers and transplanted Easterners brought with them a desire for trees they knew from home and established them here.
The Great Storm of 1900 took a toll on those trees. Vintage photos show the devastation caused by that catastrophe: images of huge piles of lumber and demolished houses, with perhaps a few small leafless trees still standing here and there. Residents at the time realized what they had lost and the Women’s Health Protective Association soon began replanting efforts. Following the destructive 1915 storm more trees were lost, and additional planting ensued, resulting in the majestic oaks we had on Broadway. We had assumed those would be there for our lifetimes.
Hurricane Ike caused Galvestonians to sit up and take notice when we lost 40,000 trees, including most of those on Broadway. Since then we have replaced lost trees in public and private spaces and added new ones as we are able. And now — right now! — the restoration of Broadway’s lost oaks and palms has begun. Healthy trees are being expertly installed, complete with irrigation systems to get them through our inevitable periods of drought. These trees will become majestic during the lifetimes of most of us.
So we can be thankful for Galveston’s trees, old and new. And we are grateful to all those who have worked in the past and present to create, maintain, and restore our life-giving urban canopy.