Taking Root

Vermillion elementary second-graders take turns shoveling dirt to help plant a new Fall Festiva Sugar Maple tree along Norbeck Street near Vermillion High School during Arbor Day festivities held in the city Friday, April 24, 2009. The Vermillion Garden Club and representatives of Coyoteopoly were on hand to assist with the festivities. Arbor Day was celebrated elsewhere in Vermillion on April 24, 2009. A tree was planted near city hall in memory of Megan Tolsma, and the community also recognized Hy-Vee's donation to the effort to plant 150 trees in Vermillion that year.

Trees are an asset to any community and the people of Vermillion are lucky enough to have trees lining streets and scattered throughout public parks.

Unfortunately, the trees in Vermillion are beginning to show their age and reaching the end of their lifespan. Many are being cut down or destroyed by natural circumstances and are not being replaced.

“We are losing a lot of trees in this town and if you look at little farther, you don’t see anything new being planted,” said Clarence Pederson, a Vermillion resident and member of the Vermillion Tree Board. “I see that Vermillion is a neat looking place. We have a lot of old trees and one of the things that makes it a nice looking place is the fact that we have big old trees, but the fact is they are old.”

Saying that none of the trees are being replaced may be a bit of an exaggeration, Pederson admits, noting that some are being replaced by the city in the public parks. Not enough are being replanted, however, to make up for lost inventory.

A typical lifespan for a tree in Vermillion is 60 years with the potential to survive longer, but most are threatened with the possibility of storm damage and disease. Currently, the biggest threat to the trees in Vermillion is emerald ash borer disease threating the ash trees. Ash trees were planted in response to Dutch elm disease which destroyed the elm trees.

Ash trees now make up approximately 30 percent of the trees in city limits including those lining Cherry Street. According to an assessment done by the South Dakota Department of Agriculture in 2013, a wide range of tree species in Vermillion include silver maple, sugar maple, bur oak, black walnut, honey locust and black locust.

“The suggestion from experts is that every city should only have about 10 percent of any one tree, so you’d have quite a variety,” Pederson said.

A guide for the best types of trees to plant is available on the Vermillion City website.

Vermillion is considered a Tree City USA, which is an official title sanctioned by the Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska City, and it promotes tree planting within a city. Officially designating a tree city, Vermillion’s Tree Board promotes planting and budgets money to care for the trees already in place.

Pederson wants people to recognize the aging tree population and be proactive in planting young trees on their own property.

“I’m trying to have people look ahead,” Pederson said. “We are all appreciating a having a good time under trees that somebody older than us planted.”

Trees do more than make a community more astatically pleasing. They provide habitat for birds and other animals, serve as a windbreak and they keep down the heat index by blocking heat from reaching the ground.

“If you have trees along the streets then the street doesn’t get as warm and you might say that you could save on your air conditioning bill,” Pederson said. “There are cities that I’ve lived in that mandate in big parking lots that there be trees to try to keep down the heat that’s collecting on these asphalt and concrete parking lots.”

With the high number of rental homes in town, property owners may not see it practical to plant trees, but they require little care once planted. Once they are in the ground, all they require is adequate water and keeping grass from crowding each young tree’s base. On the plus side, new trees add visual value to property.

“The best thing one could do is have a foot or so wide around a new tree that you planted and keep the grass out of it as a place for water to be collecting,” Pederson said. “And then water it on a regular basis while it’s young.”

Pederson has been advocating the planting of new trees by attending city council meetings and spreading the word of the importance of trees in the community and the different benefits they provide. They can be planted on private property, business property, church lawns and even left as student gifts from the senior class at the Greek houses at the University of South Dakota.

“My wife and I planted a tree that was eight feet tall four or five years ago and there is shade that I can sit under now,” he said. “Depending on what size tree a person plants, one can appreciate it relatively soon.”

The city does have rules to follow when planting trees. Residents need to fill out an application, obtain a permit and have the potential planting site inspected so it won’t block traffic signs or be a nuisance to city property.

In honor of Earth Days this coming week and Arbor Day on April 29, the Vermillion Tree Board is purchasing 10 trees for $100 each and selling them for $25 to those interesting in planting on their property.

There will also be information about tree planting available during Green Thursday on the Platz on April 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. as part of Vermillion’s Earth Day’s celebration.

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