We Want Big Blue

Among the first things the new city council should do--right away--is decree the blue palo verde as Phoenix's offical tree. And then, the council should require the big blue in all official city landscaping and should encourage citizens to plant the trees in their yards. The council should do these things because: Cercidium Floridum is indigenous to the Valley--forests of them would grow in this exact space even if a huge city didn't exist here full of people who build roads, golf courses and artificial lakes. The drought-resistant beauties are capable of surviving on very little water. If fed the occasional controlled drip of H2O, the trees provide several square yards of shade year-round and a spectacular yellow floral display in the spring. If enough of the trees are planted strategically around town, the annual spring extravaganza of desert blooms would rival cherry blossom time in Washington, D.C, as an aesthetic magnet and tourist attraction. Really, it would. (Consider, for just a moment, the difference between tourists drawn to a town by its wondrous ornamental burst of native flora and those attracted by its roaring Formula One race cars, concrete barriers and chain-link fences.)

The palo verde already is the official state tree. Phoenix's official adoption of the tree would create a nice linkage between us and everyone else.

Like most desert trees, the blue palo verde has thorns. As a symbol for this city's savage summer climate, thorns are perfect. Finally and most importantly, lots of blue palo verde trees around town would prompt residents to regularly reconsider the environment they inhabit. "It would give the city streetscape a sense of connection to the surrounding desert, and is an appropriate symbol of the Sonoran Desert that we're in," says Dr. Robert Breunig, executive director of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. For most of the above reasons, the blue palo verde is Breunig's nominee for ideal offical city tree. "If we're going to live in this desert and have a long-term cultural history in this desert, we really must begin to recognize and honor the plants of the desert in shaping our identity as a city," he adds. "Not only to save water, but just to say, `This desert is a beautiful place that should be preserved and protected.' One way to develop that identity is to bring a little bit of the desert back into the city."

The council could do that with one swipe of the pen. Already it requires developers to plant trees in new subdivisions or commercial projects. It could just as easily--and more appropriately--require they plant drought-resistant trees.

"The idea of having a landscape tree that will help integrate the city is very appealing," Breunig adds. "One of the things that you often hear about Phoenix is that it lacks a certain unifying identification. If a tree were used commonly throughout our city, in parks and in streetscape, thematically it would tie together disparate parts of the city and give the city a distinctive character."

We think it's a hell of an idea.

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Dave Walker