Towering, ancient and weird trees inhabit the planet – baobab trees in Madagascar, rainbow eucalyptus in Hawaii and giant sequoias in California.
Though not as weird as say, dragon’s blood trees in Yemen, Bowling Green has its own collection of magical green giants. One tree-hugging team wants to find out which are the biggest.
The Sierra Club’s Mammoth Cave Group is documenting a dozen tree species within the city to designate them for recognition and preservation.
“The ‘Big Trees of BG’ project is simply an effort to inspire respect, appreciation and love for the value of mature trees,” said Eleanor Bower, the chair of the Mammoth Cave Group, which is leading the effort along with Bowling Green’s Tree Advisory Board.
Thus far, they have identified what they suspect to be the city’s largest trees. There are at least three trees on public property, including a tulip tree and a magnolia tree in Fairview Cemetery, and an elm tree at Preston Miller Park.
The other tree species include tilia, pecan, ash, catalpa, ginkgo, osage orange, dogwood, black walnut and oak.
It’s important to note that these trees might not even be the biggest in town. “We hope that people will call us and tell us they have a bigger tree in their backyard,” Bower said.
To collect data, the first step is measuring the trees. The easy part is measuring the circumference, which involves running a tape measure around the trunk. Then, they will measure the height and crown of each tree.
They’ll have to wait to measure the canopy until the spring, probably between April and June when the trees are in full bloom.
After that information is collected, they can plug it into special calculators that spit back out just how important the tree is to not only the landowner, but the community as well.
“The scientists have figured out to calculate per inch what a tree is capable of doing,” Bower said.
Big trees tend to produce big benefits to both people and wildlife, especially in urban environments, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Among a long list, trees provide oxygen, shade, animal habitat and recreational value, and they reduce air pollution, stormwater runoff, noise and even ailments such as stress, obesity, cardiac disease, strokes and asthma. They’re also pretty and can improve neighborhood property values.
There are less intuitive benefits for urban forests, too, such as reduced crime, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
But beyond all of the biophysical and social perks, trees are unique organisms – and the project team wants to tell their stories.
The group will learn each tree’s history, such as who planted it or why it hasn’t been cut down. Maybe someone’s grandpa planted the tree, or maybe the tree was a wedding gift, “all kinds of interesting things emerge,” Bower said.
Some of the trees are located on private property, so the group will need to get permission before performing the measurements. Property owners have the option to leave the location anonymous.
After completion, Bower expects the project’s results to prove beneficial for city tourism and educational efforts in local classrooms and programs.
“Urban forests have whole other lifestyles than trees in Mammoth Cave, yet they are a forest,” Bower said.
Louisville is currently serving as an urban laboratory for a five-year medical study called the Green Heart Project, a collaborative effort of several universities, the U.S. Forest Service and an ecological architectural laboratory to measure the benefits of tree canopy.
The project is designed similarly to a pharmaceutical intervention study – only trees are the medicine. This research supports studies demonstrating that people living in neighborhoods with busy streets have a higher risk of heart disease than people living in neighborhoods with more green space.
Inspiration for the Bowling Green project stemmed from a love for trees and the need for preservation. Trees are too often cut down without hesitation, according to Bower.
She believes many people fear big trees, or think they’re a nuisance or in the way – especially when the city wants to build a new development.
“They don’t talk tree. They just bulldoze them and burn them,” she said. “When we cut them down and pave them over, we’re doing it at our own peril.”
Since trees can’t speak for themselves, Bower hopes the project will bring people closer to the community’s green guardians.
The next Sierra Club meeting is at 4 p.m. Monday at the Parks and Recreation Department on Third Avenue. Bower encourages people to attend to learn more, make suggestions and potentially volunteer for the project.
– Follow reporter Caroline Eggers on Twitter @eggers dailynews or visit bgdaily news.com.