Palo Alto’s Eucalyptus Tree Problem
I admit it: I’m a tree-hugger. I love them all, from the sky-high Californian redwoods to the wispy birch trees of Vermont, from the acorn-spewing live oaks to the tulip magnolias in bloom all over Palo Alto right now. Best of all, I love the healing scent of the eucalyptus trees bordering the park at the end of my block. Their smell is comforting, like a favorite cup of tea or salve for a chest cold. Imagine my surprise when I learned that these beautiful trees can kill!
Heading to the park last weekend, I noticed that the children’s play area was roped off. A sign indicated: “Park Closed Due to Heavy Winds.” The sign appeared official, professionally done on street-sign metal, so I chalked this up to another thing I didn’t know about California: parks close in high winds. The winds had abated by the afternoon, but we stayed out because the sign remained. Apparently, a host of other parents and kids didn’t share my concern, as they hopped the barricade with their kids. As much as I wanted to break the rules and follow suit in this picture-perfect sunny Sunday, my gut instinct felt that the sign was posted for a reason. I can be a rulebreaker, but not when my kids’ safety might be in question; I figured that must be the reason for the sign.
And a safety issue it was; I returned home to a local news story about a very large and heavy tree branch falling in that same park the day before. The story referenced these falling branches as “widowmakers.” WIDOWMAKERS?! Apparently redwood trees and eucalyptus trees are among the varieties known for this phenomena, and people have died after being struck by these heavy branches. Suddenly, going to the park to play became an exercise in risk-tolerance, and the smell of eucalyptus began to turn my stomach.Continued on the next page