This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
"We are asked: "What are the twelve best deciduous trees for lawns and streets, in our cold climates?"
In the first place, we conceive it necessary to draw a distinction between street and lawn trees; because some of the most beautiful and desirable trees for lawns would cut a very sorry figure on a street A street tree must possess certain leading qualities, such as stateliness and symmetry of growth; large and abundant foliage; healthiness - being exempt from all constitutional maladies; cleanliness - not being preyed upon by insects, either in wood or foliage. It should transplant easily, grow rapidly, and be patient under difficulties - disregarding all varieties of soil, flags and pavements over its roots, smoke and dust, bruises and various other accidents and misfortunes which street trees are heir to the world over. To all these qualifications add, if possible, beautiful and fragrant flowers, and foliage that has rich autumn tints.
But with all these they must not throw up suckers from the roots, nor emit offensive odors from the leaves or flowers. When you find a tree that will precisely answer this description, you cannot err in planting it on the street, opposite your house; or in town avenues intended as cool summer retreats and pleasant promenades.
But you will say that it is impossible to secure all these qualities. Very true; for trees, like men, have their failings and their vices too : but let us see what they are that come nearest the mark; or in other words, those which combine the greatest number and the most important of these qualifications.
The American Weeping Elm (White Elm) is the first on your list, and on some accounts it is worthy of such pre-eminence. It is truly a noble tree - a magnificent tree - in the stateliness of its trunk, its gracefully curved branches and delicate drooping spray. What can equal it? Taken altogether, we must regard it as the finest of its genus in either hemisphere. For avenues it has no equal, where it has sufficient space for the free and full development of its natural form; but for narrow streets and side walks, where the houses are edging on them, does it not spread and droop too much for convenience ? We think it does; and on that account would only recommend it for streets and avenues of extraordinary dimensions, with spacious sidewalks, and the houses well set back. For ordinary streets, we think the more compact headed species, such as the English elm and its varieties, better adapted. The English elm has smaller leaves than ours, but they remain green much longer in the autumn.
The Scotch Mm, Or Wych Mm, (Mortana) is, we think, the finest of all the European species - much more picturesque than the English, and more so even than our white elm, though neither so graceful or beautiful. We object to it as a tree for ordinary streets, because its trunk is generally not upright, but tortuous; and it soon divides into bold, wide spreading branches. It makes a noble park and avenue tree where it has abundant space.
The Huntingdon Elm bears a striking resemblance to our white, or weeping elm, and is possibly a seedling from it with slight variations.
The Horse Chestnut is one of the most extensively planted and well known of all foreign trees. For common street planting, it possesses probably as many qualifications as any in the whole catalogue - easily propagated and grown, and transplanted successfully at all ages, clean and healthy, with large foliage and superb flowers. Its head is compact and roundish, inclining to the pyramidal. When in full bloom, it presents a gorgeous sight. Those who have planted this tree will have no good reason to regret it.
The Sugar Maple is another capital street tree, but grows, unfortunately, at a comparatively slow pace. Aside from this, it has no superior. Its trunk is upright as a column; clear, and bright colored. Its head is compact without being dumpish, and the foliage is large and rich. It throws up no suckers, and is sweet and cleanly in all its habits and associations.
The Red Maple And White, or Silver Maple, are both good street trees; rapid in growth - extremely so, - regular and symmetrical in form, and cleanly. There is, however, a sort of leanness, that strikes us even in the finest old specimens; owing to a thinness of foliage, that compares badly with the rich, luxuriant, tufty leafage of the sugar maple. The silver maple bids fair to become the most extensively planted, on account of its rapid growth. In new, treeless streets and villages, rapid growth is an argument too powerful to be resisted, especially in a community where there exists an active rivalry as to who shall produce the greatest results in the shortest period of time. Villages spring up and acquire importance in a year or two; and trees to correspond, must be none of those that grow by inches.
The Norway Maple is a fine tree, closely resembling our sugar maple in all important particulars, and grows much at the same rate; probably, as a general thing, not so fast.
The European Linden is an old favorite for streets and avenues, and it really possesses many of the most important requisites for such uses. It has a straight clean trunk, a compact head, abundant foliage, and flowers exquisitely sweet. In the day when old-fashioned, straight-lined, geometrical gardening flourished, the linden occupied a pre-eminent position in Europe; but in the modern style it is not much used. Some years ago it was much planted in our large cities, but it has latterly been thrown in the back ground by the ailantua. Wherever it is not affected seriously with diseases or insects, it deserves to be planted; but it is so attacked by borers in Western New York, as to be worthless. Out of several hundred trees planted ten or twelve years ago, very few now survive or flourish; borers attacked them, and they have been blown down. There are many varieties among the European lindens. We have seen some with reddish twigs, large leaves, and decided pyramidal heads, far superior in vigor and beauty to the common sort, and as far as we can judge from a few cases, less liable to the attacks of the borer.
The American Linden, (Basswood,) we regard, however, as equal to the best European varieties, and quite superior to the common one, for street trees. It is of more robust growth, has a cleaner, smoother trunk, and larger foliage, with flowers of almost equal sweetness. It is easily grown, and can be successfully transplanted at any age. It is in our opinion one of the most ornamental and appropriate street and avenue trees in the catalogue.
The American White And Black Ash, and the common European Ash, are all well adapted to street and avenue planting; but of these three species we must prefer our white. It is a noble, erect tree, and far superior to the others in beauty of foliage. There is a certain expression, lightness, ease, and grace, characteristic of the ash, that give it distinct claims upon our attention - more particularly when it is employed in the formation of the landscape. It grows rapidly, is cleanly, and may be transplanted successfully when of large size. Its roots are remarkably fibrous, and do not extend a great distance. The black ash has the disadvantage of being more liable to those black excrescences, that greatly disfigure it for ornamental purposes.
The Beech is a noble tree, and among all the others, none, we think, forms so impenetrable shade and shelter. What superb specimens there are to be found in our open fields, where the woodman's axe has not dared to strike them! Who can look upon one of them in all their unshorn luxuriance, without admitting that the beech is truly "one of the most magnificent objects of God's fair creation" ? Yet we can not recommend it for the street; it seems too much like caging the eagle. There is something about this tree, as well as the oak, that points out the open air, the free landscape, as their proper home. Besides, they are somewhat difficult to transplant when large, and they grow moderately. We can very well spare the beech from the streets.
The Ailantus! Dare we speak of it ? It has had its day. Yet it possesses many of the requisites of a street tree - lofty and elegant, cleanly in all respects, and so rapid of growth, and so easily transplanted, as to suit the most impatient and the most careless planter. If some one could propose a practicable way of getting rid of the disagreeable odor of its flowers, and the suckers from its roots, the ailantus would still rank among the finest for streets. Why can not the flower buds be removed before opening, by means of a pair of pruning shears fixed to the end of a long pole ? One reason why suckers have been in some cases so troublesome, is that many of the first planted trees were suckers themselves. Seedling trees of more recent propagation show less of this disposition. We know hundreds of trees planted ten or fifteen years, that have not as yet produced a single sucker. But let it go; with such a wealth of trees as we have, we can afford to be discriminating and critical.
The two trees which we regard as the finest of all our forest trees - the most beautiful - are the Tulip Tree, (Whitewood,) and the Cucumber Tree, (Magnolia acuminata.) The whole world does not produce two deciduous trees that surpass them in stateliness and symmetry of form, in ample foliage and superb flowers; but unfortunately both are most difficult to transplant, and especially so at that age and size necessary for a street tree; and neither of them, on this account, can ever be so employed to any considerable extent.
We have said more on this subject than we intended; and having said so much, it is almost needless for us to give a list of the twelve best deciduous trees for streets. We do not know that we could select twelve worthy of being recommended for such a purpose. For our own planting in the north, we should choose from the following: Sugar Maple, Silver Maple, Horse Chestnut, American Linden, American White or Weeping Elm, English Elm, and White Ash. Lawn trees we shall speak of hereafter.