As a kid I often heard many of our locals trees referred to as “trash trees,” and that’s still a common term. But I’ve often puzzled at that harsh moniker, knowing that most trees have some good traits. The seedy elms provide a lot of shade in our hot valley, and they grow fast, like it or not. I’ve heard tamarisk praised by some boaters as having very fine trunks for tethering rafts. Somehow cottonwoods and mulberries escape the critical title, even though the blowing cotton irritates allergies and piles up in little drifts of fluff, and the mulberries stain the ground and darken bird droppings on windshields.
Catalpa trees don’t get much criticism either, even though they also are known to take seed at will and in the autumn shed large dry leaves and long pods. I’ve always enjoyed the catalpas’ orchid-like clusters, which on some Memorial Days have provided my family with easy flowers for decorating graves when our homegrown florals have been in short supply. What Moab kid hasn’t used the long green pods in summer as handy weapons for jousting? My favorite childhood use of the pods was to build little corrals and cabins out of them in a Lincoln-log style for my toy horses. Problem was, after a day or two the pods got limp and brown, and my little self-made ranch would look a little run-down.
Another local tree that has provided ammunition for youthful fun is the sycamore, whose seed pods can explode when thrown against hard surfaces. The wooly interiors of those round bombs can cause the worst kind of itch if snuck down one’s back by a foe.
Golden rain trees dot the streets of downtown Moab, as do some crab apples. There are times of the year when their effluent is downright trashy with dry little yellow blossoms carpeting the sidewalks and rotten little fruits that stick to the bottoms of one’s shoes.
I like all these trees, to varying degrees, whether they’re classified as trashy or not. They provide nice aromas, forage and habitat for birds and other animals. They sound nice when a breeze is blowing. Most important to me, they provide shade and they are green in this red desert.
Countless dollars have been spent on efforts to remove trash trees and replace them with more suitable varieties. State route 128 has long stretches now where a traveler can now see the river because the infamous tamarisk no longer chokes the view. The assault of man and bug appears to be working. But I wonder about all the live and dead thickets on the far side of the river that will never see a chain saw. It will be interesting to see how man’s battle will compare to areas that are hard to reach.
I like trees and plants, but I’m no botanist. I suppose the folks at The Nature Conservancy and the state of Utah and even Moab city know what they’re doing. The city was just honored for maintaining its Tree City USA status for the past 20 years; an admirable feat. The experts seem to know what’s best to grow and what’s best to get rid of, and I’ll be fascinated to watch the game.