In 1990, Portland resident Phyllis Reynolds published a book dedicated to the “Trees of Greater Portland”; For the new edition she just released, Reynolds revisited all the trees from the first book and found 75 percent of them are still standing.
“Oh, it was just incredible how much they’d grown in 20 years – in girth alone,” she said.
The new edition features photos and measurements of 137 species of trees in Portland: A Doug fir that’s at least 242 feet tall, a 103-year-old giant sequoia with a trunk measuring 31.5 feet around, an American elm planted in 1870, China firs that will grow back after you cut them down, and big white oaks that survived because of – not in spite of – benign neglect in North Portland.
I’ve highlighted a few of her findings in the slideshow above – including a redwood wrapped around a utility pole, a building wrapped around a beech tree, and a Port Orford cedar that was saved from being cut down in front of Portland City Hall.
The idea for Reynolds’ first book came from a protective love of trees.
“I thought, ‘Let’s see if we can save some trees by putting them in a book,’” Reynolds said. “It just kills me to see trees threatened by development.”
She drove around the city looking for interesting trees, photographing and measuring them and meeting their owners.
“I drove, and drove, and drove,” she said. “I would cruise the city – back and forth – looking for trees. All the trees in my book are visible from the street.”
Reynolds said big, native trees are rare because they generally aren’t equipped to survive in an urban setting.
“Urban trees are appealing because they’re survivors,” she said. “The average age of a downtown tree is 10 to 15 years old. The older trees down there have survived all this gunk in the air; having asphalt over them, and all sorts of junk under the streets, too.”
Photographing urban trees is a tall order – quite literally.
“It’s terrible,” she said. “You get people, cars and power lines. But that’s the whole thing. It’s part of the deal.”
You can find her book at the Hoyt Arboretum and at the Audubon Society of Portland.