Yikes, Hope Nobody Was in the Car

IMG_1440, originally uploaded by dcbrox.

Thanks to a reader for sending in this incredible photo. Quite tragic, this looks like it was a majestic tree in its day. The reader writes that this is a “down tree on Madison near Georgia Ave. It makes your wonder about how deep the roots are on other trees”. Incredible photo but very sad. So can big trees like that, located near sidewalks, have enough depth for their roots?

9 Comment

  • On my steet the trees aren’t falling down so much as there are big branches falling. I have stopped parking my car in the shade for the time being. The rain has caused a fairly lagre sinkhole to start in the lawn in front of my building. I’m not parking my car near there either…

  • The issue isn’t really the depth of the roots. With all the rain we had before the storm, the root structure was pretty saturated. Then, with a tall, leafy tree and high winds, there’s enough force to simply snap the roots off. That tree probably had a pretty big deep taproot, but it simply snapped off below the ground.

  • Street trees don’t generally have a lot of roots – they are like giant potted plants, really. But this tree looks like it was already partly rotten since it’s sort of strange to see giant roots snapped off like that on a healthy tree. I drove by this the other day, it was a massive tree!

  • Trees’ root systems are approximately equivalent to the size of their crown (like this: http://www.tlma.co.riverside.ca.us/planning/content/devproc/guidelines/oak_trees/oaktree.jpg ).

    The sidewalk is only a few inches thick at most, and house and street foundations don’t go deep enough to have any impact on a big old tree like this. Generally, tree roots will just push aside any masonry in their way as they grow.

    If the tree roots can’t grow out, the tree won’t get big – that’s kind of how bonsai works.

  • We had a street tree (not quite as large as this one) fall into our yard and onto our parking pad a few years back. Thank goodness we were away for the weekend and our car wasn’t parked there, but the roots were totally rotten. The wood was so rotten it just crumbled in your hands. Unfortunately the old street trees are too large for the tree boxes.

  • Tree roots need oxygen won’t spread under sidewalks or streets if they are surrounded on all sides by pavement. In the photo above, this tree could get large because there is a continuous tree planting area not covered by pavement (the long strip of grass b/w the street and sidewalk). But it’s impossible for tree roots to grow under the street or large sidewalks – they grow seeking oxygen and water and won’t grow where there isn’t any. So the illustration of the extent of tree roots is just an ideal case if a tree were growing in an open field. Casey Trees teaches about this if you take their tree planting training classes, and they show a slide where the tree roots are completely confined and look like a rectangular potted plant. In downtown DC where almost all the tree boxes are tiny, most of the trees do look like bonsais – there are practically no large trees there. Casey Trees has also been working to get the city to require larger tree boxes where new development is taking place.

  • Talk about a crappy way to start your day…

  • Also, note the new sidewalk. I say that the roots were damages (cut?) when they laid the new concrete down. Probably cut the roots to make the sidewalk flat.

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