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Dear PoPville – How Can a Tree Live Like This?

by Prince Of Petworth February 1, 2013 at 3:15 pm 28 Comments

Dear PoPville,

So curious about this tree in front of Matchbox on 14th. All the soil was covered by asphalt — looks like awhile ago and I just never noticed. anyway – how does the tree survive, and why this one?

UPDATE – From a reader:

Earlier today I asked my colleague Joey Perez who works in DDOT’s Urban Forestry Administration about this exact tree box. Below is his terrific explanation of this innovative tree box treatment. Here’s hoping you can share with your readers (they may see more of these around town!) and thank them for their concern for our DC street trees!

It is actually a good thing and it has been a test site with a new material that is on the market called Flexi-pave. This is a permeable surface made out of old rubber tires that is able to withstand heavy foot traffic and tree roots can grow right under it. What you are witnessing is probably its best feature in that it can be poured right up to the trunk of the tree without damaging the tree or compacting the soil. Say what!? You heard me right. So the next time you are in that area, celebrate the awesomeness of Flexi-pave.

  • Alex

    It’s not asphalt. It’s actually an eco-friendly, permeable mat. The city is testing them around the District.

    • droppin knowledge Alex!

    • ah

      That said, a tree like that can’t survive very long in a box that size. It will be removed shortly after it rots and falls on a car or cars.

    • damn, I was hoping to show off here. It’s this stuff:


  • Roz

    Two words: Photosynthesis.

  • It’s those yarn bombers, giving everyone license to abuse trees.

    • Oh, which reminds me, in Montreal they apparently call it “yarn storming” and they carry it out it on metal poles. Far more sensible. See here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dekhanaphoto/8392036485/

      • “sensible” – you probably eat all your meals with a spoon

        Carry on Yarn bombers!

        • Give them instructions to your trees and have them use those.

  • cbarrett

    Do we know for sure it is not asphalt? It was put there during the renovation of the Matchbox Pizza building when people were forced off the sidewalk. It looks like asphalt to me. Would a mat be able to bend around the base of the tree like that?

  • its definitely not a mat, it’s asphalt. I check today on my way to postoffice (so happy postoffice relocated!!)

    • Is postoffice a trendy new club or hipster craft beer brewpub?

      • DF

        Okay, I seriously LOL’d.

  • J-Sizzle

    This seems kind of like a silly question to me? The root system of a tree this size is quite large. Just because the trunk is poured over doesn’t mean a thing as the water that seeps through gaps and cracks in nearby sidewalks and roads will bring water, as will any underground streams or water deposits. Probably, isn’t great for the tree though.

    • Definitely bad for the tree. Let’s make a stink.

    • This is wishful thinking.

      • Let’s get a jackhammer to that oft-featured blue pipecleaner man with a red heart.

  • anon

    trees have roots to suck up water from the soil underground. this tree will be fine.

    • Trees also grow in width/circumference. You know the old “count the rings” trick? It’s going to need some space for new rings.

      • Anonymous

        when a growing tree meets asphalt, the growing tree always wins

        • Anon

          +1. Look at many trees in tree boxes around dc. Many crack and break concrete, roots become huge and alter sidewalks. Like I said, don’t worry about this tree.

  • I suppose this could have been done to protect the tree and its roots during construction as people would be treading in the tree box. Perhaps the asphalt will be removed.

  • Anonymous

    Free the Matchbox 14 tree!

    • Anonymous


  • reality

    real question: what idiot thought it was a good idea to put asphalt there? Whats wrong with mulch?

  • Anonymous

    Wow, reading comprehension seems to be at an all time low around here these days. And everybody’s an expert. Read the first response. Alex was correct.

  • Great. Now find a way for them to look nice and I’m all for it. Looks like asphalt and is not an aesthetic improvement to the neighborhood.

  • Anon

    Porous pavement is an example of the kind of modern green infrastructure cities are exploring to absorb more storm water and use it to feed and promote leafier cities, as opposed to funneling it to sewer systems that flood rivers with pollution. But the point is to replace CONCRETE sidewalks with porous pavement — not to replace soil!! I mean, come on.


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