the studied opinion of Charles Newlon, a retired forester who
probably knows more about the Wilmington park's principal asset
-- its trees -- than most other folks who enjoy spending a
summer afternoon relaxing in its serene ambiance.
The problem, as he sees it, is that
the Norway maple are taking over. They already account for
nearly a fifth of the some 6,000 or more trees which not only
provide human visitors with cool shade but also make up the
habitat for a wide variety of small-animal wildlife.
And, he adds, fast-growing Norway
maple, with its fibrous root system, is among the most
invasive species in treedom.
If its spread isn't checked, "the
deciduous forest that now stands here will someday be no more,"
he said. That would mean a loss of the only long-standing urban
forest between Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and Rock Creek
Park in Washington.
City-owned Brandywine Park,
now a unit of the state-administered Wilmington State
Parks, was established more than a century ago as part of
the open-space vision of William Bancroft. Before that and
from Colonial time, the banks of the swift-flowing
Brandywine harbored mills which harnessed its power to
produce flower, paper, textiles and gunpowder. The oldest,
which ground barley, has been documented to 1654. There
were 22 in and near Wilmington in 1822.
Ironically, the coming of the
steam engine and the industrial revolution, which rendered
waterpower obsolescent, coupled with some Quaker vision,
provided Wilmington with a green oasis within walking, and
jogging, distance of its business section.
While a layman might think a
tree is a tree is a tree, a professional views it much
differently. The survey Newlon and his colleague, Duane
Green, took at the behest of the
Charles Newlon sits by the restored Josephine Fountain in
Brandywine Park in 1997 identified 108 species in their sampling
of selected representative areas of the 174-acre park. Variety
not quality, is what makes a forest, he explained.
Reduced to non-technical reality,
that is what accounts, for instance, for the various colors of
the leaves in autumn. If Norway maple held exclusive
domain, green would yield way to yellow and that would be it, he
The survey raised a warning flag in
that it found 59 non-native species, he said.
Imports are great -- people flock to
both Brandywine Park and the Tidal Basin in the nation's capital
to see the Yoshino cherry trees from Japan in the spring -- but
the natives are what gives a place its basic character.
A man who admits to never having met
a tree he didn't like -- he teaches and surveys in retirement
after a career of 27 years in the U.S. Forest Service and
11 years before that with Colorado State Forests -- isn't down
on Norwegians or their maples. "It makes an excellent curbside
street tree," he said.
That, in fact, is probably the
genesis of the current invasion. In a forerunner of today's
interest in 'streetscaping', city fathers initiated a
beautification project during the 1920s which saw the planting
of shade trees along streets in the area between Delaware and
Lovering Avenues east of what is now Trolley Square. Those trees
were Norway maple. Nature and the winds since carried their seed
northward to the park.
Newlon not only advocates a
counterattack, he is helping mount one -- participating with
volunteers who have been pulling seedlings and small trees for
the past few years. "We've been making things like hiking staffs
and flowerpot holders out of them," he said.
Cautiously he recommends going after
the bigger maples. "I say that quietly because I know what
happens when you say to cut down trees," he said. The furor over
removing trees from along Rattlesnake Run when New Castle County
renovated that area off Clayton Street a few years ago has only
Still, with state control of the
park, Newlon said there is hope that the cause is not lost.
Forest management is part of the Department of Natural Resources
& Environmental Control's mission, he explained. State parks are
also under the jurisdiction of that department.
"We've seen what they have done with
safety in the park since they took over," he said. "When we were
doing our survey, there were parts [of it] where we were afraid
to go. That's not the case anymore."