What’s Killing the Trees?

Dying and Dead Trees

Have you noticed all the dead and dying trees?  If you haven’t you’re not paying attention – and you’re not alone.  Dead trees are everywhere.  Many more are dying or not doing well at all.  Few people seem aware of the problem however and there’s little information to be found about it.

dead tree Cambridge MA

Too late for the slideshow – another dead tree in Cambridge

But drive around Massachusetts and you’re bound to spot dying and dead trees if you look. Anywhere you go – Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, Concord, Winchester, New Hampshire – anywhere and everywhere you drive through.

I started noticing them last year.  I became a bit obsessed and would play the “dead tree game” wherever I drove.  Passengers would initially be a bit taken aback as I called out “Dead tree!” over and over again, but eventually they too would join in.

My obsession was lifted only when winter came and the lack of leaves made it impossible to distinguish the dead trees.  Since the no-leaves season is fast approaching I urge you to be on the lookout now as you’re walking or driving around – you’re sure to see dead or unhealthy trees all around.

One reason that few people seem to be aware of what’s happening is that the dead trees get cut down.  I’d been planning to photograph the dead trees as evidence for some time but was finally motivated to do so after a particularly beautiful (but dead) tree that could be seen from Mass Ave disappeared.  Already several dead trees in the slideshow have been removed.

The photos I took for this slideshow, in August mind you when trees should be fully covered in green leaves, show trees in Cambridge with a few from Somerville, Medford and Watertown.  Dead trees are everywhere in Cambridge – from Broadway to Brattle Street, from East Cambridge to West.  Dead trees are in yards, parks, schoolgrounds, and everywhere lining the streets.  We’ve lost almost all of the last few years’ investment in street trees as well as many of the much older and larger trees that line the city sidewalks.

Dead and Dying Trees in Cambridge and Nearby Towns

Dead and Dying Trees in Cambridge and Nearby Towns

The trees you see here may very well be gone soon.  Sadly there’ll be no shortage of subjects for next year’s slideshow as the dozens of very sick trees around town are likely to have died by next summer.

When my father identified one dead tree as an elm I realized that several of the most striking dead trees were some of the few remaining elms in the area, long-time survivors felled not by Dutch Elm disease but by whatever’s killing Massachusetts trees now.  I drove by a few of my favorites.  There are three stately elms in a row on Main Street in Medford.  One appears in very bad shape and the other two don’t look their best.  I stopped by Manassas Street where a huge gorgeous elm stood on the corner for decades.  It had been fine when I last worked around the corner at Coldwell Banker so I was stunned to see that only a stump remained.

Other species that seem particularly hard hit are the copper beech and at least one type of maple.  The glorious copper beech in front of the Cambridge Public Library is in terrible shape and can be seen in the slide show.  You’ll see sickly maples everywhere with many bare branches and very small leaves.  In many towns, in Massachusetts and NH, in yard after yard, some types of spruce trees were dead or dying.  Oaks seem to be holding up better but when I walked past some of the majestic oaks along the Mystic River I realized that a number didn’t look well up close.

So what’s killing the trees in Massachusetts and NH?

I vote for drought and continued lack of water as a major cause.  For at least the last two or three years, including this summer, we’ve been in a largely unacknowledged drought in the city.  It was only last week that for the first time I heard a weatherman use the “d” word – until then the forecasters would simply celebrate the unending days of no rain.  Even when rain was forecast, or when nearby towns got plenty of rain, the prevailing weather pattern meant that Cambridge area would get little or none.  Trees often take years to succumb to drought and we can expect to continue to lose trees that are stressed from lack of water.

Street trees are particularly vulnerable – I could have added many, many photos to the slideshow of young and not-so-young street trees that have died.  In part, I blame this on the very small ground area around many of the trees making it even more difficult for them to get adequate water.  But drive down Powderhouse Boulevard from Route 16 and you’ll see many dying or dead trees despite the grassy median they grow in.  Young street trees need to be watered regularly and since they’re not it’s not too surprising (though it’s very frustrating) that they’ve succumbed.  But older street trees are dying too.

Over-salting is one reason that local trees near streets and highways are dying.  Last winter I was mystified to see trees along Routes 2 and 16 that were totally white.  Then I realized that they were coated in salt from top to bottom that had been made airborne by passing cars.  Cities and towns need to cut back on the salt and everybody needs to buy snow tires, slow down, or stay off the roads when it’s stormy.

Invasive pests are another important cause of tree death.  Right now pests we’ve got to contend with include the emerald ash borer, woolly adelgid, and winter moth.

Invasive vines are another tree killer.  Many times I’ve come across trees that have a lot of greenery with dead branches sticking out at the top.  Since many of Cambridge’s trees have had the new growth at the top die off, I’ve often mistaken these trees for ones where only the new branches are affected. Look more closely however, and you realize that the greenery is actually leaves on the vine that’s killed the tree and the tree itself is now a dead host.

Some are suggesting that pollution is a major contributor to the tree die-off.  Locally, people have suggested that some trees have succumbed to underground gas leaks from old gas pipes.

Is this the first stage of a changing landscape due to climate change?  Most of the potential causes listed above can be lumped together under climate change.  It’s difficult to imagine what our towns and cities will look like when the local climate no longer supports the trees we know and love.  As a homeowner, it’s difficult to know what types of trees to plant – what will thrive here decades from now?

You can’t help but think that the wild weather we’ve experienced in the last few years is part of the changing climate.  I’ve documented the downed trees from freak storms and microbursts more than once.  The wild weather of a couple of weeks ago brought down more large trees locally – trees we really don’t have to spare.

Why Should We Care About Tree Loss?

I’m fully aware that not everyone is a fan of trees.  I’ve had enough beautiful trees taken down near me by “tree haters” that I leap out of bed at any sound that suggests a chain saw is on the job.  Some people see trees as a hassle – heaven forbid they have to rake – and others as a menace.  Others value smooth pavement over driveway or sidewalk more than they do the tree. But it will be a sad place to live if we continue to lose trees at the current pace.  And I’m afraid it’s a bit like the frog in the pot of water who fails to realize it’s getting hotter until too late.  It’s easy to overlook how important the trees around us are until they’re gone.  And then it will be decades before we can get back what we’ve lost.

Much of it boils down (no pun intended Mr. Frog) to quality of life.  Without a decent tree canopy it will be a lot hotter around here. Acres of asphalt baking in the sun without benefit of trees’ shade make for a miserable summer. And it’s not just the lack of sun and daylight that make people feel gloomier in the winter – it’s the lack of greenery.  A bare tree’s branches are a thing of beauty but nothing beats the new green leaves of spring.  Here’s a super article on the impact of trees on human health and happiness.

Aesthetics are a huge part of trees’ value. There’s nothing more grim than a city street barren of trees.  There are tree-less streets around here that are about as depressing a block as you’ll see.  City greenery is one reason real estate tends to sell better in the spring – everything looks better when the leaves are back on the trees.  Chances are almost any Cambridge street that you consider appealing is lined with trees.  But perhaps not for long if something’s not done: one Avon Hill block I photographed had three or four huge trees reduced to stumps and several others dead or almost gone.

Property values are absolutely impacted by trees or the lack of trees.  My own street in Cambridge was described as a “tree-lined bower” some decades ago.  That’s far from the case now as almost all of the trees have been lost and not replaced.  I showed one real estate buyer a condo on my block and she turned up her nose and said “but there aren’t any trees on this street”.  Needless to say, a sale was not made that day.

Privacy is another benefit of our city trees that’s often overlooked until a tree is gone.  Most of us would far rather have our views framed in leaves than be staring into our next door neighbor’s house.  It’s easy to take for granted just how much a tree blocks from view.

What Can Be Done About the Dying Trees?

While some of reasons trees are dying may be beyond our individual control there are things we can do:

Water the trees for cripes sake!  Whether it’s a tree in your yard, a tree in front of your house, or a tree outside your office – get a bucket and get watering.  The trees need regular watering and need water as they head into winter.

Consult an arborist about any distressed trees in your yard.  I’ve got one of mine on a regular treatment plan for winter moths.  I just wish I could get the raggedy, beleaguered street trees sprayed as well.

Encourage the city to water the trees they plant.  Trees need a great deal of water when they’re first transplanted.  City trees never seem to get what they need.  The lack of rain has exacerbated the problem resulting in the death of almost all the youngest trees.  Can’t we give some kids a job for the summer?

Talk to your representatives about using less salt or de-icer in the winter months.  It’s better for trees and for local ponds, streams and lakes.

Become better stewards of the tree canopy.  It’s a mixed bag around here in terms of what towns and cities are doing to ensure a healthy tree canopy.  Cambridge has hearings about cutting down street trees but I’m not sure it makes any difference. Far too many trees aren’t replaced.  Brookline’s magnificent tree canopy puts Cambridge’s motley treescape to shame. What have they been doing right?  Medford calls itself a “Tree City” but its streets are often tree-free or what trees are there end up getting mutilated for overhead wires.

Actually become a tree steward.  Every year Massachusetts offers a two-day tree steward training.  The training is held in a rural area but there’s also an emphasis on the health and maintenance of urban trees.

Plant trees.  Plant a tree in your yard or work with the city to get street trees planted or replanted on your block.  It’s hard to know what trees will do well going forward. What will our climate be like 30, 40, 60 years from now?  Recently it seems the newer oak trees the city planted seem to be doing well – their roots go down deep and they seem to do better finding enough water.

Press for answers about the problem of dying trees.  We need to start asking questions.  It’s too easy to overlook the die-off of trees as the dead ones are cut down and lost from memory.  Something’s happening though and we need to find out the causes before it’s too late.

Here’s some more from the internet about trees dying:

World’s Big Trees are Dying

Trees Dying at the Quabbin

The Impact of Our Drought on Trees

Climate Change, Invasives and Tree Death

What’s Killing the Spruce Trees?

Superb Post about Tree Death and Pollution

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Cambridge MA Real Estate Market Update Jan-Sept 2012

Cambridge Real Estate Market Update

Cambridge Real Estate Market Update

It has been a very busy year in Cambridge real estate.  Summer is usually a slower season but there was little let up this year.  Buyers have outnumbered sellers all year leading to bidding wars and quick sales.

Here’s a look at the numbers for the year to date.  The same period’s numbers, January through September, in 2011 are in parentheses for comparison.

The numbers tell the story – by every measure 2012 has been a much stronger year than 2011.  This is the first year I remember seeing the overall market list to sale price ratio at 100%.  As you’ll note, so many single family houses and multi-families sold for over asking that on average these properties were selling for more than the list price.  In 2012 it took considerably less time for most properties to sell with days on market reduced significantly. 

On October 31, 2011, 167 properties were listed for sale in Cambridge.  That’s a big drop in inventory levels from last year at this time when 249 residential properties were on the market.  It’s no wonder the market is so frenzied – demand is way up and inventory down.  If you’ve been wondering about whether or not it’s a good time to sell the numbers make the question easy to answer – yes – it’s an excellent time to sell in Cambridge right now.     

Residential real estate sold in Cambridge – Jan-Sept 2012 (2011)

  • 813 properties sold (695)
  • Average days on market = 57 (80)
  • Properties sold for an average of 100%  of asking price (97%) 
  • Median price of $475,000 ($465,000)

Cambridge Single Family Sales – Jan-Sept 2012 (2011)

  • Total sold: 100 (87 )
  • Sale prices ranged from $315,000 – $3,740,000  ($280,000 – $3,750,000)
  • Median price: $882,000  ($793,475)
  • Average days on market: 54  (74)
  • On average, houses sold for 102% of asking price   (97% )

Cambridge Condo Sales – Jan-Sept 2012 (2011)

  • Total sold: 642  (560)
  • Sale prices ranged from $187,500 – $2,870,000 ($164,000 – $3,450,000)
  • Median price: $443,000  ($424,900)
  • Average days on market: 59  (82)
  • On average, condos sold for 99% of asking price   (97%)

Cambridge Multi-Family Sales – Jan-Sept 2012 (2011)

  • Total sold: 71  (48)
  • Sale prices ranged from $400,000 – $2,186,000  ($282,000 – $2,325,000)
  • Median price: $899,000  ($810,000)
  • Average days on market: 49  (68)
  • On average, multi-unit houses sold for 103% of asking price  (97% )



Info about Cambridge MA real estate market in 2012 (2011) from MLSpin

Categories: Real Estate Market Info
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Hurricane of ’38 in Cambridge

A tree fell on 44 Union Street in Keene NH during the Hurricane of '38

A tree fell on 44 Union Street in Keene NH during the Hurricane of '38

74 years ago people all over New England were greeted by scenes likes the one at right.  The Hurricane of ’38 slammed into New England on September 21, 1938.  The devastating storm killed over 700 people in New York and New England and town after town, including Cambridge, suffered enormous damage from the violent storm.

My dad grew up on Brookline Street in Cambridgeport near the B.U. Bridge.  He and other neighborhood boys, aged about 7 – 12, were outside in the early part of the storm, gathered by the Stop and Shop on Brookline Street.

When a large tree fell in the field that’s now the site of the Morse School, the policeman outside the Stop and Shop advised the kids to head home.

Not five minutes later the enormous Stop and Shop sign blew off, hitting the policeman, who barely survived his injuries.

Shortly after he arrived home my grandmother asked my dad to look outside and see if there was any damage in the front yard.  Leaves filled the window when my dad looked out – a large maple tree in the front yard had fallen on the house.  Not long after a poplar tree in the back yard fell on Billy Harris’s house at 1-3 Rockingham Place.  Both houses survived unscathed.

Not so for the Keene, New Hampshire house I lived in during the 1990s.  That’s it in the photo above.  The woman I bought it from described cowering in the pantry with her parents during the 1938 hurricane which caused extensive damage in Keene and nearby towns.  The tree at the corner of the yard fell on the house, knocking off the chimney and part of the second floor.  The house across the street was split in half by another large tree and similar scenes could be found all over town.

If you were in New England 74 years ago chances are your memories of the Hurricane of 1938 are still vivid.  If you missed the big hurricane you can still get an idea of power of the storm from images on old postcards, newspapers, booklets and scrapbooks that you’ll come upon in local antique stores.  I discovered the photo of my 44 Union Street house in a booklet about the hurricane I found at an antiques shop.

Categories: Everything Else
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The Whole Hub Catalogue

The Whole Hub Catalogue - Cambridge and Boston in 1973

The Whole Hub Catalogue - Boston and Cambridge in 1973

I scored this great find at the Christ Church Thrift Store this afternoon.  The Whole Hub Catalogue was published in 1973.  It’s a take-off on the Whole Earth Catalog put out by BU students.  When I was little my parents’ copy of The Last Whole Earth Catalog was one of my favorite reads.  I had to have this book.

The Whole Hub Catalogue is very much a product of its times with sections that include the Draft and Women’s Lib /Men’s Lib. It’s also a snapshot in time – with the radio stations, newspapers, and lots of lots of shops, restaurants and bars that could be found in Boston and Cambridge in 1973.  Sadly – many, perhaps most, are no longer.

Flipping through the book has reignited my plan for a page on Centers and Squares to document Cambridge Stores and More of Yore (that’s my working title!).  I’m going to be putting together a list of old favorites that once were in Cambridge but are no longer with us.  I’ve got my favorites – Dazzle, Reading International, the Wursthaus, and the Cambridge Country Store come to mind –  and I’m going back further than that based on my Dad’s recollections of growing up in Cambridge 70+ years ago.

I’m hoping the page becomes a collaborative effort and encourage you to reply with a comment about favorites you want to add to the list.  Any and all recollections will be enthusiastically welcomed as we build the list.


The Christ Church Thrift Store is in Harvard Square at 17 Farwell Place. Hours from September to June are Tuesday and Thursday from 10 to 4 and Saturday 11:30 to 2:30. Check it out!

Categories: Living Here
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Where’s a Teenager When You Need One?

Teens Available for Shoveling in Cambridge

Teens Available for Shoveling in Cambridge

With so little snow this year it’s quite possible that you haven’t lined up a snow shoveling crew yet.  Years ago, it seemed easy to find a neighborhood teen to shovel, mow the lawn, babysit, etc.  But nowadays willing teens are sometimes difficult to find.

The Cambridge Council on Aging compiles a list every winter of teenagers who are looking for snow shoveling jobs.  The COA matches elderly or disabled residents with teens looking for work.  The resident and the teenager negotiate the rate and the teen is paid directly by the resident.

Interested teens can pick up an application at the Youth Employment Center at the high school (459 Broadway, Room 2101), the Senior Center (806 Mass Ave Cambridge), or the Office of Workforce Development (51 Inman Street).  The application is available online but must be returned to one of the three offices.

If you’re unable to shovel and need a referral you can contact the Cambridge Council on Aging at 617-349-6220.

Categories: Living Here
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Pent Up Demand In the Cambridge Real Estate Market

There's pent up demand in the Cambridge real estate market

There's pent up demand in the Cambridge real estate market

Contrary to what many people might expect, given pessimistic newspaper headlines and doomsday forecasting, there’s a lot of pent up demand in the Cambridge real estate market.

We’ve been working with low inventory for a while, as sellers hold back from listing their properties for sale in what they perceive to be a down market.  January is always a challenge – buyers are ready but new listings are slow to come on the market.

But if recent sales activity is any indication, the buyers are out there, ready to make an offer if they can find what they want.

Here are some recent examples from the Cambridge real estate market:

A Cambridgeport house that could be used as multi-family or a single family came on last week for $900,000 and received 16 offers.

A triple-decker in the Riverside neighborhood priced at over $1,000,000 received multiple offers.

An unrenovated (unspoiled is a better word – it still had lots of original charm) North Cambridge triple-decker recieved a dozen or so offers and sold for more than $100,000 over asking.

If you’ve been thinking of selling now may be a better time than you think.  If you want to find out what’s possible, you can reach me at 617-504-1737 or email me here.

Liz Bolton, ReMax Destiny

Categories: Real Estate Market Info, Seller Info
Comments: Please leave a comment. Your opinions welcomed.

Self Magazine Rates Cambridge Healthiest City for Women

Cambridge - Healthiest City for Women

Cambridge - Healthiest City for Women

We recently posted about Cambridge and Somerville superlatives.  Here’s the lastest kudos:

Self magazine, in its December 2011 issue, ranked Cambridge as the “healthiest city overall” for women.

Cambridge got great scores in nearly every category the magazine looked at including wellness, safety, and how many women walk to work.

“Plus it’s easier to afford the doctor in a place where 97% of women have insurance, thanks in no small part to a state that requires residents to be covered by law and chips in to help.”

Look for the December issue of Self on newsstands.

Categories: Area Info
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Cambridge Pothole Hotline

Cambridge Pothole Hotline

Cambridge Pothole Hotline

I’m not sure why it took half a dozen jaw-clacking trips over – through – into the pothole on Sherman Street before I remembered the Cambridge Pothole Hotline.

Cambridge makes it super simple to report a pothole.  You can fill out the form online like I just did or call the Cambridge Pothole Hotline at 617-349-4854.  When you fill out the online form you’re given the option of providing your email address and / or phone number in order to be updated on the pothole’s status.

I’ll be delighted to get that call – that Sherman Street pothole is a doozy!

Categories: Living Here
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