Town Center Trees
In the summer of 2021 the utility poles came down, and over 80 trees were planted in Weston Center as part of the Town Center Improvement Project. As they mature, these trees will enhance the beauty of Town Center, provide shade, help regulate temperature, reduce air pollution, absorb stormwater runoff, and support birds and other wildlife. Over 15 different species of trees were planted, many of them native to New England ecoregions.
Why So Many Different Trees?
Landscape architect Skip Burck considered both the architectural and historical context of the project as well as the urban location when selecting trees. Discussions with the Town Center Planning Committee, the Planning Board, the Tree Advisory Group, and Pam Fox of the Weston Historical Society informed the process.
Town Center’s architecture can best be described as eclectic. Differing building styles, heights, setbacks, road shoulders, and parking configurations -- which Burke described as “part of the charm of a small village, small scale complexity” -- all suggested a planting plan that was mixed, complex, and rich.
The mixed planting not only reflects Weston’s character, but also offers greater resilience to threats from insects, disease, and even weather. Oaks, for example, can withstand severe ice, while red maples are more vulnerable to breaking. The opposite is true for high winds; maples are more likely to bend, while oaks are more likely to crack. In addition, should a tree die, the town can choose among multiple replacement options.
Tree Selection Criteria
Town Center’s historical context, which includes the Arthur Shurcliff’s original 1913 design for the town green and Charles Eliot’s landscaping plan for the First Parish church, helped guide tree selection. Both designers favored using native plants, and Burck wanted to reinforce the history of using native plants for significant projects in the Town Center. He also noted that natives “support the local ecology.”
Other selection criteria included salt tolerance, insect resistance, and hardiness zone. The design team consulted tree lists used by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the cities of Boston and Cambridge along with works by Douglas Tallamy from the University of Delaware and Nina Bassuk and Peter Trowbridge from Cornell University.
You can probably easily pick out the more familiar trees, such as the lindens, red maple and birches, but Burck highlighted a few less well-known species.
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) -- has star shaped leaves, somewhat like a maple, and a pyramidal form. Look for brilliant color in the fall from this native tree. Sweetgum supports over 30 kinds of moths and butterflies as well as chipmunks, birds, and squirrels.
Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) -- is native to the Northeast and gets its name from its fruit that resembles hops. It tolerates a range of urban conditions but is susceptible to salt. It supports early bees, squirrels, and over 90 species of moths and butterflies. A grouping of hophornbeams can be found in the Brothers’ parking lot.
Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria) -- Five different types of oaks were planted, four of which share the relatively familiar lobed leaf that you likely can easily recognize. The shingle oak, however, has single, lobeless, oblong leaves with somewhat wavy edges. It can be found planted alongside other oak trees
Thornless Honeylocust ( Gleditsia triacanthos) and Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus, “Espresso”) -- are the two species of trees with compound leaves. Both are well-suited to urban conditions. One way to tell the difference is by the size of the leaves. Honeylocust leaves are 6-inches to 8-inches long while Kentucky Coffee Tree leaves measure up to 3-feet long and 2-feet wide.
Growth in the Town Center
It will take some time for the new streetscape to fill out. For the first three years, much of the trees’ growth will take place underground as they establish their root structure. Expect to see a significant change above ground as the trees grow up and out starting in year four or five. After eight years, Weston citizens should a big difference as the trees create a distinct separation of the sidewalks from the street.
Burck noted that without the approval by Weston’s citizens to spend the money to bury the utilities, this plan would have been impossible. “We couldn’t have done it without that,” said Burck. “It would have looked partial.” Instead, removing the utility poles allowed for a comprehensive solution that creates a visual connection from the Town Green to Knox Park to the Town Square stretching west to Fiske Lane while establishing a urban landscape that will provide multiple environmental benefits to Weston.
Buckstrup, Michelle and Nina L. Bassuck. Recommended Urban Trees: A Cornell Campus Walk (PDF) Urban Horticulture Institute. Cornell University. Accessed 15 August, 2021
McCargo, Heather and Anna Fialkoff. Native Trees for Northeast Landscapes. Wild Seed Project. 2021.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Native Plant Image Gallery