Posts tagged Glendora

Photo: Brian Garrett/Creative Commons License

Shadowy blurs fly overhead, looping in acrobatic treble clefs across the dusk sky. Occasionally an audible sound is heard coming from these winged hunters as they gobble up thousands of insects during this aerial evening feast. That’s the dinner show I get to witness during the summer months from my Glendora backyard when the local bats return to our local skies.

But it’s not summer yet and the bats are already here!

Thirty years living in the same Glendora house and I’ve never seen so many bats this early in the year. Was this early arrival attributable to the glowing effects of a very wet winter? Or perhaps I’m just noticing a specific bat species most active during the spring within the San Gabriel Valley. Lots of questions to ponder while watching the evolving night sky. Nevertheless, I’m pleased with the idea that their early arrival may coincide with a decline in mosquito and beetle populations. Maybe…just maybe… I won’t stress as much about getting West Nile Virus. According to Bat Rescue, a single bat can consume up to 1,000 mosquitoes an hour, so imagine the damage 20 bats flying around like I saw last night could do!

Currently, seven species of bats have been identified in Glendora alone. Biologist Lauren Dorough determined in the greater range of Orange County that there are 16 species of bats from amongst the 25 species currently found in California.  A few species have adapted to the urban environment by roosting under bridges and inside abandoned buildings, environments very different from the natural environments that their bat-cestors once enjoyed. What a new, rich habitat for bats!

Even with such adaptations, it’s important to note the population of bats as a whole has been impacted significantly by disease. Bat Rescue notes 40% of American bat species are in serious decline or listed as endangered or threatened. Bat Conservation International reports in North America alone, 5.7 million bats have died from White-nose Syndrome, a disease that strikes bats while they’re hibernating. Sourced back to a New York cave, the deadly disease has caused 100% mortality rates throughout the U.S.

Besides diseases, bats have been impacted by wind turbines. The winged mammals have a propensity to collide into the fast moving blades while migrating to hunt or return to their nests. My family and I once toyed with the idea of producing electric energy and installing wind turbines within our Texas property, but we only considered its impact on birds, ignorant then of the hazard it presents to bats. I would hope others interested in wind turbines will consider bat populations nearby.

Besides controlling mosquito populations, bats also produce beneficial bat guano. Guano is the waste product produced by bats and is gathered from their caves to embellish fertilizer, create antibiotics, and detoxify wastes. Like many natural resource, bat guano has been overharvested, harming precious ecosystems that revolve around its existence. Guano itself can also contain serious diseases easily transmitted to humans. Thus, extracting bat guano without the care of trained professionals is not recommended. Bats within the San Gabriel Valley have been found with the rabies virus within the past 10 years. If you do find a bat in or around your home or property where it is unwanted, it’s highly recommended to contact a bat specialist or your local vector control for safe removal.

A lesser long-nosed bat pollinates a cross section of a saguaro cactus flower. Creative Commons photo by Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International.

Guano may be dangerous, but bats themselves are highly beneficial. They are an important crop pollinator, spreading the pollen of peaches, almonds, dates, mangoes, and figs.  They also are exceptional at dispersing seeds that may attach to their fur or carried within their tiny mouths. Unlike bees that are daytime pollinators, bats are nighttime pollinators, and enjoy agave flowers and other twilight blooming funnel/tube-shaped flowers like Lonicera, Yucca, Nicotiana, or Datura. You may even see a bat pollinating your backyard peach tree or the native Erigeron!

Those with a concern and affinity for these important nocturnal animals can help populations by buying bat boxes and posting them high up to create a colony of bats. Planting an evening blooming garden for night time pollination can be enjoyed with the aid of a webcam equipped with night vision.

There are so many amazing things that bats do humans. Did you know that vampire bat saliva is used to produces an anticoagulant that aids stroke victims and heart patients?  Next time you’re hanging out in your backyard or a ¼ of a mile near the closest water source, pull up a chair and look into the night sky like I did. Who knows, maybe a bat will fly by, and you will know it is hard at work.

Feel free to share your bat stories…I am all ears! All joking aside, bats really do have amazing hearing. Their echolocation abilities are so sensitive they can detect targets nearly a yardstick away within a 6/1,000th of a second, so perhaps they heard and appreciated my joke. I look forward to going batty for bats right along with you.

Resources:
Field Guide to Bats in the San Gabriel Mountains
Mapping the Bat Population in Southern California
Here’s to the Bats of California!
Bats In The Desert And The Southwest

Photo by Stumpy Sad; CC-BY-SA-2.0

Creative Commons photo by Stumpy Sad; CC-BY-SA-2.0

Do you remember the story in the New York Times about Jean J. Hsu, a woman who lost her class ring down a grate? It was a rather funny tale, one documenting how Ms. Hsu navigated New York City’s labyrinth of red tape to retrieve her lost jewelry from the bowels of a busy downtown corridor.

While walking through DTLA or through the beautiful City of Glendora downtown corridor, I’ve noticed all sorts of different types of tree grates. It has a role as one of today’s favorite urban landscape features, but times are a changing. There are all sorts of stories that you can muster up about why or why not a tree grate was removed: it was stolen, the tree outgrew the space, the storefront had it removed.

Who needs a tree when extra asphalt is on hand to fill a previous tree well?

Who needs a tree when extra asphalt is on hand to fill a previous tree well? Photo by Kathy Rudnyk.

I’ve noticed some sidewalks interrupted by empty square cutouts filled with compacted soil or asphalt, like the one pictured here on the right. I sometimes like to imagine buried treasure awaiting to be found underneath. But more so, I’d prefer such an empty space being occupied again with a thriving tree, one that could offer ample shade from the glaring glass curtain walls along 7th Street, provide a respite for urban birds, or offer a great spot for tourists to take a photo.

The City of Glendora’s downtown corridor – Glendora Avenue – is lined with meticulously clipped Ficus microcarpa nitida, ‘Green Gem’ (Green Gem Indian Laurel Fig) pruned into the shape of gumdrops. These trees were made famous by a commercial for Southern California’s fast food chain, Jack in the Box.

Most of the tree grates on this stretch of Glendora Avenue have been since removed, with only two tree grates remaining. The two trees surrounded by tree grates are much smaller in size than the rest of sculptured trees. Some creative tactics were taken by shopkeepers to keep the area tidy and to prevent dogs from doing their business along the double row of trunks. Now poinsettias line the boxes (just in time for the holidays!).

America is not alone in its fetish for tree grates. In Spain, I fell into a few missing tree grates spaces while admiring the beautiful architecture of the country. Let me tell you, those empty spaces once occupied by a tree grate were rather deep; their planting specs must call for a much deeper tree well than the American version!

Gumdrop trees lit up for the annual Holiday Stroll on Glendora Avenue in Glendora

Gumdrop trees lit up for the annual Holiday Stroll on Glendora Avenue in Glendora. Photo by Kathy Rudnyk.

Maybe it is time we question why even have tree grates in the first place? Other questions floating in my head:

* Is the lack of tree care, alongside their respective tree grates, just another form of “demolition by neglect”? Perhaps, the tree grate is a much more of beautiful ornament than the tree it was originally intended for – something I have seen in NYC with their treasured and historical art deco tree grates. Maybe the expense went into buying the best of the best tree grates, but a low bid or a slashed budget made getting the best tree impossible.

* Maybe the tree and its protective tree grate are considered an annoyance now? Maybe for some people a tree might be considered a hindrance, limiting access from car to building or onto a train platform.

* Why not utilize plants around a tree rather than selecting an expensive tree grate. At a cost of approximately $2,000 a piece, these grates were designed to protect the tree’s apron of roots. But when you walk through a forest, you might observe small shrubs or perennials naturally growing around trees in the wild. Why not recreate the same natural relationship in an urban setting? It would enhance the urban landscape and provide even more natural curiosity. 

* Does every city street need to look like a New York City sidewalk?

filled-tree-grate

Photo by Kathy Rudnyk.

But there are some really good reasons for tree grates. First, in urban areas with a high density of people who park close to trees or walk by one, these grates keep the surrounding soil around the tree from being compacted. Besides lack of water, pests/disease, or pruning at the wrong times, compacted soil is a major reason why trees suffer in urban settings. Tree grates also shade the soil over the tree’s roots, slowing down the evaporation of the water around the tree. And in a drought like we’re experiencing now, that is a definite benefit.

Tree grates can be rather appealing aesthetically . Their ornate traditional designs are quite adaptable, coming in all sorts of shapes. Some even have lights built right into the design. Most are fabricated with metal, but maybe in the future tree grates will be printed using a 3-D printer and laser cutters, using other types of materials to add to curb appeal. What if grates were made from silicone, plastic, recycled tires, and other renewable resources like bamboo or cork? Or maybe they could light up when stepped upon. One wonders due to the fact tree grates have so long gone unchanged, their utility for tree and shrub health is now forgotten or overlooked. Perhaps tree grates need a Project Runway-style redesign representing the times of today. Or maybe it’s just time to say farewell, noting they’re a feature of yesterday?

Expanded tree well on Glendora Avenue in Glendora covered with Astroturf. Photo by Kathy Rudnyk.

Expanded tree well on Glendora Avenue in Glendora covered with Astroturf. Photo by Kathy Rudnyk.

Cities are already challenging themselves to use alternatives, including artificial grass, art, and pavers instead of tree grates. If you lose a piece of fine jewelry – like Jean J. Hsu’s class ring from the aforementioned story above – recovering it will be much easier when mulch, ground cover, shrubs, or artificial turf surrounds the tree. Even in Manhattan, the city now shuns using tree grates, replacing them with more advantageous methods of protecting valuable urban trees.

Well-designed tree grates permit water, air, debris, and the occasional unfortunate class ring through its grill. But the space between the tree grate and the soil should be periodically cleaned; if an excess of debris gets trapped between these sections, it can  prevent air and water from entering the basin or result in soil building up around the trunk, both causing undue harm to the tree.

A Ficus tree trunk that grew way beyond the diameter of the tree grate.

A Ficus tree trunk that grew way beyond the diameter of the tree grate. Photo by Kathy Rudnyk.

Most of the time when tree grates are installed, they’ll never be moved again. But occasionally a tree grow will outgrow its once spacious ring, requiring it be removed or entirely replaced. Tree roots will grows upward if there is insufficient room for it to grow outward. Everyone in Los Angeles has seen a sidewalk like this at one time or another. Unless there is an effective root barrier in place or regular root pruning, trees without enough space to grow can push a sidewalk upward, causing a hazardous feature. Occasionally the affected sidewalk area is cut out and expanded, with the tree grate removed to expose the surrounding soil to promote the tree’s health.

Professor of Environmental Horticulture Dr. Edward F. Gilman of University of Florida, Gainesville offers some excellent advice: Tree grates should be considered a short term solution lasting about 15 years. Dr. Gilman advises widening sidewalk spaces around trees, planting clusters of trees, channeling roots to grow toward soil, using alternative material around the tree and gravel as a subsurface rather than compacted soil or other types of materials. He believes planting the tree at least 2 feet away from the sidewalk is beneficial, alongside planting the tree away from the curb, or elevating the sidewalk around the plantings to give tree roots a place to grow. If the space/lot permits, Dr. Gilman believes planting trees in groups is superior to a lone specimen; trees have been observed to work together to help improve surviving the numerous challenges in an urban environment.

Tree well on Glendora Avenue in Glendora, filled with mulch, art, and a few small plants.

Tree well on Glendora Avenue in Glendora, filled with mulch, art, and a few small plants. Photo by Kathy Rudnyk.

It can be odd walking down the street and noticing the trunk of a single palm tree and an evergreen tree shoved into a tree grate. It seems a better idea to plant a natural buffer of spiky-looking plants to help encourage pedestrians to walk around rather than over the space. Consider working deterrents like Dietes ‘NoLa’ (Katrina™ African Iris) or Dianella ‘DR5000’ (Little Rev Flax Lily). 7th Street in Downtown Los Angeles on 7th Street is ripe for such a display of plants and trees living harmoniously together. The streetscape already offers a wide sidewalk, with exposed brickwork that could be quickly refilled with trees and shrubs. More could be done to create a beautiful, urban enriching botanical buffer, just ripe for pollinators. I suspect that property values would also rise, and such urban flora would encourage more people to traverse on the plant-lined side of the street versus the opposite lined with brightly lit stores. Already I’ve noticed traveling on the side of the street with Whole Foods because I’m naturally drawn to their lovely basins filled with trees and Dietes ‘NoLa’ (Katrina™ African Iris), contrasting the bleak parking garage across the street devoid of any plantings.

Tree grates are amazing urban accessories, but a landscaping tool due for a change. I am sure landscape and urban designers can find great uses for tree grates, as well as exploring what we can do to make our shrinking urban planting spaces last longer than ever by incorporating plants, trees, shrubs, art, rainwater runoff, and most importantly, our imaginations. Just remember, the next time you see a tree grate, somewhere underneath may be a ring that will never again reunite with its rightful owner. All I know is I’m not sure who I would call if my ring fell through a tree grate here in Downtown Los Angeles…