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Get to know Seattle’s unique street trees with book

Author hopes new guide inspires urban adventures

By Sarah-Mae McCullough, The Seattle Times
Published: May 4, 2024, 6:05am

With more than 730 kinds of trees on Seattle streets, the Emerald City has one of the most diverse collections in the United States. Our street tree population — largely trees that grow in planting strips along sidewalks — is more than twice as diverse as the average street tree community on the East Coast, said Taha Ebrahimi, local author behind the new book, “Street Trees of Seattle: An Illustrated Walking Guide.”

She hopes the guide, which grew out of a personal pandemic project to study her hometown’s trees, will inspire Seattleites to embark on urban tree adventures of their own. Ebrahimi’s book was recently published by Sasquatch Books.

Our unique urban canopy is the result of the removal of native trees and the introduction of nonnative trees from different parts of the country and world. A wide range of species were brought to Seattle, where the temperate climate allowed them to thrive, Ebrahimi said.

On an April stroll through Seattle’s Central District, the author pointed out several trees that aren’t native to the area. Still, many have witnessed their share of Seattle history — like the European beech tree towering over 18th Avenue that likely was around when Martin Luther King Jr. visited in 1961.

“Seattle was completely clear-cut, so all these trees that you see here are no more than 150 years old, and they were all brought by somebody,” Ebrahimi said. “These are layers and layers of immigrants and settlers that have come and have brought the trees that are familiar to themselves … layers and layers of history.”

“Street Trees of Seattle” was born out of Ebrahimi’s pandemic-era goal to learn more about her environment. Filled with maps, diagrams and short, digestible explanations of the histories of local species, the book is designed to help people embark on their own tree walks, from Ballard to Columbia City.

During the coronavirus shutdowns, Ebrahimi would take long walks on quiet city streets and wonder about the different trees she was passing. Using data from the Seattle Department of Transportation and help from “Trees of Seattle” author Arthur Lee Jacobson and other sources, Ebrahimi made it her mission to document the city’s street trees.

She made hundreds of drawings detailing Seattle’s diverse urban forest, some of which she started sharing on social media, and “it just kind of took off from there,” Ebrahimi said, leading to the book deal and sold-out street tree tours.

It was an educational undertaking and a therapeutic one: The project became about slowing down and being present “after being online all day long, being in my head,” Ebrahimi said. It also strengthened her connection to her hometown.

“These trees are like anchors, for me, at least, as someone who was born and raised here,” she said. “They have been here through all of that change.”

She hopes readers will use the book in a similar way — as a map to wander the city, interacting with the physical world around them and jotting down their own observations into its pages. “It should be like a treasure hunt,” the author said, ideally without the assistance of Google Maps.

The book came out April 16, and Ebrahimi has a host of author events and tree tours coming up. In the meantime, based on info in the book and Ebrahimi’s recommendations, here are a few street trees you can find around the city.

  • Oak trees in Wedgwood: There are roughly 7,000 oak trees on Seattle streets, and they remove about 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, according to “Street Trees of Seattle.” You’ll find the most in northeast Seattle, around the south part of Wedgwood.

At the intersection of 38th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 77th Street stands Seattle’s widest oak street tree. It’s not the only significant oak in the area: On 36th Avenue Northeast, you’ll find the widest valley oak on a city street, and on 28th Avenue Northeast is the widest holm oak among Seattle’s street trees.

Also in the vicinity is Warren G. Magnuson Park, if you want to extend your nature walk.

  • Redwood and yew trees in West Seattle: When you hear “redwood,” you might think of the giant groves of these famously massive trees found in California. But you don’t have to leave Seattle to find them — head to Washington Park Arboretum, Laurelhurst Park or this street in West Seattle.

On Sunset Avenue, you can find the widest coast redwood that stands in a Seattle planting strip. For another “biggest” in West Seattle, walk 15 minutes south to the widest yew tree on a city street, on 50th Avenue Southwest. This is the only “tree-sized yew street tree in the entire city,” according to the book. (Most yews here are just “mere bushes.”) From there, you can extend your outing to nearby Schmitz Preserve Park, also home to massive trees.

  • Maple and black locust trees in Georgetown: Seattle’s historical Georgetown neighborhood also boasts some notable trees.

The list includes the city’s second-widest maple tree on a city street, on Sixth Avenue South, the widest of the city’s 77 pistachio trees on city streets (on Flora Avenue South), and the widest crape myrtle street tree, on Ellis Avenue South.

The neighborhood holds some of Seattle’s widest black locusts, a species that California gold miners initially brought to the West Coast.

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