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Roots of history

Arbor Day gives Beaverton residents a good reason to celebrate rich tree heritage
by: Submitted photo, An American sycamore outside the Beaverton City Library is one of several interesting trees in the city.

President Theodore Roosevelt knew the value of a good forest.

In his Arbor Day proclamation to school children across the nation, Roosevelt said trees were necessary for life.

'To exist as a nation, to prosper as a state, and to live as a people, we must have trees,' Roosevelt wrote.

Arbor Day started in 1872 when J. Sterling Morton proposed a tree-planting holiday to the Nebraska state Board of Agriculture. On the first Arbor Day, Morton organized the planting of more than 1 million trees across the state.

Today, Arbor Day is a national celebration on the last Friday in April. Oregon sets aside the first full week in April to honor and plant trees.

With Arbor Week approaching, I suggest you get outside and visit some of remarkable trees around Beaverton.

Here are three, easy-to-find trees to get you started.

--Sequoia (Sequoia gigantea) at Valley Catholic school. Sister Michael of the Sisters of Saint Mary of Oregon was fond of the sequoias at the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro. So her friend, Fergus Cromien, set out to find some for her.

Cromien, who grew trees for a hobby, was able to buy an ounce of seeds in 1933 from Otto Katzenstein, a tree merchant in Atlanta. He started about 70 sequoias and gave several one-foot-tall specimens to Sister Michael.

Today you can see these 70-year-old trees, with their tidy, pyramidal structures, lining the campus near the intersection of Southwest Murray Boulevard and Tualatin Valley Highway.

Stand under them to experience their massive size and to see the fibrous, deeply grooved cinnamon-colored bark.

Longevity and size runs in the family. Their relative, the General Sherman sequoia in California, is more than 2,000 years old and about 275 feet high. It holds the title of the largest living specimen on the planet.

--American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) at the Beaverton City Library. Unlike the sequoias, nobody knows who planted the sycamore at Southwest Fifth Street and Hall Boulevard. But that person must have had an eye for natural beauty.

Gracing the library's front lawn, the tree has a commanding presence. Its large, maple-like leaves provide a sheltering canopy of shade in summer, and its round fruit hang on wiry stems, like ornaments, in the winter.

You can recognize a sycamore by its mottled bark, which starts out brownish on young branches. As the branch grows, this outer bark peels away in irregular patches to expose inner bark, which can be a mixture of cream, olive, and white.

At about 50 years old, the sycamore is a youngster compared to those that early settlers encountered in the eastern United States. Those giants were 500 to 600 years old, some with girths of more than 40 feet.

The trunks of sycamores tend to become hollow with age and many of the ancient ones were cavernous enough to serve as temporary lodging. Pioneers could stable a farm animal in one and shelter their family in another until a log cabin could be raised.

--Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) at the Fanno Creek Farmhouse. In 1859, Augustus Fanno built his farmhouse close to what is now Southwest Creekside Place, just off Hall Boulevard.

Tending to his successful business growing onions was a full-time job, but Fanno still found time to plants trees. In 1876 he planted four trees - rock elm, Douglas fir, pine, and white fir - that he dubbed American Freedom Trees to commemorate the centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

These trees are no longer alive, so we can only imagine what they would have looked like today.

However, a magnificent black cottonwood, believed to be about 130 years old and more than 100 feet tall, towers above the farmhouse.

Native Americans used the resin from the buds to treat muscle aches, swollen joints, and burns. The waxy resin is still used in some modern natural health ointments.

Mary Johnson is a Beaverton resident who likes trees.