When walking along the trails in the village, have you ever wondered about the trees?
Resident Eleanor Smith and her late husband did, right from the time they moved here in November 1992. “We would take these wonderful and beautiful walks, and we noticed the Audubon Society plaques that told all the names and origins.
“The more we expanded our strolls, the more varieties we discovered. Then we started creating a personal record out of our own curiosity. At that time, we were amazed that we saw over a hundred types!”
Time went on and Smith lost her husband, but her walks and interest in the trees prevailed. “I tried to find out more about the history of the trees from the Historical Society. Recently they devoted an entire issue of their newsletter, The Historian, to the subject. Some of the most interesting facts, besides all the types, are that they have been brought in from all over the world!”
According to The Historian, since the beginning of what started out as the community known as Leisure World, the rolling hills have been replaced by more than 20,000 people and over 35,000 trees. Some of the countries represented by the trees are: Madagascar, Russia, and Japan, numerous parts of Africa, South America, Australia, the Middle East and the Caribbean.
Ismael Saenz, tree department manager who has been with VMS for 45 years and is a certified arborist with the International Society of Arborists, gave some insight on what it takes to maintain all of the 200 species of trees throughout Laguna Woods:
Q: How many tree specialists devote themselves to the care and feeding of all the varieties?
A: We have two full-time crews, one has a total of 10 people and the other has 9. One foreman is included for each group.
Q: At one time the trees all had plaques provided by the Audubon Society. Why have those been removed?
A: Most of the original tags told the species of the tree and their country of origin. But they’ve either been broken or worn out over time by the weather conditions. PCM actually had a lot of complaints about them, so once the labels wore out to the point where they couldn’t be fixed it was decided they wouldn’t be replaced. Many of the plaques had memorials devoted to late residents. There are still some left.
Q: When a tree dies, is it replaced with the same species or is it replaced by a more local variety?
A: If the tree was one that was considered to be high maintenance, then it is replaced by a local variety. That’s about 98 percent of them. Also, we never plant it in the exact same spot. But it’s a very interesting thing, very few of them die. Some have had to be removed because they were causing structural damage. The roots can cause damage to the walkways, which people could trip on or grow into piping and the sewer system. Some of the main reasons for the few that do succumb are things such as tissue swells, called gawls. Pear trees are prone to fire blight, which causes the compression to the roots or girdling.
Q: What training do the specialists have?
A: When we hire in someone new, we train them in correct practices right from the very first day. This means that before they actually do something on their own, we know they’ll be doing right for whichever species of tree they may be working on no matter where that may be in the village.
Saenz says that in the last 15 years, whenever a tree has been replaced that it has been switched out for one of 20 flowering varieties. He says the department makes sure that the trees chosen all blossom at different times of the year. This ensures that everyone will be able to enjoy different hues on all the various paths and trails no matter what the season.