“The Bad Tree.”

So my mother calls the sissoo tree that grows outside her balcony.

It also grows in front of all the other balconies and throughout the landscape of the retirement community where my parents make their home.

“The roots are lateral and they uproot sidewalks and crawl into pipes underground. They drink up a lot of water. They were planted a little over ten years ago. They’re the cheapest tree that you can get.” So she says. She knows her stuff. She was the head of the Building and Grounds Committee for a while. She encouraged planting native plants but it didn’t go through.

However, they’re not all bad.

They provide beautiful shade in Scottsdale’s scorching months. And an owl has taken to roosting on a limb outside the apartment.

The Dalbergia sissoo, or North Indian rosewood, is not a native to the Sonoran Desert. But it loves poor desert soils and direct sunlight, and is drought-tolerant. It grows fast. A ten year old tree can be 20 feet tall.

With llght brown shaggy bark, it has fluttering leaves about the size of a half-dollar. My mother is right about the roots — the root system can run 40 feet or more from the base of the tree. Finding water is this tree’s jam – it came from the riverbanks of India, after all.

Here’s the thing: when you have an allee of trees like the sissoo, it’s not always so good.

A monoculture of trees can fail. Who can forget Dutch Elm disease, emerald ash borer, Oak Wilt – all problems stemming in large part from a lack of arboricultural diversity. It remains to be seen if the sissoo will die in droves. Until that time, developers have been removing them at about the same rate they’re being planted, they’re such a “nuisance.” As my mother would say.

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