Who is Better Qualified to Opine on Root Damage, Civil Engineer or Certified Arborist?

I was retained by a defendant attorney to determine whether her client’s tree was responsible for lifting the adjacent civil sidewalk that resulted in a plaintiff trip and fall lawsuit.  Based on the photographs and tree species, White mulberry (Morus alba), I was fairly certain her client’s tree was responsible for the sidewalk damage.

The attorney retained me and requested a site inspection and tree root assessment.  I trenched adjacent to the sidewalk and within a short time, encountered a three-inch diameter root growing under the sidewalk.  Further excavation revealed a network of two to four-inch diameter roots that had grown under the sidewalk, lifting a sidewalk panel, creating a hazardous condition resulting in a trip and fall accident.

I informed the attorney that root encroachment from her client’s tree resulted in the sidewalk damage, she said her civil engineer expert claimed it impossible for a tree root to lift a concrete sidewalk.  I questioned the engineers knowledge and experience with trees, was the civil engineer a certified arborist or horticulturist?

Although the answer was no, she felt his qualification as a civil engineer was superior to my qualifications as a certified arborist, tree risk assessor qualified, registered consulting arborist and a college educated horticulturist.  Her dilemma was having two experts who disagreed and she requested I alter my opinion.

I told the attorney altering my opinion to suit her needs was unethical, and I removed myself from the case.

The common myth is trees have tap roots that grow straight down into the soil.  While this may occur in very deep, loam soils, the reality is most containerized nursery grown trees lose their tap root in the container.  Once planted in our poor Southern California soils, when the tap root encounters physical soil obstructions, such as rock, clay or hardpan, the tap root divides and grows multiple roots around the obstacle, forming a fibrous root system.  Tap root grows into fibrous root system.

Trees require a spreading root system to maintain structural stability.  Trees dissipate energy generated during a storm or wind event by transmitting leaf, limb and trunk movement down to the roots.  A spreading root system anchors the tree movement and dissipates the energy far more effectively than a single tap root system.

Most tree roots grow within the top 24-inches of the soil horizon. Roots in top 24″ of soil.  Over time, structural tree roots (2-inch diameter and greater) growing within a shallow soil adjacent to sidewalks, footings, foundations, walls or othersub-surface infrastructure may cause damage.

Just as a twig grows into a branch, and then a limb, roots increase in length and circumference.  Irrigation water, sewer or water service leaks increase subsoil moisture beneath sidewalks or garage slabs, creating a perfect environment for root growth.

Cracked garage slab

As the root circumference increased, it exerts pressure on the concrete slab or footing above the root.  Depending on the species, root diameter might increase 1/8-1/4” annually.

Within five to eight years, a small feeder root may grow to one-inch in diameter or greater.

 

Ficus root cracked the garage slab

The root growth may be compared to the action of a hydraulic jack, as the circumference increases, the upward pressure on the sidewalk or slab may crack and or eventually lift.  Concrete lifting may often occur at an expansion joint between concrete panels

Sidewalk lifted at expansion joint

 

 

 

 

Root network beneath sidewalk.

Roots seek out soil moisture, they can and will grow under walls, footings and garage slabs.  Roots are opportunistic, leaky plumbing, old cast iron sewer lateral or water services contribute to the soil moisture needed for roots to flourish. 

 

 

 

Sewer lateral root damage

Roots may infiltrate pvc, abs and cast-iron pipe through even the smallest of cracks or holes. 

Once inside, the roots expand in size and quantity, eventually completely clogging the utility.

If the tree crown has grown over a sidewalk or adjacent structure, it is a reasonable assumption structural roots (two-inch diameter and greater) have grown under the sidewalk, slab or footing.

Root growing under house footing

Planter areas confined by concrete pose one of the greatest risks for root damage.  City sidewalks often incorporate small, square planters within the sidewalk easement.

Roots lifting water meter and sidewalks

 

Confined planters quickly fill with structural roots, as well as damaging girdling root.  As the tree crown grows, so to do water absorbing feeder roots.  Over time, root mass and size increases, structural roots may begin to grow beneath concrete improvement while seeking out moisture.

Leaking water meter, high soil moisture, confined growing space.

The tree pictured above and to the right had a leaky water meter adjacent to the small sidewalk planter.  The leaky service provided idea soil moisture conditions for the roots to lift the water meter box, adjacent sidewalks and crack the curb and gutter.

Preventative measures to minimize root encroachment include a variety of root barrier methods.  All root barrier systems work best when the tree is installed.  Once roots have enlarged and matured, barrier mitigation is not successful.

In summary, our Southern California poor, shallow soils do not support deep tree tap root systems.  Most trees grow fibrous spreading root systems.  Structural roots emanating from the root collar extend to the edge of the tree crown, (drip line).  Most structural roots growing beneath sidewalks range from two to four inches in diameter, lifting sidewalk panels on average one-two inches. Trees growing in confined planters or adjacent to concrete, utilities or foundations may develop structural roots capable of lifting, cracking or damaging adjacent improvements.

Attorneys should select an expert based on the case criteria, not simply a title, license or certificate. Choose an expert most appropriate to address the cause of the problem and develop opinions based on sound, industry practices.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, A Turf Block Driveway With Thriving Turf!

Rarely have I seen a successful turf block driveway.  Turf block, turf stone, turf pavers are systems installed as living turf driveway alternatives.  The material provides structural support via plastic or concrete cells that are filled with a soil media for turf installation.  The block is designed to support vehicular traffic on driveways while providing a green alternative to concrete or asphalt driveways.

Turf blocks have been used for decades, but rarely have I seen thriving  turf grass within the block.  Not because of the product, but usually due to turf establishment and failure issues.  Due to reduced soil root area, soil compaction, irrigation infiltration and damaged soil structure result in poor turf establishment.  Soil preparation, drainage and proper irrigation coverage and operation are required to grow turf inside of a turf block system.

Lastly, using vigorous, warm season turf grasses that spread by horizontal solons, rhizomes, and rooting improves the successful establishment of turf grass, such as the Tiff hybrid Bermuda grasses developed for sports fields. Cool season turfs including rye, bluegrass and turf type fescues are clumping turfs that do not spread horizontally, thereby limiting establishment and healthy growth.  Cool season grasses are more susceptible to leaf and soil borne diseases, are easily stressed during hot summer months, nor are they tolerant of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and compaction conditions.  

Tiff hybrid Bermuda is well established within the turf block

Trip, Slip and Fall Hazard: Hidden Depressions in Grade

Successful landscapes require:

  • Proper grading, drainage and amended soil.
  • An automatic irrigation system achieving 100% head to head coverage.
  • Properly installed, high quality plant material.

Each of these functions may require a specific type component, installed at a specific height or location to reduce the potential of creating a site hazard that may result in an accident.  In commercial applications, landscape plans usually include details and specifications dictating type of product and how it should be installed.

Many common landscape products may be improperly installed including:

  • Pop up heads may be incorrectly set to grade against a sidewalk.
  • Valve or drainage boxes set too high or low relative to finish grade.
  • Shrub head installed on a riser adjacent to concrete improvement.
  • Hidden, obscured depressions in grade due to substandard compaction, settlement and subsidence.

    Drainage box set too low.

Improper product selection or substandard installation practices may appear obvious.  A pop up sprinkler head set above the top of  adjacent concrete sidewalk creates a trip hazard.  A drainage structure set well below the turf grade creates a trip slip and fall hazard.  Selecting and installing a spray head on a rigid riser next to a pedestrian sidewalk is a sub-standard industry practice that creates a trip and fall hazard.

Spray head on a riser next to a sidewalk creates a trip hazard.

Not all landscape hazards are visible.  Turf areas may have grade depressions or holes that are hidden by overgrown turf grass.  Depending on the cause and time period, turf grass may completely hide the depth, location and size of the depression or hole, creating a hidden hazard.

A depression, rut or hole may result from several factors.  Repeated mowing on saturated turf may  create ruts.  Overwatering may cause irrigation or utility trench settlement.  A dead tree removed from a turf area may result in a future depression if the grade is not properly backfilled and compacted.

A seven inch deep hole hidden by turf grass.

Bermuda grass is a fast horizontal spreading turf-grass used in parks and recreation facilities throughout the country.  Unless regularly aerated and de-thatched, Bermuda grass in known to grow a  thick layer of thatch.  Over time, the thatch layer can increase the turf grade several inches above adjacent sidewalk and curbs.

The backfill in utility trenches installed across pre-existing turf may settle, creating a depression in the sub-grade.  The photo depicts the edge of a trench cut across an asphalt driveway, across a turf area.  The trench backfill eventually settled, creating a trench sub-grade depression hidden by the Bermuda grass.

Thatch, hidden depression and sanded turf.

The depression resulted in a trip and fall accident.  After the accident, several hidden turf depressions were “sanded” to fill  depressions to proper grade.

Not all landscape hazards are open and obvious.  Even a perfectly installed landscape may develop hazardous conditions if not regularly inspected and maintained.

Irrigation systems should be monitored, inspected, tested and adjusted monthly.  Turf should be trimmed around utility boxes and vaults regularly, aerated and de-thatched annually to maintain optimum performance and minimize grade changes.  Drainage structures should be grade adjusted, repaired or replaced when damaged.  Valve, electrical and junction boxes should be monitored for grade changes and adjusted as required.  Bark mulch thickness should be monitored and supplemented annually to maintain proper coverage and grade.

In summary, a properly installed landscape is composed of several systems and components that require regular ongoing maintenance for optimum performance, efficiency and safety.  Pro-active landscape maintenance may reduce potential hazards, resultant accidents and lawsuits.  These actions demonstrates an Owner’s recognition of protecting the health and safety of the public, pedestrians, friends and family who may visit and use the site and may prove useful in a legal action.

California Olive Trees Dying from Exotic Pest Infestation

Olive tree displaying decline symptoms

With so many trees dying in natural and landscape settings, I’ve observed a disturbing trend throughout San Diego, and I assume most of the state.  Property owners allowing dead and declining trees, palms and shrubs to remain in place.  The problem with this practice, aside from aesthetics, is the dead plant may serve as a vector, whereby flying insects such as beetles, leaf hoppers, spittle bugs etc. may spread the disease to other uninfected trees.

Over the past decade, drought and climate change has taken a toll on millions of trees throughout California.  Drought weakened trees succumb to secondary invaders such as wood boring bark beetles.  There appears to be a continuous proliferation of new exotic pests resulting in diseases that are killing millions of trees in nature and within our urban forests and residential landscape settings.

Gold spotted oak borer

First collected and identified in 2004 was the gold spotted oak borer, (GSOB). This flathead borer is responsible for killing over 100,000 live and black oaks in San Diego County alone.  There is no effective prevention or cure.

Reports of the disease known as citrus greening, previously confined to China, appeared in Florida, threatening the entire U.S. industry.  The disease is a vector-transmitted pathogen by the

Citrus damaged by Asian citrus psyllid

Asian citrus psyllid.  This disease ravaged Florida citrus growers.  Once infected, there is no cure.

Another exotic pest first detected in Southern California in 2003 has been infesting hundreds of different species and is now established throughout the southland.

The Polyphagous shot hole borer is a small ambrosia beetle responsible for transmitting Fusarium disease to many tree species including avocado,

Sycamore bleeding from shot hole borer

box elder, coast live oak, maple, liquidambar, coral, sycamore and many other species. Fusarium is a vascular clogging disease for which there is no cure.

The list goes on and on.  Climate change and an ever more connected world will continue the trend toward future invasive erotic pests.

In early 2000, olive trees, (Olea europea) became very popular as a landscape tree, heavily planted throughout southland landscapes. For the past decade, olive trees have been declining from a number of diseases.  Two of the diseases are fatal, both display similar symptoms, making diagnosis difficult.

Foliage display tip and marginal burn symptoms

Symptoms appears as leaf marginal burning, tip dieback, leaf scorch, and loss of foliage color.  Defoliation proceeds from the top down and outside in toward the trunk.  Small twigs die back, eventually larger branches and entire limbs die. Depending on location and season, the decline may be rapid or slowly over the years.

 

Xylella or Verticillium?

 

Disease Infection

  1. Diseases known as quick decline, leaf scorch, or variegated chlorosis are caused by Xylella fastidiosa, the bacteria best known for causing Pierce’s disease on grapes, but also attacks citrus, peach, almonds, oleander, olives and many other species.
  2. Verticillium wilt affects olive trees in commercial and landscape plantings and many other species. The disease is caused by soil-borne fungi, Verticillium albo-atrim and dahliae.

Both are vascular clogging diseases, where the fungus or bacteria spreads throughout the vascular system, restricting water movement within the xylem tissue.  However, they have separate means of transmission. Unfortunately, neither disease has a cure, infected trees and shrubs decline over time, usually resulting in death.

Description and Spread

  • Xylella is transmitted by the glassy-winged sharpshooter, (Homalodisca vitripennis), leaf hoppers and spittle bugs. These vectors are xylem feeding insects.
  • The pathogen multiplies and spreads throughout the host tissue, restricting water movement through the xylem tissue.
  • Insect vectors feeding on infected trees (such as olive and oleander) may acquire the bacterium and carry it to new hosts.

 

Verticillium is a soil-borne fungus, it invades the root system of olives when the soil temperature is cool.

  • After penetrating through roots, the fungus multiplies within the xylem tissue, interrupting and reducing water movement from the roots to the leaves.
  •  Each disease clogs the vascular system, interrupting water movement from the roots to the leaves.
  •  Both diseases have similar symptoms making identification difficult.

Common Symptoms:  (not all symptoms may be present) 


Xylella:

  • Tip burn

    Leaf scorch beginning at the tip toward the stem (petiole).

  • Marginal browning, scorch and yellowing.
  • Twigs and branches dieback beginning in the upper crown.
  • Desiccated leaf and fruit drop.
  • Production of suckers.

    Crown dieback

 

Oleander infected with Xylella

 

 

 

 

Verticillium:

  • Symptoms appear in spring.
  • Newer leaves curl inward.
  • Dead fruit clusters remain attached.
  • Loss of leaf color and luster.
  • Leaf and fruit drop follow.

    Inward leaf curl

Progressive decline

 

 

 

 

Dead fruit retained

 

  • Individual branches and or large portions of the tree may die within one season.
  • The tree may not die, growth may develop on unaffected portions of the tree and suckering from the crown.
  • The new growth continues until re-infected; the cycle repeats the following year.

    Vascular staining

  • Vascular staining may be present.

Control

There is no cure for Xylella or Verticillium.  Recommendations for both diseases include:

  • Remove suspected plants immediately to prevent vectoring disease to other susceptible host plants, i.e.: olive, oleander, sweetgum, grapes, etc.
  • Integrated pest management to control insect vectors may help slow disease spread but spraying to control leafhoppers is expensive and futile.
  • Control of nearby weeds and grasses to help limit insect vectors.
  • Pruning out infected limbs may improve the appearance, but it is impossible to prune “below” the infected wood, so pruning does not get rid of the disease.
  • Fungicide applications are not effective.
  • Remove declining and dead trees immediately.
  • Replant with disease resistant species.

Avoiding the disease is most effective but not always possible.   Soils are easily contaminated with Verticillium from former planting and the pathogen may survive in the soil for several years, ready to infect newly planted susceptible species.

While greenhouse soils may be heat pasteurized to kill the fungus, that is impossible in the landscape.  Solarizing landscape soils has some effect at reducing verticillium infected soils.  Prior to planting, rototill and irrigate the soil as deeply as possible.  Cover the area with six mil plastic, seal the edges with soils to secure for six to eight weeks.

Effective cultural practices such as fertilizer application, irrigation management, weed and insect control may assist in preventing infection and possibly reduce the effects of the disease.  Most of these practices focus on improving plant vigor that help mask the disease, however these treatments are not curative.

It is important to note, many of the foliar symptoms described above may also be due to drought or poor irrigation practices.  There are also foliar diseases that may produce similar symptoms but are only minor and may not pose a serious threat.

Diagnostic laboratory testing is the definitive method for a positive identification of the disease. 

The important take away is this:  Don’t ignore decline symptoms in olive and other susceptible species, as the plant may be infected with a fatal vascular disease.  Declining and dead trees left in place may serve as a source for the disease to be vectored by beetles, sharpshooters and other pests to healthy nearby trees.  Remove dead or dying trees to prevent disease spread.

The Benefits of the ANSI A300 Tree Care Standards for Tree Related Lawsuits

Guy + Chainsaw – Tree = Potential Lawsuit vs
ANSI A300 Tree Care Performance Standards

Does he know what he is doing?

Does he know what he is doing?

Background

Tree care professionals contracting for services are frequently members of the Tree Care Industry Association, (TCIA). The International Society of Arboriculture, (ISA), administers various types of arborist certification programs, including certified arborist or certified tree worker climber. The American Society of Consulting Arborist  offers arborists training and testing to become a registered consulting arborist, (RCA). These associations provide industry standards and best management practices for members to adopt into in their own practice.

Note the personal protective clothing, ropes, saddle etc.

Personal protective clothing, ropes, saddle etc.

In California, C-27 landscape contractors and D-49 tree service contractors are licensed by the state, both can legally perform tree care service. Prior to 1991, various industry associations, contractors and practitioners followed their own standards for tree care.

The industry recognized the need for a standardized, scientific approach and agreed to develop an official American National Standard, resulting in the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A300 Tree Shrub, and Other Woody Plant Management Operations – Standard Practices.

They are voluntary industry consensus standards developed by TCIA and written by the Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) A300, whose mission is to develop consensus performance standards based on current research and sound practices for writing specifications to manage trees, shrubs, and other woody plants.

The ISA and ASCA are members of the ASC and their member practices should conform to the ANSI A300 tree care performance standards. The standards “apply to professionals who provide for, or supervise the management of trees, shrubs, and other woodsy landscape plants. Intended users include businesses, government agencies, property owners, property managers and utilities.” Many municipalities have adopted the ANSI A300 performance standards as part of their tree and landscape maintenance ordinance. The A300 standards are separated into 10 parts based on the tree care practice.

ANSI A300 Performance Standards for Legal Conflict Support

Arboriculture professionals adhere to the ANSI A300 performance standards for developing specifications for tree care. Gardeners, landscapers, designers, and handy men are not certified arborists and rarely have knowledge of industry standards. Even licensed landscape architects, civil engineers, general and landscape contractors may not be familiar with or have knowledge of the A300 standards. Ignorance of the standards is not a legal excuse for violating or ingnoring the standards.

The standards are separated into ten different parts. Through case experience, I have found three of the ANSI A300 standards applicable for plaintiff or defendant tree related legal actions. In conflicts I’ve been involved with, the civil engineer, landscape architects, general contractor, landscape and sub-contractors and even licensed tree care companies were not aware of the A300 standards. In some instances, industry professionals were aware of the standards but failed to adhere to the them.

Without proper planning and management, construction and development projects adjacent to existing trees commonly damage tree roots, trunks and limbs, increasing the risk of a potential tree failure and resultant lawsuit. ANSI A300 (Part 5) Standard Practices (Management of Trees and Shrubs During Site Planning, Site Development, and Construction) is the recognized industry standard for managing trees during construction and is the focus of this discussion.

The A300 Part 5 Performance Standard is intended for use for industry professionals, including all levels of government agencies, private entities including commercial, industrial and residential property owners and managers, engineers, architects and utilities for developing written specifications. The standards apply to any person or entity engaged in the management of trees, shrubs or other woody plants.

ANSI A300 Part 5 standard

ANSI A300 Part 5 standard

Without specifications for tree protection during construction and development, tree injuries occur. Depending on the severity of the injury, the defect may degrade the structural integrity of the tree. Over time, the injury may continue to decay, increasing the risk of failure and resultant damage to people and or property. The reason for the standard is to assess the level of risk and to provide information for risk mitigation.

Civil engineers, landscape architects and other professionals responsible for developing plans and specifications should be aware of the A300 standards. These professionals may not have the tree knowledge expertise, which is why the standard refers professionals to use a certified arborist qualified in tree management during site planning, development and construction.

The standard discusses implementation procedures that should be designed by a professional arborist including:
• Tree management plans in compliance with applicable ordinances and standards.
• Decision making should be based on the knowledge of health and safety of the tree resources present.
• Prime consultant and contractor should involve the arborist in the initial planning phases.
• Arborist site monitoring during construction should be specified to ensure compliance with plan requirement.
• Monitoring specifications should address demolition, grading, vertical construction, walks and pathways, playgrounds, excavations, trenching, drainage systems, and landscape.

For safety, the standard requires only arborists familiar with the standards, practices and hazards of arboriculture shall perform tree management. One of the objectives of the standard it to avoid damaging trees during construction; including damage caused by physical contact, grade changes and soil compaction. To achieve the defined objectives on any project, the arborist should be involved in the management of trees during all five phases of development including:
• Planning
• Design
• Pre-construction
• Construction
• Post-construction

Development and construction projects are complex, requiring planning and coordination among project shareholders. The prime consultant and or contractor should maintain arborist involvement throughout the various phases of the project in conjunction with the arborist developing specifications, resource assessment, conservation plans, monitoring and recommendations. The TCIA website has an exhibit of a Tree management plan flow chart defining what should occur during the development phases, arborist responsibility and development activity.

How the A300 Standard Applies in a Legal Context

The standard applies to all design and planning professionals such as civil engineers and landscape architects. These firms usually work as prime consultants and are responsible for producing the plans and specifications for development projects. They are responsible for knowing and adhering to the A300 performance standards. The same applies to prime contractors and their sub-contractors, and other project stakeholders.

Failing adherence to the A300 standards renders prime consultant(s), general and sub-consultants potentially liable if a tree related accident occurs. I used the A300 standard in a case involving a tree limb that fell from a tree onto an adjacent tot-lot.

A city decided to build a park within a former old growth forest. A civil engineer and landscape architect developed plans and specifications, including a grading plan with notes and a detail for tree protection. The general contractor, grading, and recreation equipment sub-contractors constructed the park. The design included a tot-lot with children play equipment built where trees were removed, with old, construction damaged trees remaining left intact at the edge of the tot-lot.

A few days after the park opened, a tree limb dropped onto the tot-lot, striking and killing a young child seated on a piece of play equipment. The parents sued the city, the design consultants and all the contractors because the defendants did not observe the city tree ordinance. The city ordinance adopted the A300 tree care standards as part of their tree ordinance, which the defendants ignored, arguing the standard did not apply to their trade(s). After extensive deposition testimony, using the standards in support of the Plaintiffs (parents of the deceased child), all the defendants settled rather than proceeding with a trial.

In another case, a property owner agreed to allow a guy to prune a tree. The guy claimed to have forestry experience. He had a rope tied around a limb that he cut just as a neighbor walked out of their house. The limb dropped, rebounded at the end of the rope causing it to swing and strike the neighbor in the face. In the resulting lawsuit, the A300 standards were used to support the plaintiff complaint with a resultant settlement from the insurer.

The A300 standards apply to tree care companies, certified and consulting arborists. Different standards may apply depending on the case. For example, A300 (Part 9), Tree Risk Assessment A. Tree Failure, provides performance standards for tree risk assessment and guidelines for establishing written specification and best management practices, (BMP).

As a certified and registered consulting arborist, tree risk assessment inspections and reports are consulting services I provide, I’ve incorporated this and other standards into my practice.  Tree care contractors might find other standards, such A300 (Part 1) Pruning, Part 5 (previously discussed) and Part 9 particularly applicable to their business.

In conclusion, the ANSI A300 Tree, Shrub, and Other Woody Plant Management Performance Standards are a powerful tool that may benefit a plaintiff or defendant involved in a tree related accident. The standards are broad reaching in scope and application to a wide variety of construction and development professionals. Attorneys and insures should consider the potential application of A300 performance standards in tree related cases.

The Walk to End Alzheimer Disease Was a Tremendous Success

To was the San Diego Walk to End Alzheimer Disease and it was a moving event.  Thousands showed up to support this worthy cause.  The walk exceeded the goal of raising over $150,000.  Through so many donations, WE managed to raise almost $600, and we were rewarded with a medallion for achieving “Champion Club” status.

It seemed everyone their had a friend of family member affected in some way.  The feeling of community and support was very emotional for me.  I thought about my mom a lot today, at the end of the walk, I felt really good contributing to the effort.  There were great speakers, including the Mayor, and I met and spoke with wonderful people.  A shout out to Delores, great talking to you today, good luck on starting your new job Monday!

Well, I have posted pictures of the event, thanks again!

  1. Sincerely, Jeremy20170909_091001
    Pre-walk selfie, feeling good!

    Pre-walk selfie, feeling good!

    A little love before the walk

    A little love before the walk

    Love the flowers

    Love the flowers

Once Again, Fires Threaten Giant Sequoias

The Railroad fire broke out near Yosemite on August 29.  Recent humid, cooler weather has assisted fire crews achieve 43% containment, with 12,000 acre scorched.  However, dryer conditions are expected today, with the possibility of lightening strikes.

The fire is burning in an area of dry pine and cedar trees, creating difficult firefighting conditions.  Tuesday, the fire burned through Nelder Grove, containing over 100 mature giant sequoias.  Fortunately, the extremely thick bark protected the trees from damage, while all the under brush was burned.

Hopefully, firefighting crews can get the upper hand on the fire and prevent further damage.

Railroad Fire Threatens Giant Sequoias

Did You Take the Right Photo?

I receive inquiries about tree failures from attorneys, insurers, HOA’s, commercial and residential property owners.  Unfortunately, many inquiries concern a failure that already occurred, resulting in personal injury, property damage or both.  Potential legal clients want to know the cause of the failure and whether the Owner or contractor satisfied the standard of care.

Forensic investigation to determine the cause of a tree failure may be difficult.  Whether a limb or whole tree failure, the tree is usually removed and the accident site cleaned in a short period of time.  Without actual evidence of the failed part to examine, determining the cause of the failure is impossible.  Or is it?

If the Client took effective photographs of the tree failure at the time of the accident or shortly thereafter, a skilled arborist might be able to examine the failure for clues that could determine it’s cause.  Unfortunately, most people take pictures that have limited or no value for forensic analysis.

Whole tree failure due to root disease. (Photo by JoeLaForest)

Failure due to root disease. (Photo by JoeLaForest)

There are several types of failures to distinguish.

Root failures, usually due to a root rotting fungus, resulting in loss of anchorage, entire tree failure may occur, particularly during inclement weather. Blackened broken off roots may protrude out of grade.

 

Soil failure, the entire root ball rotates or heaves out of grade, typically occurs during wet, windy weather. In a soil failure, root protrusion from the soil mass is limited.

Soil failure resulted in tree loss.

Soil failure resulted in tree loss.

 

Collar and basal stem injuries may result in the tree snapping off at the base.  Collar injuries may occur from mechanical sources, such as string trimmers, mowers, or edgers.  Trees grown in small, confined planters, such as cutouts in sidewalk may develop girdling roots resulting in poor root development and anchorage.

Restricted root zone results in collar failures

Restricted root zone results in collar failures

Within five years, tree trunk diameter may outgrow the opening within a tree grate.  Construction activities that raise or lower the grade may also damage the root collar and surrounding surface roots.

Trunk failures may occur due to co-dominant trunks, two trunks of equal size sharing the same attachment.  Co-dominant trunks may develop included bark, which weakens the trunk attachment, resulting in the trunk cracking or completing splitting apart along the weakened plane of included bark.

Co-dominant stems crack. (by Cherokee Tree Care).

Co-dominant stems crack. (by Cherokee Tree Care).

Limb failures are perhaps the most common type of failure. Limbs may drop for a number of reasons.  Typically, limbs fail due to weak attachments to the other larger limbs or the trunk.  Multiple limbs attached at the same point, poor architecture, excess load, cracks, and cankers inevitably start to decay.  As the decay decreases the structural stability of the attachment, the limb is susceptible to breakage or detachment from the tree, typically during inclement weather events.

Weak limb attachments. (by Randy Cyr)

Weak limb attachments. (by Randy Cyr)

However, sudden and summer limb drop are syndromes whereby healthy limb failure occurs during calm weather, usually May-October.  The syndrome is still not fully understood or how to manage.

Although not a tree failure, surface roots may be responsible for damaging infrastructure, particularly lifting and cracking concrete sidewalks and patios, a major source of trip, slip and fall accidents.

Roots lifted sidewalk

Roots lifted sidewalk

 

Sidewalk replacement due to root damage

Sidewalk replacement due to root damage

As roots age, they increase in diameter, just like a branch or trunk.  As roots grow under a sidewalk age, they increase in diameter, slowing lifting sidewalk panels over time.

Trees typically fail suddenly,with little warning.  The resulting impact may cause extraordinary property damage and possible personal injury or death.  When an event occurs, emergency workers, media and the public are focused on the event, saving life or restoring traffic, not on taking forensic photographs of the accident.

By SD Union Tribune

Emergency crews at work. (by SD Union Tribune)

Forensic reconstruction of a tree failure relies upon factual evidence.  If the failed tree or limb has been disposed, it is impossible to assess why the failure occurred unless well taken photographs exist.  If a tree limb fell due to a cavity or defect, photographs showing the limb lying on the ground are of limited value.

Forensic photographs should depict the condition of the failed limb or whole tree.  While a photo of the limb lying on the ground adds some context, it does not depict the cause of the failure.

Limb failed due to an old decaying canker.

Limb failed due to an old decaying canker.

Photographs should show the end of limb that broke off the tree and the scar or injury left on the tree trunk. Sometimes, it takes a long time for a limb canker to decay. Over time, the decay weakens the attachment of the limb which eventually fails.  A photo showing the broken end of the limb and the damaged trunk area could prove invaluable.

Considerations for effective forensic tree failure photographs:

  • Timing:
    • Take as soon as possible from date of the accident.
    • Take photographs of changes in condition, ie:  the tree stump remained one day but was removed a week later.
    • If case extends over time, take photographs over the time period, this may help establish original tree wounds and healing rate.
    • If using a digital device, turn on the date stamp for photographs.
  • Include Photographs of The Site:
    • Establish the overall accident perspective with wide angle photographs depicting the entire site, street, park etc.
    • Overhead or underground utilities, adjacent structures, construction activity.
    • The presence of irrigation system.
    • Damp, wet, moist, standing water conditions.
    • Planter size, confined by curb, gutter, sidewalks, asphalt paving, driveways or other obstructions.
    • Grade condition, accumulation of tree litter, mulch or compost placed around tree trunk and roots.
    • Add a tape measure for scale
  • Include Photographs of the Subject Tree or Part:
    • The entire tree or limb from one end to the other.
    • Surrounding trees of same species for comparison.
    • The broken end of the limb
    • The  torn, damaged area on the trunk the limb detached from.
    • The root condition.
    • The planter or turf area the tree was growing within.
    • The soil conditions.
    • Add tape measurements for scale and dimensions.

Tree failures occur infrequently, but when a failure occurs, consequences may be severe. The first reaction of emergency responders and the general public is to assist in an emergency, not document the cause.  Since most tree failures are cleaned up and removed within a short period of time after the accident, valuable forensic evidence may be lost.

Photographs shown in this blog show the location of the failure, not the end result of the failure.  Effective forensic photography should depict the failed tree component(s), including trunk scars, injuries, failed or torn limb ends.  Tape measurements included in the photograph may prove very helpful.

When the tree or limb has been cut up and hauled to the landfill, the only effective evidence might be photographs taken at the time of the accident that depict defects that might establish the cause of a failure.  An arborists requires evidence and facts to assess why a tree failed.  Well taken photographs are often the most effective forensic tool available for analysis.  So, take the right picture!

Spring Madness

The beauty of spring is all around us, take a moment to enjoy it.  Take a walk through any of our coastal canyons, parks and open spaces.  You’ll be rewarded!

Not a field of poppies but still...

Not a field of poppies but still…

Wow

Wow

Get out there!

Get out there!

One of the Best Flowering Trees!

Back in my college days at Cal Poly Pomona, I took several plant identification courses as part of the educational requirements for Ornamental Horticulture.  Two trees from the same genus always stood out for their outstanding floral display and landscape use.  Back then, the genus was called Tabebuia, since changed to Handroanthus. The two useful landscape species are Handroanthus impetiginosa,(Pink trumpet tree) and H. chrysotrichus, (Golden trumpet tree).

The Pink trumpet tree in full bloom

While taking a walk, I came across a beautiful pink trumpet tree in full bloom.  I then started noticing a few other trumpet trees scattered about the neighborhoods in North Park.  I’m not to sure why, but in my view, this species is an under utilized ornamental landscape tree.  Perhaps due to a slow growth rate, medium appetite for water or its deciduous nature, the species is not heavily promoted by the nursery industry.  But it has many beneficial characteristics making it a useful ornamental landscape tree.

The pink trumpet tree requires full sunlight to part shade and grows to approximately 25-feet in height in Southern California.  The non-aggressive rooting system makes it a good choice for use in smaller confined planter areas such as a parkway strip.  It performs well in the urban environment.  Like most trees, it prefers well drained fertile soils however I see this tree flourishing under less than ideal conditions.  No noted pests or disease, hardy to 24º F, damaged below 18º F.  After spring flowering, it grows a green to brown colored pod.

A close relative to the pink trumpet tree but faster growing

A close relative to the pink trumpet tree but faster growing.  By M.Ritter, W. Mark, J. Reimer, C. Stubler

Unlike the pink trumpet tree, the closely relate golden trumpet tree is a more rapid, larger growing tree.  It too is deciduous, and like the pink trumpet, it flowers in the spring with an impressive display of brilliant, fragrant yellow trumpet flowers.

This tree grows to a larger size than the pink trumpet, up to 50-feet tall and similar width.  It has a spreading, low canopy that matures into a broad, round-headed or vase shaped crown.  It prefers full sun to part shade.

Branch strength is rated as medium to somewhat weak and root growth is more aggressive than the pink trumpet.  Unlike the pink trumpet, the golden trumpet tree should not be used in a confined planter are.

Both these trees perform well in our mediterranean climate and their different growth characteristics allow for varied use,  one in more confined areas, the other requires more room to grow.  Once established, both are relatively drought tolerant.

Hope you find this helpful, let me know if you have any questions!

 

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