Dustin Bajer, Woody Superpower that Grow Better Cities

11 Woody Superpowers That Grow Better Cities

Trees have woody superpowers that, when used correctly, can grow better cities.

We plant trees in our parks, boulevards, and yards, but for many of us, they’re little more than greenery in the landscape. But noticed or not, trees are silently making our yards, communities, and cities better places to live. Whether shading our homes, growing our food, or keeping our basements dry, here are eleven woody superpowers that grow better cities.

The open secret – nature wants to help us and can be a powerful partner in tackling some of our most pressing urban challenges.

1 – The Food Grower

These trees and shrubs produce low-maintenance edible fruits, berries, nuts, or leaves and contribute to community food security year after year. Examples include plums, walnuts, and saskatoons.

Where to Plant

Plant food growers in parks, community gardens, and school grounds to provide access to food and local community building. Use park and food desert mapping to target communities with less green space, community gardens, or access to grocery stores.

Dustin Bajer, Woody Superpowers that Grow Better Cities, The Food Grower. Shrubscriber. Edmonton
Woody Superpower – The Food Grower

2 – The Shade Caster

Shade trees combat the urban heat island effect by reducing the temperature beneath them by up to 10 degrees Celsius. This woody superpower saves energy by reducing the need to run expensive air conditioning units and block the wind. Shade Casters include walnuts, honeylocust, maples, and oaks.

Where to Plant:

Target communities that are missing boulevard trees or that have less forest canopy. Plant shade-casting trees south of buildings and paves surfaces to lower the ambient temperature. Use urban heat island data to target communities most impacted during heatwaves.

3 – The Carbon Eater

All plants remove carbon from the atmosphere to make sugars and build their bodies, but carbon busters are especially large or fast-growing. Their long lives lock carbon within their bodies for decades or centuries. Examples: Willow, Oak, Aspen

Dustin Bajer, Woody Superpowers that Grow Better Cities, The Food Grower. Shrubscriber. Edmonton
Woody Superpower – The Carbon Eater

Where to Plant:

Carbon Eaters are large or fast-growing—plant carbon eaters in parks or as part of naturalization projects. Air Cleaners are exceptionally tolerant of urban pollution and good at removing particulates from the landscape – letting us all breathe a little easier. Examples: Silver Maple, Honeylocust, Pine, Yew

4 – The Air Cleaner

Air Cleaners are exceptionally tolerant of urban pollution and good at removing particulates from the landscape – letting us all breathe a little easier. Examples: Silver Maple, Honeylocust, Pine, Yew

Where to Plant

Use Air Cleaners as buffers between streets and commercial and residential properties.

5 – The Time Traveller

Often slow-growing, these trees can live hundreds or even thousands of years. If you want to plant a tree for the future, these trees are for you. Examples: Bristlecone Pine, Black Walnuts, Oak, Ginkgo

Where to Plant:

Contemplate the future of your city by planting a Time Traveller where it will have time to grow and be appreciated. Privately planted Time Travellers are susceptible to development but could be essential tools for place-making and culture-building. Potential locations include parks and boulevards.

Dustin Bajer Woody-Superpowers that Grow Better Cities The Time Traveler
Woody Superpower – The Time Traveler

6 – The Storyteller

Plants propagated from seeds or cuttings from existing heritage trees. Seed-propagated plants are the parent’s offspring while cutting exact genetic copies (clones). Local Examples: Holowash Horse-Chestnut, Stark Oak

How to Plant:

Storytellers only retain their powers if we continue sharing their stories and making new ones.

7 – The Native Guardian

Native trees and shrubs have been here for thousands of years, well adapted to our historical climate. These plants often have symbiotic relationships with native birds, animals, and pollinators, making them essential food and habitat. Native examples include poplars, spruce, tamarack (larch), and Saskatoon.

Where to Plant:

Throughout the city or as part of naturalization projects such as the Edmonton River Valley Food Forest.

One hundred volunteers planting edible native plants in the Edmonton River Valley Food forest in McKinnon Ravine in 2014
Community members planting thousands of edible native plants in the Edmonton River Valley

8 – The Biodiversity Builder

These trees and shrubs increase our urban forest’s biodiversity and resilience by decreasing the urban ecosystem’s susceptibility to pests, diseases, and climate change. Examples: Walnuts, Honeylocust, Oak, Catalpa

Where to Plant:

Use to replace ageing, damaged, diseases, or missing boulevard trees to increase diversity and protect existing trees from the spread of diseases.

9 – The Zone Pusher

Zone Pushers come from places with slightly warmer climates and have struggled growing here in the past. However, planted in the right location amidst a changing environment, these plants have the potential to grow and diversify our urban forest. Growing zone pushers is always a gamble, but one with a high potential to pay off. Examples: American Beach, Sycamore, Pawpaw, Persimmon, Chestnut

Where to Plant:

In private yards and adventurous community gardens. Plant in protected locations where trees can get established.

Large American Beach Tree, Zone Pusher, Superpower of trees

10 – The Assisted Migrant

Climate Refugees are plants struggling to survive in their native ranges due to climate change, pests, or diseases. These plants often find sanctuary and thrive by moving them further North or beyond the reach of their host pests and diseases. Establishing refugia for these plants creates a genetic bank from which seeds can be gathered and repopulate their native ranges. Examples: White Walnut, Bristlecone Pine, American Chestnut

Where to Plant:

Schools, community leagues, parks, public gardens and arboretums.

11 – The Beautifier

Sometimes, you want to feel pretty! Beautifiers are trees and shrubs species and varieties selected for their colour, flowers, or pleasing growth habit. Often flowering, these plants have been shown to affect mental well-being positively. These plants often provide forage for pollinators. Examples: Flowering Quince, Catalpa, Locust

Where to Plant:

Use boulevard trees and plant them in parks or green belts to add horticultural wonder.

To support woody superpowers across Edmonton, visit Shrubscriber.com.

Shrubscriber is a community project and distributed urban tree nursery that grows trees for schools and community groups. To support 3, 6, or 12 tree donations per year while connecting with likeminded folks and learning how to grow tress, consider becoming a member. Together we can use the woody superpowers of trees to grow a better city.