Willow oak (Quercus phellos) is my second favorite oak, live oak (Q. virginiana) being my first. I like the tree for several reasons, primarily because they do so very well here, thriving in our heat, humidity and too-much-too-little rainfall, plus they are salt tolerant. Willow oaks grow faster than other oaks and are often listed as reaching 60-80' tall by half that in width, with a trunk that can get 3-6' wide. However, I have seen more than a few that are every bit of 100' or taller, and that would take several long-limbed men to encircle. When young they have the kind of uniform upright pyramidal shape that landscape architects dream of. Around here they are widely planted, often in rows and are a popular street tree, which given their ultimate size may not be a wise choice (more on that later).
One of the best places to see willow oaks locally is on the campus of Old Dominion University, which is a frequent biking destination for my son and I.
There is one specific tree on the edge of campus that prompted me to write this post. For all the years I have lived here, I
have just noticed this tree recently, because all the buildings (but one) around it have been razed. Looking at its fat round crown, you can tell it grew up without any competition. Once the hodgepodge of strip clubs, storefront churches, bungalows, and workshops that made up this neighborhood were gone, this magnificent tree could be seen.
The reason all the surrounding buildings were razed, was to make room for the expansion of Old Dominion through public/private partnerships. Many of the former property owners were simply bought out, while others had to have theirs taken through eminent domain. While I am all for a greater university community, surrounded by attractive public spaces, I am sure I would sing a different tune if it was my property being taken, whether the compensation offered was fair or not. The tree I have become so smitten with abuts one of the few remaining hold-outs, solidly opposed to having their property taken.
Just behind the Central Radio Co., on land already bought, a new apartment community has been built specifically to house students of the university. It stands in marked contrast to the older homes and businesses that are just across the street and outside of the university's plans. Now here comes the bad landscaping part from the title (I'll bet you thought I would never get there). The landscaping was installed by one of the area's largest, oldest and most well-known firms. You would think that someone at a company of that stature would know how big Quercus phellos can get. If not, they could have easily seen the one growing next to Central Radio. And don't you think the landscape architect would have bothered look up before he chose to plant a dozen willow oaks underneath substantial power lines?
Maybe the landscaping company holds the pruning contract also. Either way, it will be guaranteed work for someone.