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TREES, PLEASE: Does Money Really Grow on Trees?

This black acacia (seen at left) was recently removed from a local private property. Photo courtesy of the author.

By Robin Rivet.

t was there, and then it was gone—my favorite tree in all of San Diego. I went into shock. Then anger. Although most trees have more value than generally assumed, and some trees have minimal worth, a rare few are priceless. This behemoth was beyond typical estimates, but now I’ll never know if it might have become an authenticated champion.

I do not exaggerate. It may have been worthy of inclusion in Cal Poly's Big Tree Registry. Confirming evidence needs significant documentation: an ascent to calculate height; trunk and canopy diameter measurements; and a composite comparison vetting similar species at other locations would have been essential. Although I tried to make this happen, I fell short. However, its image did once deservingly grace the cover of my educational urban forestry brochure.

This wonder of nature grew on private property. Inspired by its majestic proportions and my devotion to cherish and preserve landmark trees, I searched for a door bell. But the owners' sign was clear: NO SOLICITORS. Nobody answered my humble knock, and my respect for their privacy eventually outweighed my benign intentions. I didn’t return. However, I continued to visit this street regularly, and told countless residents, landscape architects, designers, and fellow tree huggers, to go see this magnificent tree specimen, which was easily viewed from the curb. It was that good.

Now it’s too late. Was there unseen decay, an unscrupulous profit motive, or just ignorance that triggered its demise? I may never find out. Surely, they could not have imagined the pain to an arborist, who just happened to live nearby? Depression is a tunnel, and I’m far from the “fifth stage of grief,” as I have no “acceptance” yet, and even though I realize it wasn’t personal.

So what is the takeaway? What about you? Do you know what a large tree might be worth at your home, to your neighborhood, or maybe to someone you don’t even know? Too few homeowners comprehend that the cost to maintain a big tree is minuscule compared to what it might bring to property value. Repairing a driveway crack or irrigation line once every decade may spare a magnificent tree and easily justifies the cost of a few contracted repairs. Consider it tree maintenance.

This exceptionally large and unusual specimen with good health, in an otherwise plain front yard, could spark an increase of up to 25% to overall property value. Consider an asset of as much as $85K added to Zillow’s current off-market appraisal of $427K for this modest home. Do the math. And 10-15% is quite common for lesser specimens. I’ll bet the homeowners had no idea what they sacrificed. Try to imagine being so uninformed to presume that an old tree is worthless.

In my mind, this venerable black acacia (Acacia melanoxylon) will always be a champion tree. But the rest of the world will never know.

Member Robin Rivet is an ISA Certified Arborist, UCCE Master Gardener and City of La Mesa Environmental/Sustainability Commissioner. She can be contacted at

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