An arboreal affair: Melbourne’s love letters to trees

A City of Melbourne initiative to assign email addresses to trees has unintentionally resulted in a flood of love letters from around the world.

Over 3,000 emails to trees have been received, most from tree-loving locals but some have come from all corners of the globe including Brazil, Russia, Denmark, Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK, the USA, and even Moldova.

The most-emailed tree: A Golden Wych Elm on Punt Road.

The most-emailed tree: A Golden Wych Elm on Punt Road.

Image: National Trust

Melbourne’s most-loved tree is a Golden Wych Elm on Punt Road. “I used to think you were the Magic Faraway tree when I was a child,” one admirer wrote. “Such beauty on such an ugly road. Keep up the good work,” wrote another.

“People literally are talking to these trees as if they are people, telling them how much they love them, thanking them for protecting them against the sun, apologising when their dog pees on them in the morning,” councillor Arron Wood, chair of City of Melbourne’s environment portfolio, told the BBC.

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One writer asked an English Elm if it was enjoying the Ashes series and if it was “giving the native Aussie trees some stick over their team’s performance.”

Some letter writers have received replies from the trees. A Melbourne cyclist wrote to a Lemon Scented Gum, “I admire your spectacular trunk every time I ride past. I wish there were more of you along Flemington Road.” The tree responded, ” I would also love [it] if there were more of my cousins in my hood!” Another writer asked a Western Red Cedar what it thought about the Greek debt crisis, to which the tree replied, “Greece is not out of the woods yet.”

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The emails are monitored by the City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest team, who occasionally respond to writers impersonating the trees. Councillor Wood said, “We try to respond to emails that ask tree-related questions.”

“Coincidentally, the Urban Forest team happens to be multilingual,” Wood continued. “So the trees have replied in several languages including German, Hungarian and Spanish. The trees can also speak Mandarin and Gaelic, although we are yet to receive any emails from China or Ireland.”

Native Sheoaks in Docklands

Native Sheoaks in Docklands

Image: Shannon Reddaway

The initiative is part of the city’s Urban Forest Strategy. The project mapped more than 77,000 trees in the city, which was made publicly available following a series of community engagement workshops. The Urban Forest Visual, created by architect and data visualization specialist Greg More, provides information on each tree’s botanical identity, location, health and life expectancy. Each tree is assigned an identification number and an email address, to allow citizens to report potential problems such as tree decline, vandalism and dropping branches.

The Urban Forest Strategy, implemented in 2012, was an attempt by the city to repair and reverse the damage caused by 13 years of drought that had affected 40 percent of the city’s significant trees. Over the past four years, the city has planted 12,000 new trees and plans to double the canopy cover over the city from 20 percent to 40 percent by 2040. “We believe that we can cool our city’s summertime temperatures by four degrees Celsius if we double the canopy cover,” Wood said.

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The City of Melbourne has won a swag of awards for the strategy including the Victorian Medal for Landscape Architecture in 2014 from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects. It has also received an International Climate Adaptation and Resilience Award from the C40 Cities Program; Best Environmental Initiative Award from the United Nations Association of Australia; and the Australasia Environment Award from the International Association of Public Participation.

With the success of the Urban Forest Strategy, the City of Melbourne is now leading the way for other local government areas to implement ideas for greening their own urban areas. A step-by-step guide was released in May 2015. The city has had enquiries from over 100 cities around the world.

News of Melbourne’s love letters to trees has also spread. It was reported by the likes of the New Zealand Herald, The Atlantic and the BBC. The Huffington Post said, “This may be the greatest display of arboreal affection since The Giving Tree.”

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