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The Parking Lot Trees of Phoenix, Arizona

It's the first week of April, and here in the Phoenix area the weather is just glorious. I just got home from walking to the corner and it's 82 degrees right now. And it's just perfect with a bit of shade, and it's just awful in the glaring sun.

As someone who has walked a lot (not wilderness hiking, just urban hiking) I seek shade. I know where to find it because I pay attention to the time of day, the season, and I look for trees. If you haven't done much urban hiking, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about, if you have, you do. The difference between an area with a bit of shade from trees, and the glaring sun of the desert, reflected on concrete and asphalt, is appreciable. Even areas of grass with no trees offer little relief from the heat of the sun. I'm no expert on math, but out in the sun 82 degrees is uncomfortable, and walking in a bit of dappled shade is heavenly. And that leads me to Parking Lot Trees.

I first heard the term "Parking Lot Trees" by someone many years ago who was talking about the sickly-looking trees struggling for life out in the parking lots in Phoenix. Most of them had been planted a long time ago when the parking lot was laid out, and had been neglected, struggling to get enough water to live, and sometimes just toppling over from neglect. But things are changing.

The Parking Lot Trees that I'm seeing nowadays are looking a whole lot better. They're the same trees that have been planted in parking lots in Phoenix for years, such as acacia, or other desert-adapted trees like palo verde or palo brea (that's a palo brea in bloom at the top of this post).

I collect old photos of Phoenix, and it was transformed from raw desert into an oasis. Trees were planted as early as the 1860s, and Phoenix was a forest of trees, and shade, up until the 1970s. And the pioneers experimented with a lot of different trees, some of which turned out to be not such a good idea. The trees that I'm seeing now are desert-adapted trees, watered with drip irrigation, and cared for.

There are so many reasons not to plant trees in Phoenix - they drop their leaves, their blooms block the signs of businesses, they take up space that could be dedicated to one more parking spot, or another lane of traffic, they require water, they require maintenance, the list goes on and on. If you feel that way, I won't argue with you. I will just hope that there will be some shade that I can walk under.

I like trees, even Parking Lot Trees.

My favorite Parking Lot Trees:

• Mesquite - grows naturally in the desert in riparian areas, needs precious little water, makes a nice canopy of dappled shade.
• Acacia - Google "Serengeti in Africa" and you'll see LOTS of them, creates an amazing umbrella of shade.
• Palo Brea - that's the one in the picture up there
• Texas Mountain Laurel - the blooms smell like grape jelly!

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