Another reason to dislike Norway maples


Not that I needed one, but in today’s NYTimes, Thomas Leo
Ogren discusses street trees and allergies
. He notes that Norway maples (there is at least one in the mix above) are one
of the most common trees on the sidewalks of New York—as they are in Buffalo and
I imagine many other Northeastern and Midwestern cities. As a monoecious
species, the NM always produces allergenic pollen, as do male dioecious
species, and these types of trees are more commonly found on city
streets—mainly because pollen creation is not a trait planners tend to
consider.  Ogren also says:

Street trees weren’t always as allergenic as they are today.
Back in the 1950s, the most popular species planted in the United States was
the native American elm, which sheds little pollen.

I have many, many friends who suffer from allergies in the
spring; I am sure many of you do as well. It may seem onerous to add yet
another criteria to the many qualities we look for in a street tree, but it was
interesting that many of the trees Ogren recommends are trees that we have been
trying to use more of for other good reasons: his list includes mountain ash (Sorbus
), serviceberry (Amelanchier), female red maple (Acer rubrum), and tulip
poplar (Liriodendron
). They are native, attractive, and at least the first
three are of manageable size. 

A thoughtful and—most important—diverse selection of street trees is what’s needed
in all American cities. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen in most of them. All too often block after block features a double row of the same, often problematic, species. And
replacing mature trees that, whatever else their qualities, provide beauty and
shade, is a tough call to make. 

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Strangely enough the street tree pollen thing is a HUGE problem in Las Vegas. The allergy issue is so bad we have public health pollen warnings just about daily this time of year. The health department actually has to track it as a pollutant!

  2. We have Sweetgums in Georgia, with two large ones in my front yard. I hate these trees. Pollen bunches that look like mini yellow grape bunches come every spring, and the winter “shedding” creates a solid layer of spiky seedballs all over my yard. I want to cut them all down!!

  3. I have Tulip Poplar and Amelanchier in my yard and like them but would not recommend planting them in the curb strip. Tulip Poplars can get 200′ tall. And they drop lots of limbs.

    Amelanichier has purple berries very much like blueberries is size, shape and juiciness. They are a big mess and even more of a mess when the birds eat the berries and then poop purple. Your sidewalks and parked cars will be a mess. You have to make sure you get the single trunk variety. They tend to sucker.

    Mountain ash has messy berries and is short lived. They have yet to find a cure for the Dutch Elm disease that wiped out the American Elm

    I have been a long time member of my town’s Shade Tree Commission and there is no perfect street tree. The Flowereing Pears have just burst into bloom and I know we will be getting calls from people that want “that tree witih the pretty flowers planted in their curb strip”. And they want to know if it blooms all year. And doesn’t shed leaves. Or get roots in their sewer, or heave up the sidewalk.

  4. Tibs – Those flowering pears are a curse on unsuspecting homeowners. The flowers stink. During wind storms they drop leaf clusters, not individual leaves. There’s no large fruit, sure, but they still have fruit – tiny little “pears” that are hard as marbles ’til they rot & squish underfoot. Then the seeds sprout everywhere. And they sucker. Don’t even get me started on the narrow branch angles. And they seem prone to some disease that causes them to die slowly over the course of a few years ( or maybe they just don’t like any of the soil in this region).

    I had two in the front yard at our first home. One died slowly. The other the new owners couldn’t take anymore & cut down. He’s still fighting suckers from the roots. In our new home we both said “no !” when the city offered them to us as free landscaping. Unfortunately, the folks behind us planted them all along the back fence line for privacy … and the prevailing wind blows the debris into our yard !

    Maybe no tree is perfect (but I have few complaints about my native oak & my fruit trees), but the flowering pear isn’t even in the running !

  5. Have to agree that 1) there are no perfect street trees 2) Norway Maples are not a favorite.

    However there are things that ppl like about the Norways: they are substantial shade trees with strong structure, they have gorgeous golden yellow fall color, they are fairly healthy. I dont’ like them because their greedy surface roots allow for little to grow underneath and for urban area they would heave sidewalks in time (like sycamores).

    Southerners complain about pine pollen, and allergic reaction to the cottonwoods get many people upset.

    Amelanchiers are a personal favorite, but they aren’t shade trees, and aren’t really ideal in a hellstrip. Tulip trees are weak and can split and lose limbs, like the once popular Bradford pears. A suburb here cut all their pears down. Red maples don’t hold a candle to Norways in size and health, but I like them for autumn color.

    I very much still like the Honey Locust for streets. I think that there are good choices, but many have some drawback or another. Still, what would our streets be like without trees? The sad answer is in many urban areas. Allergies, which are due to a wide number of plants are something that needs to be dealt with by an individual, rather than a ban. JMO

  6. I like London Plane Trees. The camouflage-like bark and large leaves are beautiful, and they thrive (which is to say, survive) in urban spaces that thwart many other trees.

  7. In my area, there are now a lot of zelkovas planted as street trees and so far, they seem to not have too many problems (although I know that having said that, at least six people will chime in to tell me how awful they are and that they should never be planted anywhere closer to us than the Amur River basin). They have a lovely vase shape, colour beautifully in fall, and don’t drop branches (that I know of).

  8. At my fathers house where I used to garden we had two Norway maples planted on the median. I hated them because they shaded my garden and their roots and seedlings were everywhere. They were also badly deformed from years of trimming to keep them out of the power lines. Then one day my garden prayers were answered and the city came and cut them down without a word to us.

    Now here in SoCal I am in love with the Jacaranda trees that are all over west L.A. I was surprised to hear that a lot of people hate them because they are messy when they drop their flowers.

  9. My personal irritation is Live oak they are beautiful trees when they get to be around a 100 years old or so and are dripping with Spanish moss but they are a mess both of my neighbors on both sides of me have large old trees that have been hacked because of power lines the trees just sprout back ever stronger.

    From fall till spring the trees shed leaves continuously and not nice crumbly leaves that deteriorate but hard ones that can lay there for years and build up layers if you don’t rake. Also you have to watch out for falling branches which can cause injury to you or damage your property. They were in bloom the past couple of weeks so when we went to relax in the back yard we got a yellow rain of tiny flowers in our drinks and everywhere else not wanted which I believe led to me and my daughter’s allergy attack.

  10. You know what I hate about trees -the mess! Every year, like clockwork they just drop all their leaves! Can you believe the city would plant such trees? Someone should be fired.

  11. Oddly enough, everyone in my office has a “cold” right now. They get a cold this time every year. I am done trying to explain to them that they are allergic to trees. Most people really don’t understand that trees give off pollen. My eyes are all weepy but I’m not too bad yet. I like Ginkos for a street tree. In my neighbourhood there are a lot of walnut trees, talk about a mess, and damage to your vehicle from the nuts. And all the leaves came down in one morning from my front one, it was the funniest thing, you couldn’t even see my van. I do love all my trees, even the walnuts and the chestnuts. Well, not so much the two norway maples in the front lawn, too dense for anything to grow under ugh.

  12. I’m allergic to oaks, which also happen to blanket all the hills surrounding the SF Bay Area. But I still love them. I wouldn’t recommend them as street trees though and was rather appalled to see them recently planted 18″ from a 4′ high retaining wall which was only 4′ from a 3 story building at a certain City Hall. EEEK! Landscape trees have their place, some make better street trees than others. We never specify Norway Maples here (not a popular tree around here) and we never plant the same tree throughout a development. Thanks for pointing all of this out. I hope more planners/landscape architects read this blog.

  13. Didn’t all the people suffering with allergies hear the report on RadioLab about the latest treatment? A fascinating report about how intestinal parasites co-evolved with us and can affect our health in a positive way. Dirt poor barefoot people in the tropics don’t suffer from a long list of health issues that us shoe-wearing, well off city dwellers deal with. Allergies and Asthma were at the top of the list. The researchers found that hook worms solved the problem, they even referred to them as a “cure”.

  14. If I see another ornamental pear tree I’ll scream–my city is blanketed with them and I’m unfortunate enough to have one in my backyard. I hope it dies soon. I agree with the person who mentioned ginkos, although they should be male. I know work is being done on a disease-resistant American elm; perhaps we’ll see these trees grace our streets again before long.

  15. A quick comment about Ginkgo trees. Almost 100% of them now planted as city trees are males. Everyone knows that female ginkgo makes messy, smelly fruit. BUT, all these male trees shed pollen…and ginkgo pollen is motile – yes, it moves on its own. It will literally swim right up your nose.
    Now, I’d like to ask, what would have happened if they’d planted all female ginkgo trees, and no males? The answer: we’d have the trees, no fruit, and no pollen.
    And, by the way, ginkgo pollen doesn’t travel very far…in order for a female to get pollinated, there needs to be a male nearby.

  16. A quick comment about Ginkgo trees. Almost 100% of them now planted as city trees are males. Everyone knows that female ginkgo makes messy, smelly fruit. BUT, all these male trees shed pollen…and ginkgo pollen is motile – yes, it moves on its own. It will literally swim right up your nose.
    Now, I’d like to ask, what would have happened if they’d planted all female ginkgo trees, and no males? The answer: we’d have the trees, no fruit, and no pollen.
    And, by the way, ginkgo pollen doesn’t travel very far…in order for a female to get pollinated, there needs to be a male nearby.

  17. We’ve got a mix of sycamore and maple on our street. I’m not sure what type of maples they are, but our house has a sycamore — cool bark to look at! Doesn’t seem to spread as nicely as those maples, though. 🙂

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