P80404This exquisite yet elegantly simple persimmon orange cravat is to die for! See how distinguishing it is for the Umbellularia californica sporting it! The brilliant color is so appropriate for a tree that needs to stand out in a crowd! How else would the arborists coming to cut it down find it? Yes, it is to die for!

This sort of high fashion is not normally so high. Trees that are tagged by surveyors are typically more discretely tagged with spray paint down near the ground. We just used this orange tape because we were only hastily marking a few or our own trees for removal, and nothing else.

The problem with tape in other situations is that it can be removed and applied to another tree. One of my colleagues sent his crew to cut down a street tree downtown that had been marked with orange tape, only to find later that the wrong tree had been cut down. The client had procured a permit for the tree that the arborist had tied the tape onto, but not another tree next to it that he wanted removed also. After the arborist marked the tree to be removed with tape and left, the client removed the tape, and tied it onto the tree that was to be preserved. Of course, the crew cut down the tree with the orange tape. The sleazy client did not want to pay for the removal because the wrong tree had been cut down, and then hired another tree service to legally remove the tree for which the removal permit had been issued, while leaving the first arborist liable for cutting down a protected tree without a permit. Fortunately, a neighboring merchant knew what the client was up to, saw him move the tape, and reported the incident to the responding code enforcement agents. The arborist got paid. The client got two huge fines; one for removing the tree without a permit, and one for the value of the rather valuable tree.

Tape works fine in the nursery because there is no one there to do anything sleazy. Besides, paint would be messy. Many years ago, we used red tape for stock that needed to be disposed of, orange tape for stock that needed to be shifted into the next larger size, and blue tape for stock that was sold and needed to be moved to a holding corral or loaded onto a delivery truck. Of course, different nurseries might use different colors and a different code.

For the sort of tree work that I was involved with, orange or red paint was used only on trees that were to be removed. It would not have been appropriate to tag good trees with paint! We usually marked trees for removal with a circled ‘X’ or just an ‘X’, in a very visible manner.

Surveyors use paint in a more discrete fashion, with single dots or other small markings of paint down near the ground. They use a variety of colors and a standardized code system. The paint is not permanent, and weathers away after a year or so. Some trees get tagged for pruning for clearance from utility cables. Some get tagged for clearance above roadways and sidewalks. A few that are hazardous or in need of such severe pruning that they will be ruined in the process get tagged for removal. Each color of paint means something different. Each specific tag is a message to whomever is responsible for the prescribed procedure. Some who are responsive to the coded messages work for the respective municipality. Others work for a utility company of some sort. They may not know what all the tagging means, but they recognize the meaning of the tags that are addressed to them.

That is why, when a client asks me what a particular tag on a tree means, I can only say that I do not know. I know what tags my associates use, and I can guess what a prominent circled ‘X’ or an ‘X’ means because I know of so many arborists who use that tag. I do happen to know what the bright orange tape around the bay tree above means because my associate put it there. However, I do not know what a blue dot, green dot, yellow dot, orange vertical line or red horizontal line mean.


18 thoughts on “High Fashion

  1. Such a clever and well-written post. I still remember the first time I came upon multiple painted “codes” on trees. It was in a forest in Arkansas, and such purple and orange circles and lines I’d never seen. The forest service could interpret them, of course. Your explanation of how things work in more civilized settings is interesting, and enlightening.

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  2. I once came home to find some mysterious painted markings in my lawn, and the lawns of other neighbors. Several calls to the City, electric company, water department, etc. were to no avail. The color used wasn’t recognized by any of them!! Eventually we found out it was to mark the location of the water line and was done by a private contractor that had been hired to install new lines and meters. It was just a little weird to know that some random person had been spray painting my yard!!

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    1. That is why there is so many colors. Each utility gets marked with a color that is not used for other utilities, and some contractors use their own colors to avoid confusion with utility companies, even in regard to the same infrastructure.


    1. Many of us are. We have tree preservation ordinances for a reason. It is so infuriating that the tree is now gone. The merchant makes so much money from a downtown business that the fines are not much bother. The replacement tree mysteriously dies within weeks, just like they all do. Another store front has had several crape myrtles planted out front within only a few years, and they all die.

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      1. That’s particularly important in your area with so many trees. In parts of SoCal, the tree ordinances are to ensure that there are any trees at all — and they often make no sense at all — too many trees in a parking lot, etc. Your little Scofield tree reminded me of the type of thing they’d require!

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      2. The funny thing about the Scofield Tree is that it was the only vacancy left in the Park! In that area, as well as where I work, we are more concerned with cutting trees down than adding new ones. We will be adding two flowering cherries to replace two old flowering cherries that are dying, but we must make room for them first, by pruning oaks and redwoods away! Los Angeles has rather good tree preservation ordinances, but does not enforce them! It is so frustrating after planting so many trees in Mid City! People cut them down and get away with it regularly!

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  3. In Santa Barbara, they require so many trees (usually palms) that they leave insufficient parking — perhaps by design, as they believe if you don’t have parking spaces people will take alternative transportation!

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    1. So many of the ordinances do not make sense. In Los Gatos, and many other municipalities, trees are protected when they grow to a specific size. Consequently, many trees get cut down before they get that big!


      1. When I lived in town, I actually had to ask my next door neighbor about one of my coast live oak trees that hung mostly into their front yard. I would have cut it down if they had asked me to. Fortunately, they did not. It is very protected now.

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      2. We lived in the Live Oak Manor neighborhood. My home was the last in a row that lacked the big old trees. (It was built at a time when such trees were just cut down.) My next door neighbor (who wanted to keep the small oak) was in the first home with massive very old oaks. His valley oak was purported to be the largest on the floor of the Santa Clara Valley. It was too big to appreciate from their home, but it was exquisite from my home!


  4. I’m so glad he didn’t want to cut down such a tree! Although I’m not a “tree-hugger, it’s sad to see beautiful old trees cut down to make way for urbanization.

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