PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For the first time in its 30-year history, the Portland Heritage Trees program is set to see a decline in its stock of municipally protected and celebrated trees.

Implemented by the Portland City Council in 1993, the City of Portland has spent the last three decades registering, cataloging and protecting a growing number of significantly old, large, rare, unique or historic trees found on public and private property around the city.

Currently, there are 328 “heritage” trees representing 134 different tree species listed on the city’s heritage trees map. However, a presentation given to the city council on March 15 by City of Portland botanic specialist Nik Desai revealed that a number of the city’s heritage trees were destroyed by the extreme weather events of 2022.

“Losing more trees in a year speaks to the importance of finding and preserving these quiet sentinels of time and space within our city,” Desai said.

A Turkish hazelnut tree located in Knott Park is proposed to make the heritage tree list in 2023. (City of Portland)

While Portland’s Heritage Tree Committee seeks out new trees each year for the Portland Urban Forestry Commission to add to the list, it is also responsible for managing the removal of the list’s dying, damaged or destroyed trees.

“Once designated, heritage trees receive the greatest protection conferred upon any tree in the city and they are required to be preserved unless dead, dying or dangerous,” Desai said.

Desai presented city commissioners with six new trees worthy of heritage tree designations at Wednesday’s meeting, which he described with poetic reverence. He also provided details for seven dead or dying heritage trees that require removal from the list. He referred to this portion of the presentation as a “mini eulogy.”

Trees to be removed from Portland’s list of heritage trees:

A northern red oak and an American chestnut, both located in Southeast Portland, failed due to 2022’s extreme weather.

Empress tree: 2033 NW Glisan St. 

One of the older trees in the program, the empress tree’s health is declining. A permit was approved for its removal in March of 2022. The species of tree is also considered a “nuisance tree” by the City of Portland and will be the last of its kind in the program.

The white oak in Portland Heights Park didn’t survive 2022’s heavy spring rains. (City of Portland)

Oregon White Oak: Portland Heights Park

The white oak in Portland Heights Park failed due to a severe storm in April of 2022.

American chestnut: 1108 SE Lexington St.

The American chestnut required emergency removal after it fell onto power lines during a period of heavy rain in early November of 2022.

Royal Ann cherry tree: 3415 SE Kelly St.

One of two cherry trees set to be removed from the list, its removal from the list was approved in August of 2022 due to declining health caused by old age. The property told city officials that they have hired an arborist to care for the tree as it reaches its dying days.

The sweet cherry tree located on Powell Boulevard in Southeast Portland. (City of Portland)

Sweet cherry tree: 15512 SE Powell Blvd.

Also experiencing a rapid decline in recent years, Urban Forestry approved the tree’s removal from the list in November of 2022.

Hardy Dove Tree: 4014 NE Laurelhurst Pl.

The hardy dove tree was approved for removal due to declining health in August of 2022. 

Northern red oak: 6824 SE 34th Ave.

Standing nearly 100 feet tall, the tree suffered a major tear-out during a heat wave in August of 2022. An inspection by the Urban Forestry Commission determined that the lost limb jeopardized the tree’s stability, and it was approved for emergency removal.

Newly proposed heritage trees:

The copper beech on Southeast Hemlock.
The copper beech on Southeast Hemlock. (All photos provided by the City of Portland)

Copper beech tree: 1943 SE Hemlock Ave.

“With a height of 71 feet, its capacious canopy rises above the trees and houses,” Desai said. “It’s pretty impressive to see a beech of this size.”

The London planetree on Northeast Simpson Street.
The London planetree on Northeast Simpson Street. (City of Portland)

London planetree: 5014 NE Simpson St.

“With a diameter of nearly 6 feet, this tree is incredibly awe-inspiring,” Desai said. “The owner of this tree calls it the ‘goddess tree’ and it is thought to be the historic tree painted in a mural at the Kennedy School.”

Turkish hazelnut: Knott Park

“Its size and form are uncommon for Portland and it would be the first hazelnut to receive designation,” Desai said. “It has wonderful branching and the nuts are edible, though we do suspect that the squirrels get the lion’s share of them.”

A sprawling atlas cedar located on the grounds of Multnomah Arts Center.
A sprawling atlas cedar located on the grounds of Multnomah Arts Center. (Photo: City of Portland)

Atlas cedar: 7688 SW Capitol Highway

“The story is that it was planted with the adjacent World War II memorial dated May 19, 1946,” Desai said. “Underneath the memorial is a time capsule with the names of local soldiers that served in the war.”

The proposed Port Orford cedar located in Northeast Portland.
The proposed Port Orford cedar located in Northeast Portland. (Credit: City of Portland)

Port Orford Cedar: 5210 NE Thompson St.

“Standing beside this tree, one notices the deeply furrowed bark, the deep green foliage and the sounds of birds in the branches: A reminder of the important role of urban trees in providing habitat for wildlife,” he said.

A picturesque Japanese pagoda tree in Argay Park in among the trees nominated to make the heritage list in 2023.
A picturesque Japanese pagoda tree in Argay Park in among the trees nominated to make the heritage list in 2023. (Credit: City of Portland)

Japanese pagoda tree: Argay Park

“Honoring trees like this in new neighborhoods brings awareness to large and unique urban trees and their importance in our novel urban ecosystem,” Desai said.

Per city policy, the Portland City Council will make its official ruling on the list’s additions and removals at a later date. More than 40 trees located around the city remain on a nomination list for future heritage consideration.

“None of these photos quite capture the wonder that these trees have,” Desai said. “I encourage you to seek out for yourself these trees.”