VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) —
It’s not easy being a tree on Virginia Beach’s signature strip.
Trees planted along Atlantic Avenue are assaulted every year by strong winds carrying salt-laden seawater droplets that coat leaves and burn them away. There aren’t many species of trees that can survive in such an environment.
But that hasn’t stopped city beautifiers from trying to provide a leafy canopy. They have searched for the perfect Oceanfront tree for 30 years. Some trees that were planted thrived, while others withered.
A 1999 study conducted by city tree specialists and Virginia Tech tested the effects of salt spray on eight species. After one year of exposure to moderate or high wind, all the trees became thin, dry and misshapen.
“It’s been a long, treacherous road to find the perfect tree down there,” Billy Almond, vice chairman of the Resort Advisory Commission and a landscaper, told The Virginian-Pilot (http://bit.ly/10GjhaX). “I think we’re still searching.... The jury’s out on all of it.”
Today, London planetrees, topiary-like ligustrums and Chinese elms are planted in sidewalk wells along Atlantic Avenue.
The city has had mixed results with the London planetrees. Trees sheltered behind hotels fared well but storms burned those that weren’t sheltered. But the ligustrum and the Chinese elm have done well.
“I’m very hopeful we’ll be able to get more canopy on Atlantic Avenue,” said Frank Fentress, landscape management administrator for Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation.
Despite some setbacks, there has been progress in the effort to beautify the area.
Fentress said the city spends about $1,000 to $1,500 a year to replace fewer than 10 trees because of salt damage.
In the past, the city was spending about 10 times this amount to replace about 150 trees a year.
“If you look down Atlantic Avenue, you don’t see a regular, tree-lined street in a neighborhood,” Fentress said. “You see a different type of urban streetscape with a mixture of trees and taller buildings and lights. We would like to have as much vegetation down there as we can, realizing we may never have tree-lined streets.”
Trees provide a number of benefits, including absorbing storm water and anchoring soil that otherwise could erode into the ocean, city arborist Susan French said.
“And communities that have more landscaping and trees create more of a friendly environment for people to meet and circulate in,” French said. “They create stronger communities.”