Since Monday, crews have been removing several of the oldest and largest trees on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn as part of the building’s ongoing renovation.
The 110-year-old Norway maples are both too old and undesirable.
“They’ve reached the end of their useful lifespan,” City Forester Chris Boza said. “And it’s now time to create an urban forest around the courthouse for future generations.”
Though much of the University neighborhood and downtown is shaded by Norway maples that were planted in the early 1900s, the invasive species won’t be replanted, instead replaced by two dozen sugar maples, according to A&E Architects.
At one point Norway maples made up 39 percent of the city’s street trees, Boza said. The ones on the courthouse lawn were planted just after it was built in 1908.
City founder Frank Worden, so goes historical tradition, missed the maple trees from his native Vermont and had the Norways shipped out to line the boulevards on Pine Street.
“There was less awareness of potential negative impacts,” Ryan Smith, landscape architect with Pharis Design said.
Norway maples dry up the ground they’re planted in and their thick shade discourages undergrowth. They also spread rapidly, dropping hundreds of seeds every spring.
Sugar maples drop far fewer seeds and also allow more plants to grow nearby.
While neither species is native to Montana, the sugar maples are at least native to the Americas, originating in Canada.
“(They were) selected because they have similar form and stature,” Smith said. “We wanted to stick with the original design and intention.”
Sugar maples also are notably different in their fall coloring: a deep red compared to the Norway’s yellow.
The city’s driven out the Norway maples before: starting in 1998, they passed a resolution ordering the variety to be pulled from Greenough Park, an ongoing project.
The invasive trees took over swaths of the park, according to a 2011 Missoulian article and have been cleared to allow black cottonwood and ponderosa pines to grow.
Norway maples stopped being used as boulevard tree replacements in 1991, according to the article.
Replacing the trees is part of the $790,778 final stage of the courthouse renovation, according to Missoula County Communications Coordinator Katie Klietz.
The renovations, which include installing new fencing, benches and historically-accurate light fixtures, as well as the original copper doors, are scheduled to be finished in October.