A jonah crab claw sits on top of a pile of seaweed that will be used as compost at a tree nursery planned for Frenchman Bay Conservancy's Jordan Homestead in Ellsworth, Maine. The conservancy and partner groups are planning to plant 80 trees at the site this month that will be replanted later to increase the city's tree cover. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

With more than 90 square miles of area, Ellsworth already has more trees than anyone could count within its borders, but a local land trust is hosting a nursery program that will help make the city even greener.

Frenchman Bay Conservancy, in partnership with other local organizations, will plant 80 young trees this month in a field at its Jordan Homestead preserve on Bayside Road. The trees, and others planted at the same site in coming years,will later be re-planted at various locations in Ellsworth’s urban center to help reintroduce trees along the city’s developed corridors.

The idea is one that’s taken hold in other, larger cities around the country including Asheville, North Carolina; Des Moines, Iowa; Eugene, Oregon; and Holyoke, Massachusetts, where public planting projects are aiming to return tree cover to the streets in coming years.

The conservancy has been working with Ellsworth Garden Club and citizen environmental group Green Ellsworth to develop the nascent program. Tabatha White, an Ellsworth resident and professional arborist, has overseen the technical aspects of selecting what kind of trees, where to plant them, and how to care for them.

“The point of this nursery is to make sure we keep sufficient canopy cover in Ellsworth,” said White, who grew up in the city and is a member of Green Ellsworth.

White said the program is specifically geared toward the city’s urban center, where decades ago elm trees once lined Main Street before they were felled by Dutch elm disease. Recent tree planting efforts in the areas have failed but organizers are hopeful this slower approach will pan out.

The goal is to grow trees that eventually will be relocated to provide shade along Main, High, State and other streets that over time have lost their tree cover, White said.

“Ellsworth used to be a beautiful treed city,” White said. “We want to reduce our heat island effect.”

A ‘heat island’ refers to a developed area where over time trees have been removed and then replaced with buildings, pavement and other hard human-made structures that absorb the sun’s heat and actually make the surrounding cityscape hotter. Planting trees in urban areas creates shade and helps keep them relatively cooler, and also helps absorb carbon that is produced by human activity and which contributes to global warming.

“Once transplanted, urban trees will benefit all city residents and visitors by significantly boosting Ellsworth’s natural environment by providing shade, habitat, and beauty, while also absorbing carbon dioxide and improving water quality,” said Ellerie Ezekiel, communications director for Frenchman Bay Conservancy. “The nursery will enable us to buy trees [in bulk] more cheaply and simultaneously ensure a higher survival rate by growing them under the climate conditions they will eventually live in and limiting transportation stress on their sensitive root systems.”

White said that among the types of trees that will be planted this month at a fenced-in area at Jordan Homestead are varieties of maple, crabapple, chokecherry, silk linden, elm and oak, White said. The variety is intentional so that, if a disease emerges that attacks a particular type of tree — as Dutch elm disease did in the mid-20th century — other types will be spared, she said.

Private landowners on the city’s major thoroughfares also might be eligible to use trees from the nursery for landscaping projects, White said, to help with the city’s urban greening efforts.

The trees will be planted this month on different days, including on Friday, April 29, which is Arbor Day. More trees are expected to be planted at the site in coming years, with eventually a few hundred trees growing in the nursery all at the same time, project officials said.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....