Monday, September 21, 2009

A Weed Grows in Brooklyn

At a backyard barbeque in Gowanus this summer, I complimented my host on his spectacular tree (pictured below), to which he responded, "It's a weed." I didn't understand at first, thinking of dandelions and stammering, "But it's so pretty!" Then I realized he meant the tree was an invasive species, one that (often non-native) is able to outgrow and edge out others by monopolizing resources. While I know that I shouldn't like invasives because they detrimentally impact native ecosystems, I can't help but admire their pluck.

It occurred to me that this tree might, in fact, be the fabled tree from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) by Betty Smith. Used by Smith as a metaphor in the
book for the protagonist's perseverance despite every disadvantage, this tree "grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement." This tree knew how to overcome obstacles and would be a sure thing in the Nature vs. Pavement arena. Further Internet research revealed that many people believe Smith's tree is an Ailanthus altissima, which looks a little different, but I have been unable to definitively identify my host's tree. Whatever it is, those pink pom-pom flowers are fabulous!


  1. As a side note, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is likely my favorite book ever. When I finished it, I was despondent for a week, feeling like no other book would ever match it. (I’m still looking for its equal, but have gotten over my general ennui.)

  2. I can't believe it, but my mom just IDed the tree: Albizia julibrissin. Champion googler! Even more amazing, the common name for this tree is "Mimosa." How festive!