Who Would Pay $35,000 For A Single Tree?

Paul Schell. That’s who.

The $35,000 Japanese Maple
Render by GGN, Landscape Architecture for the Seattle Civic Center Campus

In 1999 David Ohashi, the noted landscape architect, heard of a heritage Japanese Maple in perfect condition that was about to be destroyed. The 80-year old Acer palmatum was on property under contract for development. Ohashi rescued the tree in Portland and brought it to Seattle. The next year he included it in his exhibit at the Seattle Flower and Garden Show.

Mayor Paul Schell saw the tree and bought it on the spot, He decided to wrangle the financing later.

“Why not get a sapling and let it grow,” said one disgruntled councilman at the time.

Councilwoman Jan Drago, chairwoman of the council’s Finance Committee, said she wasn’t bothered by the tree’s price tag. She compared it with a work of art or a fountain that could easily cost as much. “It’s not the way we would typically make a purchase,” she said. The tree was installed at the new city hall in 2003.

We are facing a similar problem here in our small city, where the “why not buy a sapling?” policy prevails. Many of our legacy trees are being removed, for any number of reasons. Most of these are replaced with saplings of two inch (or less) caliper. Worse yet, the new trees are of small species that will never provide shade, even when they do mature.

In special circumstances, where a speciman tree is desired, there are alternatives to buying an 80-year old, $35,000 tree.

One such tree is the Acer griseum (Paperbark maple). These trees can sometimes be found as street trees, but are exceptional when used as specimen trees in lawns or parks. This oriental maple is typically a single trunked tree featured in gardens for its unusual bark. The two images below are multi-stemmed specimens demonstrating the cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark further enhanced by its dramatic shape.

Acer griseum
Acer griseum (with signs of excessive pruning)

Tree People recently visited a nearby nursery which has a limited supply of multi-trunked Paperbark maples. These trees are well established, in 45 gallon wooden planters, and may be ten or more years old.

Any of the half-dozen Paperbark maples in the nursery may be had for 1 or 2% of what Paul Schell paid. Like Paul Schell’s Japanese maple, these Paperbark Maples are nature’s works of art.

Would someone just buy these astounding specimen trees, and put them in the ground before they outgrow their planters!

November 15, 2021; Photo by Sandra Wray of Garden Gate Nursery


The Seattle Times, May 1, 2001; “Mayor’s Impulse Buy: $35,000 Maple Tree” by Jim Brunner

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