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Willis Street heritage tree tour highlights history and value of trees [Eagle Archives]

Several days before the Fourth of July, a group of about 25 citizens gathered behind the City of Westminster's historic City Hall, gazed upward then excitedly began pointing at the tops of trees and shrubs while speaking strange phrases.

Was it a bird? Was it a plane?

Nope. "It's a Koelreuteria paniculata," observed Steve Allgeier, the University of Maryland Carroll County extension agent for home horticulture. "Commonly known as a 'varnish tree', 'goldenrain tree' or the 'pride of India,' this tree is one of the largest specimens in the county."

Many are familiar with Allgeier as the master gardener coordinator for Carroll County or as a member of the Westminster Tree Commission. Others simply overlook his bureaucratic titles and know the quiet and unassuming plant and garden brainiac as the "bug guy" at the Cooperative Extension Service.

Allgeier conducts the Heritage Tree Walk and Talk programs throughout the county, one of many "Celebrate America" programs that are, in part, promoted by Carroll's Board of County Commissioners.

The heritage tree tour earlier this month was sponsored by the Westminster Tree Commission, the Carroll County Public Library and the University of Maryland Extension Service.

During the tour, Allgeier emphasized the City of Westminster's Legacy Tree Program, which started in 2011. The tree recognition initiative seeks to identify specimen trees in the Westminster urban forest that are especially large, old, and unique; of special horticultural value or are associated with an historic person, building or event.

The tour meandered up Willis Street and identified dogwoods, oaks, a hickory, yellow wood, magnolia and weeping copper beech. Also attracting some attention and admiration was Westminster Councilman Tony Chiavacci's huge holly tree among the numerous specimens throughout the historic street's neighborhood.

Allgeier described the tour as a "traveling discussion on interesting trees found throughout the Willis Street area and various attributes, including potential liabilities, concerns and general care, of the trees found on the walk."

Many of the trees pre-date the Willis Street neighborhood, which was once part of Col. John K. Longwell's historic farm, "Longwell Place." Willis Street was built in 1907 and was originally known as "Longwell's Addition to Westminster." It is full of historic and unique trees.

For information about trees and shrubs in the urban landscape, or bugs, too, call Allgeier at the extension offices, 410-386-2760. For information on the Westminster Tree Commission Legacy Tree Program, call Allgeier or the City of Westminster at 410-848-9000.

When not lurking in Chiavacci's backyard gazing at treetops, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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