Will the spring season be greeted by cherry blossoms around the historic court square?

Maybe. Maybe not as many.


Since last month the Historic Zoning Commission has discussed whether the city is permitted to cut down the ornamental cherry trees – and the other trees – around the square.

There are several layers of problems, the city argues.

First, there are the birds that nest in the trees. Thousands of them, in fact, and that means a huge mess on the sidewalks that public works employees have been maintaining.

“The city is getting complaints every day about the birds,” public works director David Gray said during the body’s regular meeting on Oct. 5. “The mess on the sidewalks is getting completely out of hand to keep going over there and cleaning it up. You’ve got all of these pavers over there with the sand and when you wash it down it removes the sand and the pavers are gonna be loose.”

There’s also the issue of potential diseases from the mess, the mess around the trees from dogs relieving themselves in the islands, and the stressed-out trees themselves.

An employee with the Memphis Botanic Gardens recently visited the square and said many of the trees, which include elms and maples, are too big for their spaces.

“They’re too big for the area they’re planted in, they’re distressed, that’s why you have branches dying,” said Lessie Fisher during a meeting Tuesday.

Most of the trees were planted 15 years ago when the square was renovated, which was grant funded. The trees, if removed, will have to be replaced and the merchants will have to take over maintenance.

The area surrounding the courthouse is owned by the county, not the city, and is not part of the current discussion. Most of the cherry trees are planted on the courthouse lawn.

Gray said the city has put up fake owls and tried other methods to scare the birds off but it hasn’t worked.

Kathy Kinney, a citizen who has worked with the economic development organization, suggested other means of removing the birds, such as hosting a contest where young people design shiny materials to deter them.

Commission member Margaret Fleming said she was a tree person who wanted to explore the other options.

“I’d like to try something with the other trees before we just whack them off,” she said last month. “I’m for trying and I’m for saving as many as we can because I like the trees and I like the cherry blossoms in the spring.”

Replacement options

Last month Gray suggested Japanese Maple trees as a replacement, however their temperamental nature means they will a lot of maintenance. Gray and Fisher have been talking with the University of Tennessee Extension office, master gardener Sherl Rose, and the city’s engineers to determine the best options.

They’re expected to return at the Dec. 7 meeting with a proposal.

“There won’t be any action on the trees until after the holiday season because we traditionally put lights on them,” Fisher said. “That gives us time to decide what the proposal is gonna be.”

The city cannot remove and replace the trees without the permission of the Historic Zoning Commission.

What the merchants say

A survey conducted with the merchants on the square revealed most would either like the trees in front of their businesses removed or are indifferent.

Nancy Peeler, owner of Old Town Hall, would like her trees to remain as they are.

For some businesses, in addition to the problem created by thousands of birds, the trees are hitting their buildings and obscuring street and business signage.

Echo Day
Author: Echo Day

Echo Day is an award-winning journalist, photographer and designer. She is currently The Leader's managing editor.