(SFVS, Staff) Scott Harmon (left) and Jan Willem de Groot show of the new page for the large cedar tree in Granada Hills.

In Los Angeles, the word “tagging” can have negative connotations. But when it comes to trees, Valley resident and consulting arborist Scott Harmon — along with Jan Willem de Groot and his daughter, Elise — have “tagged” the very first tree not with graffiti or carved initials encircled by a heart etched into the trunk, but with tree factoids.  

In Granada Hills, on White Oak Avenue, a grand  90-year-old Deodar Cedar tree was the very first in the United States to receive a tag that proudly displays its “vitals,” letting all those passing by know that this 79-foot mature tree is a life force that helps us to breathe.  

Those who stop to read its tag will learn that its leaf area stretches 23,413 feet providing a canopy of shade. Each year this one tree produces enough oxygen for one person to sustain themselves for 313 days. Each year this one tree stores 60.8 gallons of water and annually reduces air pollution by 87.5 ounces.

Every year this one cedar tree reduces air pollution by 5.5 pounds, 223 pounds of CO2, and has stored 5,150 pounds of carbon equivalent to 24,231 car miles and produces 594 pounds of oxygen for us. 

“This particular tree is already listed as historical monument #41 so it already has some protection, but on private property everyone has a right to cut down their own trees,”  Harmon said.

He hopes by building awareness people can think of trees on their private property as more than mere cosmetics but can learn about the environmental impact of discarding trees. 

Harmon and de Groot, who first met at an arborist convention,  hope that with this first tag, more trees throughout the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles and across the globe will also display their information around their trunk.  

de Groot, who developed the tree tag as small signage, traveled with his daughter from The Netherlands to support this first effort “in the states.” He believes the information hanging from the tree will give people a greater appreciation for the service that trees provide to us.

A group of students from Granada Hills Charter High School enrolled in the school’s environmental program attended the event.

Near the newly tagged tree, the mural from the film ET reminds people that the move filmed on this valley street–White Oak.

Harmon wondered if the high school students were aware of another interesting factoid or were too young to care, but this location also holds a bit of Hollywood history. The film “ET” was shot on this same street, and what was left behind is a mural of the famous scene of the film’s characters riding on a bicycle across the night sky.  

de Groot is the co-author of the book “Trees: A Lifespan Approach which he gives away for free instructs people how to care for new growth from the nursery to becoming an ancient tree. 

Described as “passionate,” he has has been involved in the effort to tag hundreds of trees in The Netherlands — his home country and in Belgium,and other countries.   An organizer of  Dutch Tree Care Conferences de Groot in a more recent project has  provided the economic valuation of the ecosystem services produced by 30,000 trees in the city of Veenendaal, The Netherlands. 

While trees beautify a community, many don’t realize the loss that occurs when a tree is cut down.

“We need large trees in our cities because they deliver ecosystem services much more than small trees — they reduce water runoff, stores carbon and reduces air pollution,” de Groot said. When one large tree is cut down de Groot points out, “It takes 275 small trees to replace it. “ 

The Balance of Conservation vs. Maintenance

“We have to really protect and preserve these large trees,” said Harmon. “Ten to fifteen years ago, the Department of Water and Power (DWP) said, ‘stop watering,’ and ‘it’s so hot in the Northeast San Fernando Valley,’ and we saw massive amounts of trees starting to decline. A large canopy of trees greatly reduces the heat island affect.” 

In the Northeast San Fernando Valley, where air quality can be especially poor during  hot summer  months,  trees can help remove pollutants from the air, and an urban forest can reduce air temperature which in turn can reduce energy consumption. In economically disadvantaged areas, not everyone has working air conditioning and the extreme heat can be a health hazard.

At the event, a local resident passing by noted that the newly tagged tree — located on public property — is the city of L.A.’s  responsibility for maintaining its health.

“I’ve seen them come by here with a water truck and barely water each tree along this street with five gallons of water,” the resident said. He questioned whether they are properly caring for the trees.  

“We’re  trying to get local neighborhood councils, city councils to nominate their trees to participate in being tagged to try to prevent developers from cutting down trees once they see the eco benefits, Harmon said.

“We are now quantifying the benefits of trees,” he said. “It can take as much as 50 years to replace a canopy tree.” 

The newly tagged tree is located at 10802 White Oak Ave. (Historical Monument #41 ET Tree) in Granada Hills