Norwegian maple trees get the axe in Oak Bay after roots cause problems

Freshly cut stumps on Oak Bay Avenue are those of Norway maples that were planted in the 1990s and which outgrew their room on the sidewalk. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)Freshly cut stumps on Oak Bay Avenue are those of Norway maples that were planted in the 1990s and which outgrew their room on the sidewalk. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
A bear from the ArtsAlive sculpture Freshly cut stumps on Oak Bay Avenue are those of Norway maples that were planted in the 1990s. They outgrew their welcome by breaking up the sidewalks and damaging sub-ground services. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)A bear from the ArtsAlive sculpture Freshly cut stumps on Oak Bay Avenue are those of Norway maples that were planted in the 1990s. They outgrew their welcome by breaking up the sidewalks and damaging sub-ground services. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Freshly cut stumps on Oak Bay Avenue are those of Norway maples that were planted in the 1990s and which outgrew their room on the sidewalk. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)Freshly cut stumps on Oak Bay Avenue are those of Norway maples that were planted in the 1990s and which outgrew their room on the sidewalk. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Some Oak Bay residents took to social media last week to share their surprise over the removal of four mature maple trees from Oak Bay Village.

It turns out the maple trees, while mature and healthy, were mislabeled when they were in the nursery in the 1990s.

Oak Bay public works cut out the Norwegian maple trees from the sidewalk on Oak Bay Avenue in front of Side Street Studio, Ivy’s Bookstore, the exit door of the Pharmasave and in front of the Re/Max office.

Two more were already removed back in June from Hampshire Road at Oak Bay Avenue.

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The problem with the trees goes back years, said Chris Hyde-Lay, manager of parks services.

“They were planted in the 1990s and the variety of maple was mislabeled from the nursery,” Hyde-Lay said. “They turned out to be an aggressive maple regarding its rooting structure. The roots outgrew the [four-by-four-foot] planting pit and began to establish themselves below the sidewalk.”

The roots caused considerable sidewalk “lifts” and damage to the below-ground infrastructure and services.

Residents reported several cases of tripping where the roots had raised the sidewalk concrete, Hyde-Lay said.

Crews tried to mitigate the damage, fixing exposed rebar and other patchwork solutions but the problems persisted and were only becoming more serious, he said.

“Sometimes ice formed in areas and water was flowing back into buildings in a couple of incidents,” Hyde-Lay said. “On top of that we have hydro, storm sewer, fibre optic, and other services below ground getting crushed.”

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A decision was made that the most cost-effective option was to remove and replace the trees.

At the time of planting, Oak Bay had meant to use Bowhall maples which mature without rooting so aggressively and are chosen for their colourful fall leaves, Hyde-Lay noted. There are Bowhall maples farther up Oak Bay Avenue near Elgin Road.

“In their dormancy, the trees look identical to a Bowhall, but once they are established they were doing different things,” Hyde-Lay said.

Oak Bay is now considering what they will replace the maples with, such as Ginko, Venus dogwood or magnolia. Whatever it is, it will be planted with root barriers, Hyde-Lay said.

reporter@oakbaynews.com