How LA is replenishing Elysian Park's tree canopy

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More than 200 volunteers turned out Saturday to help plant trees in Elysian Park, where Los Angeles city leaders say years of drought and die-off have withered the foliage.

The volunteers joined members of the LA Conservation Corps and city staff as part of a project to replenish the shade-giving tree canopy and test a new technique that could be applied to other greening projects in Los Angeles.

“We want L.A. to be as green and sustainable as we possibly can, because we need Angelenos to enjoy the health benefits of a healthy tree canopy and all the oxygen-giving amenities that we benefit from,” said Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who hosted the event along with the Arbor Day Foundation, Boise Paper and City Plants, a nonprofit that helps organize partnerships to plant trees. Other partners included Office Depot and the L.A. Department of Water and Power.

Nestled between the neighborhood of Echo Park and Dodger Stadium, Elysian Park is the city’s oldest park, and at 618 acres, it’s also the third largest. But the park has faced canopy decline because of tree die-off and a variety of climate issues, according to O’Farrell’s office.

One of the most immediate benefits of a replenished tree canopy for park visitors is shade — that, and better scenery. But as O’Farrell pointed out, the park is also home to nesting owls, gray foxes, coyotes, squirrels and other animals, all of which need a tree canopy as part of a healthy habitat.

There are health benefits for humans, too, since trees scrub pollutants like carbon dioxide from the air and can even reduce the heat island effect in dense urban environments.  

“The easiest, cheapest way to keep the air cleaner is to have healthy vegetation that is as native as we possibly can get so that the vegetation we plant has a better chance of surviving and thriving,” O’Farrell told KPCC.

Ranger Leon Boroditsky watches as volunteers help plant new trees at Elysian Park on Saturday.
Ranger Leon Boroditsky watches as volunteers help plant new trees at Elysian Park on Saturday. City Plants

Saturday was the first of three planned events to help replenish Elysian Park’s trees. In all, 100 new saplings went into the ground, and the aim of the largely grant-funded project is to plant 300 in all, O’Farrell said. 

Another goal of the project is to test a tree-planting technology known as a cocoon, a biodegradable structure that O’Farrell said slowly waters the root, helping to anchor the tree and giving it a stronger chance at survival than other methods.

The German company that makes the cocoon, Land Life, describes the technology as a low-maintenance way to boost trees’ survival rate to as much as 95 percent.

Normally, you would stick a root ball in the soil to get a tree started, and you might place a PVC pipe next to it to help deliver water directly to the roots, O’Farrell said.

With the cocoon, you fill the container with several gallons of water, secure the lid and cover it in mulch. A series of strings planted with the root ball conduct moisture to the roots, seeping out slowly over time and coaxing the roots downward into the earth. Meanwhile, the paper and grass container will slowly degrade and become part of the substrate.

Councilman Mitch O'Farrell (R) helps plant a tree in Elysian Park using a Land Life Company "cocoon," a new technology the city is testing to see if it can improve the survival rate of new trees.
Councilman Mitch O'Farrell (R) helps plant a tree in Elysian Park using a Land Life Company "cocoon," a new technology the city is testing to see if it can improve the survival rate of new trees. Courtesy of Councilman Mitch O'Farrell's office

“These Life Land Cocoons will be an experiment, and we’ll monitor, and within about a year we’ll know how successful this is,” O’Farrell said. “If the trees start to take off, then we can take a look at using the same technology across the city.”

The city must get creative in planning for continued drought and the impacts of climate change, O’Farrell said. Testing the cocoons is one way to do that.

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