Portland’s official Heritage Trees connect past to present

More than 300 trees across the city are protected by law and serve as living landmarks.

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Portland’s Heritage Tree program, which includes approx. 130 species of trees like these oaks, started in 1993.

Photo via Portland Parks and Recreation

In Portland’s infancy, trees were cut down in such great numbers that the city was dubbed “Stumptown.” But early Portlanders’ zeal for clear-cutting to make way for roads has dramatically shifted. Today, the City of Roses is home to over 4 million trees — some of which have the city’s official protection.

And there’s a good chance one is growing near your home.

More than 300 trees across Portland are registered Heritage Trees. City Council recognizes these neighborhood sentinels for their unique size, age, type, and historical significance.

The designation comes with special treatment. Heritage Trees are protected under Portland law and can’t be removed without first being officially decommissioned by City Council and the Urban Forestry Commission — and only if one is dead, dying, or poses a risk. Permits must be obtained before any work can be carried out on them, including pruning. Unlike similar programs in other cities, the Heritage Tree designation is attached to a Portland property title for the tree’s lifetime, even if the property is sold.

Why all the fuss? In the words of the city’s Heritage Tree field guide, these living landmarks “embody our ideals, actions, and environments at a given time in the past.” Some are older than Portland and share roots with the Indigenous peoples who cared for the land; others are young and represent species native to faraway countries. But all are tangible monuments connecting us with other cultures and bygone eras. They are silent teachers.

New trees are added to the Heritage Tree database yearly and nominations can be submitted through Monday, May 1. You can find a Heritage Tree in your neighborhood or take a self-guided walking tour using Portland Parks and Recreation’s online map.

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