Atkinson Common Tree Walk

Atkinson Common was given to the city in 1873 by Eunice Atkinson Currier, and was transformed into the park it is today by the Belleville Improvement Society. This park is home to a wide variety of tree species. It is used by walkers and bikers, and provides courts for tennis players.

Allies and Partners

The Atkinson Common Tree Walk provides several tree identification signs and accompanying web pages that allow park visitors to learn new information about Atkinson’s diverse trees. Visitors will hopefully feel inspired to get involved with our community and respect the environment around them.

Atkinson Common was given to the city in 1873 by Eunice Atkinson Currier, and was transformed into the park it is today by the Belleville Improvement Society. This park is home to a wide variety of tree species. It is used by walkers and bikers, and provides courts for tennis players.

Due to its abundance and variety of trees, Atkinson Common is the most arboretum-like of all Newburyport’s parks. The many trees found here do not just provide a pleasant place to visit. They are also working for us! They create the oxygen we breathe, clean the air of pollutants and greenhouse gasses, provide cool shade and act as natural air conditioners, filter and clean water, capture and store rainwater after storms to reduce flooding, stabilize soil to prevent erosion, and provide vital food and habitat for animals.

Tree Species

American Sycamore

Platanus occidentalis

The New York Stock Exchange was founded on the “Buttonwood Agreement” because it was signed under a sycamore tree located on Wall Street.

The American sycamore typically grows 75 to 100 feet tall, with some as tall as 140 feet, making it the largest deciduous tree in North America. The trees are easily identified by their mottled, scaly bark, which is brown on the outside and peels away to show a lighter inner bark color. They are often found with other deciduous trees and are native to Eastern North America. 

Sycamore trunks grow larger than any other native hardwood trees, reaching diameters of 11 to 15 feet. As the sycamore becomes older, its cavities are used as nesting habitats for birds. Smaller cavities are also used as dens by tree squirrels, bats, and other mammals and if the holes become large enough, they can house a black bear.

The American sycamore’s size and ability to withstand city environments has led it to be used primarily as a shade tree. Sycamore wood is used commonly for industrial purposes but not as much for furniture because the wood is very coarse and tough to work.

If climate change causes there to be more intense wet seasons, sycamore trees may suffer. Sycamore trees are prone to an infection called anthracnose and the fungus that causes this disease in the trees thrives in wet weather.


Prunus serrulata

Looking at this cherry tree and the others across from it, you may notice some are slightly different in shape. Atkinson’s landscapers mistakenly mixed upright cherry trees with lateral cherry trees, and the close proximity of the two highlights this error.

Most Kwanzan cherry trees are grafted. This means that the branches of the naturally occurring cherry tree have been attached to the trunk of another cherry tree species, most often a 4-foot-tall bird cherry rootstock tree. They are grafted for multiple reasons; some are grafted to provide a healthier trunk, while others are grafted for a more aesthetic appearance.

Kwanzan cherry trees grow throughout most of the United States, excluding the northernmost parts. They grow at a rate of roughly one to two feet per year, and they can reach a height of 30 to 40 feet at maturity, with spreads of, also, 30 to 40 feet. The tree is fairly drought-tolerant, but it has a preference of moister soils with full sun exposure.

It is most recognizable by its flowers, blooming a deep pink color from April through to early May. The beauty of the trees often makes them the focal point of landscaping, and they last for 15 to 25 years. However, the tree produces limited to no fruit, decreasing its benefit within ecosystems.

Though cherry trees are sensitive to pollution, it is believed that a single 25-year-old tree has the capability to absorb 20 pounds of carbon emissions. The cherry trees in South Korea have the ability to absorb 2.4 tons of carbon, which is equivalent to the emissions of six thousand cars every year.

Eastern Hemlock

Tsuga canadensis

This tree is commonly confused with the hemlock flowering plant that killed Socrates, a famous Greek philosopher from Athens. However, this tree is not poisonous, and its needles have been used to make a tea which has a high level of vitamin C. Also, the hemlock’s seeds are commonly eaten by various birds.

The hemlock grows across the entire United States and can reach a height of 40 to 70 feet, with a spread of up to 35 feet. To attain this size, the tree grows at roughly one to two feet per year. It grows well in moist soils, with lots of water. Additionally, it does not do well in drought conditions.

The tree plays an important role in the water cycle of the ecosystems it is a part of. Hemlocks clean water by inhibiting nutrient runoff. Because the trees live alng lakes and streams, they regulate the amount of water going into these bodies. They shade the area below their canopy, cooling the temperature for animals and fish.

Currently, the trees in the eastern regions of the United States are being “eaten” by an invasive insect originating in Japan called woolly adelgids. The bugs suck the sap out of the hemlocks, diminishing the levels of energy, nutrients, and minerals fed to the tree. There are only female woolly adelgids in North America, but, because they reproduce asexually, the inscets don’t need a mate to reproduce.

Due to changes in climate, there have been less “freezes” to kill off the bugs in harsh temperatures. This increases the amount of woolly adelgids in existing ecosystems, and expands the insect’s population into the north, thus causing more harm to the hemlocks.

Eastern White Pine

Pinus strobus

Take a look up in the canopy of this tree and you’ll see a hawk’s nest. A redtail hawk has nested in this pine tree for several years and, as a predator, it is likely the reason why you don’t see many squirrels in Atkinson Common.

This type of pine is known as a white pine because of the white color of its sap when it dries. You can also identify a white pine by its long, green needles, which come in clusters of five, corresponding to the five letters of its name, W-H-I-T-E.

Eastern white pines, also known as northern white pines, range from southern Canada through the northeast United States, and down the Appalachian Mountain range to the north of Georgia.

Old growth white pines were the tallest trees east of the Rockies. 400-year-old trees stood 200 feet tall. One tree in New Hampshire, located where Dartmouth University is now, grew as tall as 240 feet. Maine’s dense stands of old growth eastern white pine made it the “lumber capital of the world” in the 19th century. Today, Maine is still known as “The Pine Tree State.”

These tall, straight trees were a perfect source of timber for European colonists. England declared that the largest trees be marked as the property of the King, to be used as masts for the Royal Navy. By the end of the 1800s, nearly every stand of old growth white pine in America had been logged.

Mammals like bears, deer, porcupines, and squirrels, as well as several species of birds and insects, use the eastern white pine as a home. The trees provide shelter as well as nourishing seeds, bark, and needles.

Eastern White Pines thrive in cool and humid climates. As the climate warms and ecosystems change, the range of the Eastern White Pine is expected to expand north and westward.

European Beech

Fagus sylvatica

On this European beech, someone has carved the name “Fred” into the trunk. These messages are commonly found on beech trees since they have such thin, smooth bark . However, carvings can cause damage to the tree bark and therefore disrupt its ability to transport nutrients. Bark plays a vital part in protecting the tree against the heat and the cold as well as a barrier from insects. 

European beeches grow outwards and develop a wider trunk more quickly, therefore appearing older than their actual age. Since these trees have such wide branches, some have been supported by cables across the canopy to help keep the branches upright and prevent them from falling. 

The European Beech tree can grow to be around 50 or 60 feet tall. They are mainly found across Central to Western Europe, and have been found across America as a result of planting in parks and public spaces like Atkinson Common. The differences between a European beech and an American beech include that the European beech’s leaves are shorter and more of a purple or bronze color. 

These trees produce sweet beechnuts that are enjoyed by chipmunks, squirrels, blue jays, and deer. Beeches can be used to make tonics that can help soothe poison ivy and relieve pain. Also, beechnuts can be ground into powder to help with headaches.

Climate change, particularly droughts, have impacted the European beech’s growth rate and lifespan, as well as causing leaf loss and dried leaves. This disrupts its habitat and negatively affects the surrounding animal and plant species. 

Green Ash

Fraxinus pennsylvanica

Starting in 2018, Newburyport began spending thousands of dollars on inoculating the city’s ash trees against the Emerald Ash Borer. Ashes are threatened by this invasive beetle from Asia. The larvae of the beetles feed under the bark of the trees. This disrupts the tree’s ability to transport certain nutrients necessary to its survival.

The bark of the green ash is smooth and gray when the tree is young. As the tree grows, its bark becomes cracked. The leaves of the tree grow in leaflets, typically ranging in number from seven to nine. The tree can grow to roughly 60 feet in height, with a canopy spanning 25 feet.

Green ashes are largely used as ornamental trees throughout Northern America. Their common use as decorative trees originated in the 1950s following the loss of American elms, which decreased dramatically in number due to Dutch elm disease.

According to climate change models, it is believed that the green ash will not be impacted by increasing temperatures in the foreseeable future. In a study done by researchers at Penn State University, it was found that the green ash can survive an increase in temperature of seven degrees fahrenheit.

Norway Maple

Acer platanoides

Norway maples are some of the only trees in Atkinson Common that are being actively removed by the Parks Department due to their invasive nature. Over thirty trees have been removed from the park this year alone.

The species was introduced to North America around 1756 and by the 1800s, it was a popular ornamental tree in North America. Due to the it’s tolerance of pollution, the Norway maple has become the most frequently planted tree in towns and cities. 

Unfortunately, Norway maples cast dense shade and outcompete other species for light, reducing biodiversity in the forests and woodlands that it invades. Native insects, birds and mammals do not thrive in Norway maple forests.  Stands of Norway maples are known as “green deserts.” They are illegal in New Hampshire and may become illegal in Maine in five years or less, and are banned from being sold for decoration in stores and plant nurseries.

The Norway maple is a large shade tree usually growing 40 to 60 feet tall but can grow up to 90 feet or more. In order to identify the norway maple from a sugar maple, you can take a leaf off of the tree and if the stem bleeds a milky white sap, it is a Norway maple.

Norway maples are found on both the western and eastern sides of the United States. It ranges from Canada in the north and down south to the Carolinas, but it is a native plant in continental Europe and the Caucasus region.

Many local maples are likely to suffer from climate change. As native species decline, the opportunistic Norway maple is likely to expand its range, take over more forest, and increase its invasiveness. 

Norway Spruce

Picea abies

Norway spruces can be found in clusters throughout Atkinson, as well as commonly appearing throughout the city of Newburyport as a whole. The Norway spruce is thought of as the “Christmas Tree” and has been displayed in Rockefeller Center during Christmas time.

The wood from this tree is a popular choice to use when creating soundboards for instruments. It has low density and a high modulus of elasticity that gives it good acoustic qualities needed for instruments like guitars and violins.

Norway spruces grow to be 40 to 60 feet tall and 25 feet wide, and can live to 300 years. They grow at a fast rate, at about 1-2 feet per year, making it the fastest growing of all spruces. The needles can grow up to an inch long and fall off after two or three years. Norway spruces can live under the shade from taller trees until they grow older and surpass the height of the surrounding trees.

These trees originated from Europe, but as people emigrated they brought trees with them to plant in their new home. So, these trees now cover areas across the Northeast United States and in East Canada.

Climate change can affect the Norway spruce by making it more vulnerable to drought and strong winds from storms. Also, increasing temperatures puts pressure on these trees. This can impact the lifespan and the population of these trees.  

Red Oak

Quercus rubra

Red oak wood is durable and often used in timber industries. The wood is commonly used for kitchen cabinets and hardwoods because it is porous, allowing the stain or paint applied to it to soak in and hold the color.

Red oak trees can tolerate some air pollution and strong winds. They are also able to resist rock salt which can make them a popular tree to be planted along a street. They are one of the harder trees that can withstand different conditions.

A red oak tree can reach heights of 60 to 80 feet, growing at a fast rate of almost 2 feet per year when they are young, and can live to around 200 or 300 years. They grow best in full sun but can tolerate shade as well. These trees produce acorns that are enjoyed by squirrels, blue jays, turkeys, and many other animals.

During the Civil War, when there was a lack of conventional medicines, red oak trees were used in different ways to treat illnesses. The bark was used to help reduce fever and relieve pain. Also, the acorns could be boiled before eating.  

Red oaks are declining in parts of the United States due to droughts as a result of climate change. Although, they have also adapted and thrived with changing factors such as increased rainfall and longer growing seasons. This could result in them becoming a dominant tree species and pushing other trees out of their habitat.

Red Pine

Pinus resinosa

These straight rows of red pine trees were likely planted by Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers that worked in Atkinson Common during the 1930s. Both the WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps were known for planting millions of red pines during that era.

The red pine is a relatively large and long-lived tree, reaching up to 130 feet and living as long as 500 years old. The needles of this tree grow in bundles of two and extend four to six inches from the branch. Its long straight trunk and scaly red bark make it a handsome tree, but it is prone to disease and insect infestations, such as from the Saratoga spittlebug, which make them difficult to maintain.

The red pine is native to the greater New England region as well as the areas surrounding the Great Lakes. Because of its relatively low genetic variation, dendrologists believe that this species has been through a near-extinction in its recent evolutionary history.

Due the long and straight nature of their trunks, red pines were often used for utility poles, cabin logs, and posts. They are also a common source of timber for railroad ties, construction lumber, and pulpwood for paper. Just as eastern white pines were a valuable source of lumber for Maine, red pines were a primary source of lumber for Great Lakes states like Wisconsin and Michigan.

Seven-Son Flower

Heptacodium miconioides

This shrub-like tree is native to China but has quickly gained fame amongst Western horticulturalists thanks to its decorative potential. Today, only nine populations of this rare tree remain in the wild where it is threatened by habitat loss.

The seven-son flower first drew the attention of the west when it was discovered in China by British explorer and plant collector Ernest Henry Wilson in 1907. It wasn’t until 1980’s Sino-American Botanical Expedition that western botanists were allowed to explore China’s forests alongside their Chinese colleagues, where they rediscovered the tree.

During the three-month expedition, American scientists catalogued hundreds of species, including the Zen magnolia, Hubei viburnum, and seven-son flower. They brought it back to America where it became beloved for its beautiful and fragrant flowers.

The seven-son flower is characterized by its notable bloomings which, despite what the name might imply, only contain six flowers in each grouping, The seventh “flower” is actually a continuation of the branch that holds the six flowers around it. Also notable is the tree’s exfoliating bark, which appears to fall away from the trunk in ragged strips.


Oxydendrum arboreum

The Sourwood tree is one of the last trees to bloom, as its flowers appear in late summer. These sweet-smelling white flowers droop down and resemble lilies of the valley.

The honey produced from a Sourwood tree is very popular and regarded as one of the best honeys. Although, this is only true for Sourwoods at a certain elevation. The process for making this honey includes transporting and releasing bees in the area of Sourwood trees so they can pollinate the flowers and then create honeycombs to be harvested.

Sourwood trees are native to North America and appear mostly in the southern and eastern parts of the United States. They are most abundant in the central Appalachian Mountains with elevations of around 5,000 feet, and have been found to reach its largest size in the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. It can grow to be 40 to 60 feet tall, and can live up to 100 to 200 years if planted in ideal conditions.

The sap of the Sourwood has been used to treat fevers, while the bark has been used to treat mouth pains. The leaves have been used to make tea as a thirst quencher for mountain climbers.

Sourwood trees can be impacted by climate change because they are vulnerable to air pollution. They could be unable to adapt to this and be damaged and harmed as a result.

Sugar Maple

Acer saccharum

This allée of sugar maples was planted in the 1930s as a pathway to the new stone tower that was built by Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers in 1936. The Belleville Improvement Society is currently planning a project to restore the tower to its original glory. 

The sugar maple tree grows to a height of 60 to 75 feet and a spread of 40 to 50 feet at maturity. Their leaves have 5 lobes, with three large, main lobes and one smaller lobe on either side. Sugar maples are deciduous, which means that the trees lose their leaves each fall as it gets colder.

These trees can be found throughout New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and the middle Atlantic States, through the western edge of North Carolina to the southern border of Tennessee. 

The sugar maple provides food and shelter to a large number of organisms, and mammals such as moose, porcupine and snowshoe hare commonly eat its bark, twigs, and fruit. Sugar maples also have important interactions with fungi, which aids in water and nutrient absorption for the trees.

The maple tree is the best tree for maple syrup production and trees are tapped in early spring. The sap is boiled into a thick syrup or undergoes further processing to produce maple sugar. Sugar maple was also a main source of sweetener for Native Americans and early European settlers.

Climate change is affecting the health of maple trees, impacting their growth and decreasing the amount of sap they produce as well as its quality. Maple syrup producers are already reporting earlier and less predictable tapping seasons caused by changes in weather conditions.

Tulip Tree


In 1863, at Old Ordinary Tavern in Hingham, Massachusetts, a tulip tree was planted by Henry Augustus Wilder, son of tavern-keeper Abiel Wilder. The tree grew on the property for 157 years, but, sadly, the tree was scheduled for removal in 2020 due to the risks it showed to the Tavern and nearby homes. According to an article in The Anchor written by Deirdre Anderson, the tree “has provided wonderful shade, colorful fall foliage, and botanical interest with its uniquely shaped leaves and tulip-shaped flowers…”

The tulip tree grows throughout the entire United States, and it can tolerate drought well. The flowers of the tree bloom in May and June, with colors of green, yellow, and orange. It reaches roughly 70 to 90 feet at maturity, growing more than two feet every year. Tulip trees thrive with full sun exposure, and it matures into the shape of an oval.

The wood of the tree is used to make furniture, instruments, and cabinetry. It is among the tallest of the North American hardwoods, making it a valuable and ideal for structural components of woodwork, as long as the wood does not split.

If climate change were to increase the severity and frequency of drought conditions, the trees would respond poorly, damaging the population.

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about the co-authors
Ted Boretti

An English teacher in Newburyport's public schools, Ted relishes any opportunity to work with passionate and creative Youth Corps members as an ACES mentor.  As Chair of Newburyport's Parks Commission, he is dedicated to preserving, protecting, and beautifying Newburyport's parks and the many trees they harbor.

Claudia Cummings

Claudia is a senior at Newburyport High School who is working on the Atkinson Tree Walk project. She has engaged in community activities through the Interact club and the National Honors Society. In her free time, Claudia enjoys doing theater and playing the violin.

Audrey Langley

Audrey, a senior at Newburyport High School, enjoys spending time outside. She hopes to make a difference in the community through volunteering her time to the Tree Walk project. Audrey is passionate about the importance of science and is looking forward to a career in STEM.

Emma Low

Emma was in the Newburyport High School class of 2022 who moved to Newburyport in 2017 from New Jersey. She likes to go hiking with her dog and playing volleyball. She also has interests in science, which she is currently pursuing in college.