We love a lively green roof, but we've never seen one quite like this. In Indiana, a tree growing on top of the courthouse in downtown Greensburg has become the stuff of legends. Michelle Hess, a bartender at the Beach Tiki Bar and Grill across the street from the courthouse and a Greensburg local, told me that various myths have been propagated since 1870, when the tree was first spotted, about how it came to grow 115 feet up in the air. She was told a bird pooped on the semi-pitched rooftop, but Scott Anderson, a waiter at the same bar, says he was told the wind brought the seed to its perch. Even more curious than its genesis, however, is the tree's continued existence. How does it survive on the roof without soil and water? And has the same tree lived on top of the tower all this time?
Ms. Hess says the tree draws scores of tourists, especially on the weekends. “I once met some people who traveled all the way from Alabama to Indiana just to spot the tree on top of the roof,” she adds.
Such attention is a boon for this relatively small community of roughly 11,000 residents, which has completely capitalized on the curious phenomenon. In addition to calling themselves “Tree City,” Greensburg provides plenty of entertaining material about its history. To begin with, it’s not even certain what kind of tree it is. According to the Decatur county website, the Smithsonian Institute says it’s a Large Tooth Aspen, so named for the shape of its leaves. But in 2007, a group of Foresters from Purdue University identified it as a Mulberry Tree. Well, at least this one.
Turns out, this is not the same tree that first sprouted along with four others back in 1870, but you knew that already, right? In 1888, a Steeple Jack was hired to remove some of the original tree. That first tree died, but another two remained, one of which grew to be 15 feet tall! Since then, over a dozen trees have replaced the first and the city hires someone to take care of them. In the old days a professional painter would care for the trees without scaffolding or a crane, but locals say that these days a crane is used to provide elevation. If you’re curious to see it, you can visit Greensburg from September 26 to 27, 2014 for the Tree City Fall Festival. In addition to a baking and watermelon-eating contest, you might catch the crowning of Miss Tree City!
All images via Tafline Laylin for Inhabitat; research assistance provided by Kim Kaufhold
Stay tuned for more tales from the road as I continue my journey across North America to meet the country’s inspiring green leaders!