Shady Deal

The construction of an environmentally responsible house is delayed by magnolia trees

Lisa Thompson and husband Rodney Collins want to build an environmentally responsible house he designed for their lot at Colquitt and Greenbriar. They plan for it to be a showcase exhibit for their firm of Collins Architects and Contractors, built with recycled materials, a solar roof and rainwater collection system for the organic garden.

The only thing standing in the way of this improvement for nature is, well, nature itself. Four 22-year-old magnolia trees are on the backyard site, and plans can't be configured to save them. Thompson says construction has been postponed for six months while she searches for a place to move them.

"It's hard to say you're going to be environmentally conscious when the first thing you do is chop down a bunch of trees," she explains. She's launched her own Greenpeace campaign, calling every organization she can think of, begging for someone to save the trees.

But nobody thus far is willing to go out on a limb in the venture. Part of the problem is the cost: A tree-moving company gave her an estimate of $2,000 per magnolia.

She offered to donate the trees to Environmental Design and pay part of the moving fee. "They said these trees are a little bit misformed. A little bent," Thompson says. Then she called Trees for Houston. They told her that they plant trees, not move them. "Their name is an oxymoron," Thompson says.

Kathy Lord, executive director of Trees for Houston, says they simply don't have the money to move them. "If we get into that, we'll never plant trees," Lord says. "For $2,000 we can plant a lot of trees."

Friends of Hermann Park told Thompson they would get back to her. But they might not be able to cover the moving costs, either.

However noble her intentions, the experts aren't giving good odds for her effort.

"That would be pretty risky," says Dr. Deanna McCullough, assistant biology professor at the University of Houston. "They may all die." She explains that the trees are old, making it tricky to transfer a root ball large enough to carry water and nutrients to the tree.

Dick Figlar, past president of the Magnolia Society, says magnolias don't transplant well because they have fleshy roots that spread out. "There's no taproot," he says. "The roots are very delicate and easily damaged, and that puts the trees in tremendous shock."

Thompson, who lives in the mold- and fire-damaged Georgian house now at the location, says she can delay construction no more than three additional months in the save-the-trees campaign.

"It shouldn't be so hard to be environmentally responsible," she says.

Figlar says the compassionate thing might be to just take an ax to them.

"It would be worse to put the trees through that suffering," he says. "They would suffer. They do not move well."

 
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