Remembering Oreon Mann

The next time you’re walking or driving along Hurt Street near the MARTA station, take note of these new trees planted on the east side of the street:

There is a nice story here.

Our new trees are southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora), but not just any southern magnolias.

These are scions of the locally famous Spiller Field magnolias.

Spiller Field, also known as Ponce de Leon Park, was the baseball venue once located at 650 Ponce de Leon Avenue, now the site of a shopping center across the street from Ponce City Market.

The field was constructed in 1907 where an amusement park had been operating for several years. (Before the amusement park, a lovely grove of beech trees had shaded the natural springs in that area.)

Ponce de Leon Park in 1907

“Poncey” was home to the minor league Atlanta Crackers until 1965 and also hosted the Black Crackers from 1919 to 1952. In the outfield of the original field were two southern magnolias. A ball hit into the branches of these trees — which didn’t happen often, as they were roughly 450 feet from home plate — was treated as still in play.

Photo of Ponce de Leon Park that must have been taken near the center-field magnolias
Aerial photo of Spiller Field in 1959, with the trees clearly visible beyond the outfield

Looking back, we can probably agree that the Spiller Field magnolias had their most historically significant moment when Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers came to town in 1949.

Jackie Robinson (circled) on deck at Spiller Field on April 10, 1949

The story is wonderfully told by historian Kenneth R. Fenster in “Earl Mann Beats the Klan: Jackie Robinson and the First Integrated Games in Atlanta.” It begins as follows:

At 1:30 p.m. on April 8, 1949, Earl Mann, the president of the Atlanta Crackers of the Class AA Southern Association, had his regular monthly meeting with Hughes Spalding, the chairman of the Crackers’ board of directors. Spalding did not record in his desk diary what he and Mann discussed, but surely a major topic of their conversation was the game scheduled for that evening at venerable Ponce de Leon Park. The game pitted the all-white Crackers against the integrated Brooklyn Dodgers, with their two black players, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. The Dodgers-Crackers contest would be the first mixed-race baseball game in Atlanta and the first in a major city of the Deep South.

In the end, the three-game series was played without major incident, but there had been rumors that the KKK would be waiting out by the magnolia trees just beyond center field. The final game, played on a Sunday afternoon, drew 25,221 fans, including 13,885 Black spectators, to a park that seated only 14,500.

Earl Mann, of course, was the father of our own Oreon Mann, who with his mother Myra scattered his father’s ashes at the base of one of the trees in 1990.

Earl Mann, father of Inman Park’s Oreon Mann

Through the good work of Trees Atlanta and Bold Springs Nursery, trees propagated from the Spiller Field magnolias have come to Oreon Mann’s beloved Inman Park. Genetically identical to the original trees, they celebrate a legacy that is important to the city and to our neighborhood.

Trees as Individuals

Three white oaks (Quercus alba) — 1, 2, 3 — planted the exact same year at Poplar Circle. Autumnal red, brown, and tawny, respectively.

I’ve commented on this before: so often we tend to think of trees in the aggregate, for example, an entire species (all white oaks) or an entire forest (all trees in Fernbank Forest).

I enjoy taking note of an individual tree’s idiosyncrasies.

Individual trees tend to get noticed because they’re especially large or old. But every tree, not just a towering redwood or ancient bristlecone pine, has a unique story to tell, if we take time to listen (as it were).

Arborheroes

Tree Watchers Chuck Young, Chad Altemose, and Jim Abbot were at work pruning oak trees in our parks on Saturday, November 20. Next time you’re walking by or through Delta Park, Triangle Park, or Springvale Park, you may have the feeling that they seem more . . . capacious. That’s because we raised the green “ceiling” by removing or sometimes shortening lower branches on several oaks.

Chuck Young
Chad Altemose

What is a tree?

Trees are a way of thinking.

Charles Darwin’s sketch of a tree of life

Trees are survivors.

camphor tree in Hiroshima, Japan (credit: Katy McCormick)

Trees are giants.

giant sequoia, Sequoia National Park, CA (photo credit: Michael Nichols/National Geographic)

Trees are ancient.

4,853-year-old bristlecone pine, Inyo County, CA (photo credit: Mike Ver Sprill)

Trees are records.

Photo credit: Peter M. Brown, Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research

Trees are wild, even in the city.

View from my back yard toward our house which faces Waverly Way

About Tipping

No, not that kind of tipping.

I’m talking about snipping off the ends of tree branches to shorten them.

In the drawing, the blue line indicates roughly where someone snipped off the ends of branches a, b, c, and d. You can see how the tree responded: a spray of profuse new growth (“shoots” or “water sprouts”) from near the ends of the tipped branches.

Why?

At the tip of a tree branch there is a so-called terminal or apical bud. This specialized bud regulates growth of the entire branch. (After all, the tree needs to grow up and out to reach that all-important sunlight!)

A hormone is involved, called auxin. Think of auxin as being like a sleep potion. All those many other buds lying under the bark along each branch? Auxin keeps those buds dormant.

But if I snip off the terminal bud, some of those dormant buds along the branch “wake up.” They send out shoots which will become twigs which will become new branches.

Tipping a branch to clear a sidewalk or street is usually counterproductive. Within a year or two, the problem will be twice or three times as bad. Look how many sprouts were growing on this tipped Bradford pear. (Located on Austin Avenue at its intersection with Euclid. Thanks to Meghan for identifying this hazard to pedestrians.)

Instead, always cut a branch just beyond a node. A node is simply where a leaf, twig, or secondary branch attaches to a larger part of the tree.

Put differently, your goal is always to leave a bud which can become the new terminal or apical bud of that branch, controlling that essential hormone auxin, so that the tree can grow up and out.

Repair work:

Happy Beech

Sometimes a tree needs a little help from friends.

On Saturday, October 16, eight friends of the beech tree pictured here gathered to liberate it from invasive English ivy, cherry laurel, and Japanese chaff flower.

Thanks go to Lee, Suzie, Steve, Marge, Chad, Andrew, Sandy, and Jim.

The next Whack, Snack, and Yak workday is Saturday, November 20. Meet on the porch at 946 Waverly Way at 9:00 a.m. No experience necessary, all ages welcome.

Total Cost: $0.00

The Front Yard Tree Program + three Inman Park volunteers = one very happy homeowner.

Boon Boonyapat is the owner of a new maple tree, courtesy of a program funded by the City of Atlanta and administered by Trees Atlanta.

Boon selected a maple from a list of species posted on Trees Atlanta’s website:

Trees Atlanta delivered the tree, and then Inman Park volunteers Steve Hays (right), Jim Abbot (left), and Jaime Kirsche (behind the camera) planted it, all free of charge to Boon.

Want a free tree for your front yard? It’s easy. You can comment on this post, or use the contact page on this website, or if you prefer, use the request form at Trees Atlanta.