Science

Malicious Tree Planting Is a Slow, Expensive Way to Exact Revenge

A viral Reddit story of a wronged arborist exacting revenge via redwood planting is a hoax—and it wouldn’t work anyway.

Sequoia tree
Nope.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Robert Schneider/Thinkstock.

People seem particularly spiteful these days—perhaps that’s why a riveting tale of tree-based revenge has taken the internet by a storm this week. An epic Reddit rant from an aging arborist from Redondo Beach, California, related a harrowing tale of municipal government gone awry:

Three years ago today, the city council of Redondo Beach, California ordered the death of my 30-year-old pepper tree. I loved Clyde [the tree]. I’m beginning to get older, and planting something that I knew would live well beyond my lifetime was something very special. I took very good care of him. I drained his soil, I gave him a crutch to lean on when he was a young lad, and I watched him grow. Just as Clyde was becoming a strong healthy individual, expanding his root system, developing a canopy, and making his own way in life, the mayor took it upon himself to uproot my beautiful child.

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Mayor Steve Aspel. You killed my child.

The city of Redondo Beach not only removed the tree, the writer goes on to reveal, it forced the resident to pay for the sidewalk repair and the removal. And so, he exacted his revenge, planting 127 redwood trees all around the city—in the parks, in front of City Hall, even in Aspel’s backyard:

You killed Clyde, but I have replaced him with over 100 living giants. And giant they will become. In a few years, they’ll begin breaking heights of 100-300 feet and live well beyond 2,500 years. That’s way longer ago that Jesus was born. To remove even one of them at this point will cost well over $1500… And I’m stiffing you with the bill, just like you did to me 3 years ago today. Good day to you, sir. May your city be overrun by trees.

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Revenge by tree planting is a marvelous, hilarious idea. Unfortunately, it is also not a real story. I talked to Steve Aspel, the former mayor of Redondo Beach, and he made it clear no pepper tree was ever uprooted, and no tree-based revenge was ever exacted.

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Aspel was on vacation with his family in Arizona when the joke went viral. His phone started shaking—he was “getting messages from Britain to Germany” addressed as though he was “Hitler or Osama Bin Laden.” That treatment was entirely unjustified, as the City Council never ordered the tree’s removal because there was no tree in the first place. Luckily, he found it as funny as the internet had: “I’m 64, I’m out here water skiing,” he said, sounding unperturbed.

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Even though the story is pure fiction, it’s still hilarious. (In wonderful shitposting form, the arborist humorist posted this to /r/trees, the marijuana subreddit instead of the obviously correct, actually-about-trees subreddit /r/marijuanaenthusiasts.)

Though it’s worth noting that it would have been a pricey revenge that would have taken even longer than three years. For one thing, 45 California redwoods and 82 giant sequoias could cost upward of $10,000. For another, a time-lapse video of California redwood growth shows that a 3-year-old redwood is more a potted plant than a real tree. Whether that’s an inspiration, or deterrent, to copycats should become clear in another thousand years.

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