Plans exist to plant messages encoded in this tree alphabet created by Katie Holten, an artist active in all things tree-ish.

I’m not holding my breath in expectation of being able to read such a message. OK, crabapple is C, but what happens if you just think of it as apple? I’d sooner see a cottonwood here. Douglas fir would be a tree many of us have heard of; but dawn redwood? Dogwood would do too, but of course that gets you into difficulties with F — though surely most of us would recognize a fig leaf. And having to think of holly as I not H would always trip us up.

  • A = Ash
  • B = Birch
  • C = Crabapple
  • D = Dawn Redwood
  • E = Elm
  • F = Flowering Dogwood
  • G = Ginkgo
  • H = Hawthorn
  • I = Ilex
  • J = Juniper
  • K = Kentucky coffeetree
  • L = Linden
  • M = Maple
  • N = Nyssa
  • O = Oak
  • P = Persimmon — wouldn’t plane be an obvious city choice?
  • Q = Quaking aspen
  • R = Redbud
  • S = Sassafras
  • T = Tulip tree
  • U = Umbrella pine — I have heard of the upas tree.
  • V = Virginia pine
  • W = Willow
  • X = Xantholyxum — well, one sees the problem, which doesn’t go away with this answer.
  • Y = Yellowood — why not yew?
  • Z = Zelkova — ditto X

Xantholyxum unfortunately seems usually to be spelled with a Z not an X. It is “commonly” called Prickly ash. Zelkova, a Georgian relative of the elm, has been extinct in Northern America since the Pleistocene. Either Ms Holten is planning on reintroducing it, or maybe more likely avoiding messages with the letter Z in them. Nyssa turns out to be a tupelo: initial searching throws up such exciting options as New York Self Storage Association, or New York State Snowmobile Association. One might better go down the “northern” route for the N entry. Still, we can all appreciate the effort.

Here’s an arborically encoded message from Mary Oliver:

Good luck working that out if the trees are ever planted in Central Park! Punctuation appears to remain an unresolved issue.

You are invited to download the font here, so that you can (monkey) puzzle your friends. Of course the whole point of the exercise is not to provide a new communication medium, but to keep trees front and center in our consciousness. To the extent that Ms Holten can get publicity for her efforts, this is worthwhile. I’ve been up and down Grand Concourse quite a few times since 2009 when Ms Holten started the Tree Museum there, but I’ll have to go slower and look more closely next time.

Link via Hyperallergic.