Tehran's Old Sycamore Trees


Tehran's Old Sycamore Trees
by Esfand Aashena

Last year there was a report that mentioned the old Sycamore trees in Tehran's Pahlavi street (now Vali Asr street) and northern part of Tehran are vanishing.  Then there was a discussion that ensued about regime people (Pasdaran) intentionally cutting these trees to deny street protestors' cover during demonstrations!

So this year when I got a chance to go for a visit I made a point of noticing these trees and making some pictures and observations and talking to some people.  In additional to family and friends I actually got a chance to talk to some passengers riding a bus.  Once a relative outed me as a visitor from America (and then left!) I had to talk about something so I talked about these trees.

At first glance when you look at these streets and the trees they're there as magnificantly and nostalgic as ever.  Second I don't even know how these trees have made it either during Shah or now since at their base (trunks) they're surrounded by concrete and asphalt.  There is only so much room for some water to go to their roots.  Pahlavi street is downhill from north and so the streams that carry the water to the south and where these trees are planted are cemented to prevent sediments and mudslides.  So it's a mystery to me how they get enough water to stay alive.

They are very strong trees that require minimal water and throughout Tehran (with little annual rainfall) only few kinds of trees survive, these Syacamore trees and white berry trees (white toot trees) are everywhere.

Then when you look more closely you see gaps here and there where a tree has fallen.  However, in many cases they're not uprooted rather cut in the middle or even smaller trees planted.  From what I've heard tree falling on these streets is an issue and fire departments spend time opening the roads and rescuring homeowners after a fallen tree, especially after a thunderstorm.

I took several pictures but chose this picture in the blog because you can see how they've been cut at the middle and then new branches sprouting as well as their bottom which is surrounded by concrete and asphalt.  Also, please note how close some of them are to the buildings and how the branches are all over the house.

So from what I can gather these trees are very special and have survived decades and contribute to the air quality of Tehran and they're not going anywhere.  Managing them is not easy since you can't just prune them when pruning will cause just faster growth.  They are being replanted and since they survive well in Tehran it's not hard to have more and more of them.


more from Esfand Aashena
Esfand Aashena

Some general observations

by Esfand Aashena on

I think I was looking to see if there is a real crisis for these old Sycamore (chenar) trees but didn't see it as a crisis other than old age and getting huge while being planted in the middle of an extremely busy artery like Pahlavi street.  Perhaps what that report was trying to say was that these trees are just getting old and dying of old age.

Most large trees in Tehran have IDs (shenasnameh) and when owners try to demolish their old homes to build 4 or 5 stories in place of their new home, they have to go to city hall (shahrdari) and get permission.  Sometimes they only get permission to build around the trees and save them.

Take the blog picture for example.  Those trees are in the middle of the pedestrian walkway!  God forbid an old or injured person with a wheelchair wants to pass.  There are many, many scenes like that and the reason you can't really use a wheelchair in Iran.  The pedestrian walkways are blocked much less other stuff like handicap ramps or access.

The greenery in Tehran is everywhere and because of the bad air and smog they are protected and more and more are being planted.  You'd be amazed at where and how these sycamore trees are planted or how buildings or restaurants are built around them.  Last year when I went to this nice restaurant in one of the palaces (prince chubby's old stomping grounds ;-)  there were several big ass (I mean huge) trees right in the middle of the lobby and few on our way to the table and bathrooms!  And then they had built the roof around them like a tree house! The roots had gotton so big that the floors were cracked and uneven everywhere!  It felt like hiking when you wanted to go to the bathroom!

I always notice traffic and people leaving trash everywhere when I go for a visit and always talk about it.  Over the past few years the traffic has gotton somewhat better.  By traffic I mean crazy driving, congestion is as bad as ever.  This is due to the tickets getting more expensive and they've started a points system so people are trying to follow the rules.  Buses and rent a taxis (keraye) also have to stop at designated places and turn in their CDs (CDs put in cars to check their speed and other stuff like an airplane's black box) to see if they've broken any speeding laws and such, so I feel comfortable now using them as means to go and visit other cities in Iran on long hauls. Hard to lose a habit but you have to start somewhere.

Now as far as leaving trash in nature, few years ago it was horrible the worst.  On my first visit we went for 13 bedar in a nice place in shomal in the mountains by Caspian and I was horrified when I saw people just throwing trash and at the end of the day that poor place was like a trash dumping ground.  Just awful.  There wasn't even trash cans for people to use.  Now over the years they've at least added many trash cans.

This year for the first time (and I told my family that) when I went to Shomal I noticed that they've gathered a lot of trash in holding areas and were supposedly going to truck it away.  The trash was still everywhere and in the Karaj river you'd see the trash on the shores and just hanging on low branches when the river had receded.

So in conclusion Iranians have a lot of bad habits.  Taking care of environment and driving like crazy are two such examples.  As these habits gets worse naturally mechanisms are put in place to stop or at least reduce these habits and educate the young ones to tell tale their parents!  like stop smoking, it's bad for you.  The sycamore trees are fine and they are being replanted where it can be done and new ones planted elsewhere in the city. 

Everything is sacred

Mohammad Ala

Thanks for this report . . . I did my share . . .

by Mohammad Ala on

Iranians love nature but neglect it and the result is that many trees are being destroyed and nothing is planted in their places.  Cement, garbage, oil, you name it ...are poured near the trunk of trees by people who have 2500 years of proud history!!

Iranians are destroying greeneries by tearing down houses with yards and building multiple units so that they can sell them at high prices.  Previous yards have been turned into parking spaces.

Many years ago, I started an effort to plant trees by ordinary people and we had a day for it…. Like many efforts… it died down.  Our people were not interested.


Oon Yaroo

Thank you EA for the photo!

by Oon Yaroo on

One observation and one question:

a) the chenar trees on the street in the picture are too close and tight to have Akhoonds hanging from them!

b) In your assessment, are there about 100,000 healthy chenar trees in Tehran?

Iranians need at least that many to hang Akhoonds from!

Thanks again for the report & the photo.


Thought asks

by Thought on

Did you go to the city officials in Tehran and show them your pictures?