Upside Down Trees

Three trees have been "planted" upside down as part of a natural art installation at Cascade Lake Park in Rochester. The city will ask local artists to carve the trees. (Joe Ahlquist /

Dear Answer Man: What's with the trees behind Shorewood Senior Campus that appear to be planted upside down?

They look to be planted with their roots in the air. My hunch is that there's a logical reason for that — perhaps it's a special kind of tree? Or maybe for winter, they have to keep their roots out of the soil?

Whatever the answer, I know you can find it for me. — Stumped

Stumped: I must admit your question nearly had me stumped as well. That was until I had one of my minions reach out to Mike Nigbur, Rochester’s park and forestry division head.

The trees “rooted,” so to speak, in Cascade Lake Park are as they were intended. The plans were first revealed last year and call for “planting” two 8-foot upside-down tree trunks for carving, along with a similar 5-foot tree. They are sunk 4 to 5 feet into the ground.

Nigbur said it’s a concept inspired by similar carved trunks in the playground area of the Gardens of Annevoie in Belgium. Those carvings feature faces with the upended roots mimicking hair.

Local artists and wood carvers will be enlisted to add carvings to the new trees, which are part of larger plans for natural play areas in the city’s regional park. Other features are expected to include a willow tunnel, an interactive boat structure and water features.

“While the carvings have not yet been selected or completed, I hope the community will enjoy the unique mixture of art and nature,” Nigbur said in an email.

The overall park has been in the works since the 1980s, but a master plan was adopted in 2004 and updated in 2016.

In addition to natural play areas, the park plan calls for a beach, picnic area, performance stage and a variety of other amenities.

Progress on the 26-acre park, which borders Cascade Lake west of U.S. Highway 52, has been moving slower than expected through the wet summer. Nigbur said the poor soils on the site have added to the challenge of getting the majority of the planned work done this fall.

The goal is to complete the latest infrastructure additions this year to make way for new planting in the spring.

Hopefully, that planting will cause less confusion that the three upside-down trees.

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