Am thinking "out loud" here... I guess I've come to the conclusion that it's a combination of reasons. I grew up climbing trees and can remember almost all the trees on the old Arthurseat mission where we lived in South Africa. The trees there don't grow so tall and their branches spread wider...perfect for climbing or building tree houses. Or they provided fruit of some kind--marulas, avocados, mangos, guavas... Here the trees grow soo tall that it's as though they are totally apart-- aloof from the ground below.
New England natural habitat is largely forest, so of course the trees all grow very densely together... I've found I sometimes feel something almost akin to claustrophobia not being able to see the wide open sky. Where I grew up, looking out over the dry bushveld in winter, you could see a green ribbon winding through the brown, dusty landscape -- lush mahoganies and sycamore figs stood proud, signalling a permanent water source.
A big tree in Africa really stands out...and it's more than just a habitat for birds and animals. It becomes a landmark, it provides shade for a bustling market or a Sunday church service. It provides shelter from rain and starving cattle stretch their necks to feed on its leaves, possibly their only real source of nourishment in a drought.
Trees in Africa have character, there are the towering baobabs, looking so odd and out of place with their thick trunks and stumpy branches, looking as if they really were thrown upside down out of heaven like the legend states. There are the ghostly leadwood trees, ancient and knarled, their dead trunks bleached white. There are the umbrella thorns with their flat tops, so stereotypically African, but each one unique. There are the coral trees with their bright red blossoms in the dead of winter, the fever trees, their bright green trunks a contrast against the tawny bushveld. The list could go on and on...
I do miss the trees over there. I had my favorites that I would look out for on our travels... several glossy Natal Mahoganies on the Sabi River, a Sycamore Fig on the roadside of the road between Lomahasha and Simunye in Swaziland, the Fig in our backyard in South Africa.
I am happy to report however that with time, I'm finding I now have favorites here in the US too... and I thoroughly enjoy marking their progress as the seasons come and go.