Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

I was in Maine last week, and planned to stop in Yarmouth on Monday to watch the removal of Herbie, the champion American Elm (Ulmus americana) that had finally become too compromised to stay standing.

For several months,  stories about Herbie and his long-time steward, Yarmouth tree warden Frank Knight (at 101 years old, he is now retired) had been appearing in the news — Knight had cared for Herbie for over 50 years, and had treated the elm in repeated battles with Dutch Elm Disease.  He had succeeded for decades, but in recent years the disease and old age had been catching up, infecting whole limbs and making it necessary to remove large chunks of the tree’s crown.  Last summer, the town’s current tree warden, Debra Hopkins, determined that Herbie should come down, and Knight concurred.   The date of removal was set for January 18.

There were reports that arborists and Herbie-fans from around New England would show up to watch the proceedings.  As I would be driving past Yarmouth that day, I decided to join them.  Work was slated to begin at 7:30 a.m.

Fortunately or not, a heavy snowstorm started on Sunday night, and when I awoke at 5 on Monday morning several inches had already fallen, with no end in sight.   A couple of tasks delayed my departure by several hours, and as it seemed unlikely that the work would proceed that day anyway, I didn’t arrive in Yarmouth until about 2:30 p.m.  Herbie still stood.  As I drove up, several people were snapping photos of the tree; more showed up when they left, and still more arrived as I was leaving.  Lots of people wanted to get a last look at this giant.

Herbie the American Elm, on the day scheduled for his removal.

Herbie was massive — in his prime, he stood 110′ tall, with a crown spread of 120′ and a girth of 20′.  Disease and age had diminished him, and it was clear that this was a tree under serious stress, but it was impossible to stand next to or near him without feeling awe.

To get a sense of the tree's scale, note the people standing to the left of Herbie.

Someone had tied a red, white, and blue ribbon around the tree, and people had attached cards and well wishes and information on this champion to it.

The placard in the middle is an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper, with facts on Herbie's size and life.

The tree had quite a lot of evidently viable growth in the canopy, but the canopy itself had been hugely compromised, with several very large limbs removed.  I remember hearing Alex Shigo talk about how and when to make the decision to remove a tree; he spoke eloquently about the native dignity of trees, and about how at some point the act of removal shows more respect for the tree than leaving it in place.

There comes a point in a tree's life where removal of this much of its crown is a removal of dignity, as well. Though the tree's trunk appeared to be sound, and the limb removals had eliminated hazard wood, Herbie's time had come.

For about 15 minutes, I ran around in the cold photographing Herbie from different angles.  As I did, I saw carloads of people arrive, jump out, snap photos of themselves with the tree, put a hand out to feel its bark, and then gaze up at it reverently before they left.  And then I went over, put my hand on the craggy, lichen-speckled bark, and also said a silent goodbye.

Herbie in his heyday. This was a classic American elm.

Herbie was taken down the following day, with Frank Knight in attendance.  To see removal photos and videos, as well as how the wood from this elm will be used, click on this link.

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The Massachusetts Arborists Association has a new volunteer initiative starting in 2010.  They aim to build on the traditional Arbor Day celebration by instituting a statewide volunteer service day on that day, which falls on April 30, 2010.

To get the ball rolling, the MAA is inviting anyone to identify potential tree care projects in their own communities, and then to post those project ideas on the Arbor Day link at www.MassArbor.org.  They hope to get ideas from all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns by January 15.  From that list, MAA members and member companies will choose projects for their own Arbor Day of Service volunteer effort.

This is a great way for professional arborists to make a contribution to the civic good, and for cities and towns to reap the benefits of a concerted professional effort.  Safety pruning, tree planting, hazard tree removal, ornamental pruning — a community you drive through daily may have the project that’s perfect for your company to tackle on Arbor Day.  To submit a project for Arbor Day of Service consideration by the MAA arborists, visit http://www.MassArbor.org by January 15, and click on Arbor Day.

Help younger generations grow up with the Arbor Day of Service.

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Hartney Greymont of Needham, MA has the most effective reminder this year to schedule winter moth treatments.  In November they sent out color postcards showing a single winter moth, about 6 times life-sized.  On the back the cards explain that the brown moths visible in November are parents of the caterpillars that will feed on trees in spring.

Hartney has hit upon a great way to connect a very visible autumn phenomenon with a very visible spring phenomenon, wrapping up a bit of client education with a pitch to schedule spring treatments early.  Nice.

Winter moth, taken from Flickr

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Say you’re a growing country club in a nicely-treed community, and you need to enlarge your parking lot. And perhaps you want to lower its grade. The lot has some mature oak trees in it, and they add a certain je ne sais quoi to the scene, so you decide to save the trees by keeping the grade as is around the base of their trunks. You retain the roots and soil with a mortared stone wall. Voila!

Good idea – but woops! The minimum standard for root preservation is to keep 10 inches of root mass diameter per caliper inch of tree. For these trees, that would spell at least 360-inch diameter root masses. Because the trees are so close together, their roots overlap significantly — but still, 360 inches is thirty feet of diameter.

This 18-footish enclosure takes a tad too much root; the country club will almost certainly be watching these trees decline and die over the next few years (and they may well drop dead branches onto the parking lot, or cars in it, in the process).

The idea of saving a mature tree is a good one, as long as the tree’s actual requirements for continued healthy life are met.   Now that we have the tools to see how large a tree’s root mass really is, it’s much easier to see how big the unimpeded area around it has to be for the tree to survive happily and to thrive.

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Burning Bush

Last week I was driving through a shady and pleasant part of Wellesley, MA, enjoying the really stunning show of fall colors.  One bucolic road was flanked on one side by a steep wooded hill, at the bottom of which a small stream flowed next to the road.  I noticed that the brightest colors came in that stretch from an almost continuous line of Euonymus alatus, commonly known as Burning Bush or Winged Wahoo (Yes! I couldn’t resist giving this one of its names.).  A few were still green, some had turned brilliant red, and in some that robust red had drained out, leaving the foliage looking delicately pale and anemic.

Ealata wild

I don’t believe any of those Euonymus had been intentionally planted there; more likely birds had eaten fruit from some nearby cultivated Euonymus alatus shrubs, the seeds survived digestion, and found a hospitable niche next to the stream.

Ealata tame

Right around the bend from the stream was this beefy looking Burning Bush, an obviously well-tended accent in someone's yard.

The scene was lovely, but it was repeated all over the woodlands in that area of town — great color, and large quantities of this non-native and now-invasive shrub.  It’s at this time of year that the ubiquity of some invasives become really evident (Oriental Bittersweet — also a member of the Celastraceae family — is another).  Visually, it’s a wonderful treat; ecologically, perhaps a little more challenging.  Euonymus alatus is now on the Massachusetts Prohibited Plant List, which means that nurseries are prohibited from growing or selling it in the state.

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Big-leafed mystery

Last June, I notice three small woody plants in the front yard of an unassuming house in my town.  They had each been carefully planted and mulched, and each had enormous leaves — about 12″ across, which for a three-foot high plant really is enormous.  I was fascinated, and through the summer watched them take off and grow to about twelve feet in height.

Paulownia detail

Couldn't figure out what it was: Catalpa? Castor bean plant? Some kind of Rodgersia? Big leaves, even when small -- but then it grew to about 12' in height in one season, and those speculations dissolved.

Paulownia vert

This mystery tree, paired with two others nearby, baffled me for months.

Paulownia horiz

One day in October I walked past with my camera, trying yet again to figure out what these 14-inch leaves on fast-growing stems could be. I was ready to steal a leaf and start keying it out.

And then that night, just before I fell sleep, the words ‘Paulownia tomentosa*’ floated across my mind’s eye.  Next morning I pulled out Dirr and — voila! — the mystery was solved.  I’d been watching three juveniles of the Paulownia genus (also known as Empress Tree, Dragon Tree, or Princess Tree) take hold and begin their march toward world domination in the suburbs south of Boston.  From what I’ve seen of these plants, they are like those guests at a party who arrive at full volume, make a big scene, and leave early (though these have kept their leaves into November now).

I’d first met Paulownias in Somerville, MA, where a picket-fenced yard on my bike route home from work was home to several large trees.  One day I was riding past, and noticed lots of large mauve flowers strewn on the road and sidewalk.  I looked up, and saw still more flowers hanging from the overarching branches.  The trees in flower were spectacular, though the yard itself looked a bit down at the heels, with dry bare dirt where lawn should have been.  Later, I saw some in bloom next to Route 1 in Westwood; they had clearly volunteered in some roadside fill, and were putting on their spring show.

This summer’s mystery planting was the first of these three sightings that I could tell had been intentionally planted.  I aim to keep an eye on them through the winter to see how their buds fare in this zone, and then watch out come spring as the show begins again.

*Not sure of the species, of which there are many.

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Root flare

Root flare — where the trunk of a tree and its roots meet — is a critical  juncture in a tree’s anatomy.  Nowadays, trees coming onto the Massachusetts market often have root flares buried in the B&B root ball when they reach a job site for planting.  The contractor then has to remove the covering soil (removing burlap and wire basket in the process, which is a good thing) so that the tree and its root soil sit at the proper relationship to finish grade.  Once the tree is dug and watered in, the contractor adds 3-4″ of mulch, keeping it well away from that newly revealed root flare.  In this post from Taking Place, and this one, I show the crown effects of buried root flares on pear trees and on sugar maples.

So that’s what juvenile trees with buried root flares look like.  In contrast, here’s a photo of the thriving root flare on a large and quite mature sugar maple:

Parry maple flare

Ever seen a sugar maple with knees?

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Gleditsia pods



What autumn in Boston brings.



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