|My daughter, another tree lover, in front of a giant sequoia in Yosemite.|
As I blogged a year ago, I love trees and have loved them since I was a kid. But from various diseases, and the introduction of invasive insects, many trees are in trouble including dogwoods. Not only that, but I heard with global warming, the maple trees we know in the northern parts of this country, may die off and only those in Canada will survive. But for how long even there?
When I was a young girl, the American elm was one of America’s most dominant trees. It was a common tree in the United States. The elm was a fast growing tree that could reach 100 feet. It lined city streets, was found in parks, woods, and was a popular tree used for shade and as an ornamental tree. Its tall drooping crown growing above divided trunks gives it a distinctive, vase-like appearance. Although once wide spread, many trees have been destroyed by the Dutch elm disease, a fungal disease carried by the bark beetle. It feeds on diseased trees and then moves on and spreads the disease to other trees. Birds and mammals feed on fruit and buds and make their homes in holes hollowed out by woodpeckers. Some mammals chew on the bark and twigs of younger trees. At one time its wood was used for boxes, crates, furniture, baskets and paneling. Although, it’s not extinct, there are very few left anymore.
The American chestnut was once one of the most common and important tree species in the Eastern United States. It could be found from Northern Florida to Southern Maine and west into Tennessee and Ohio. One of the reasons the American chestnut was so common was that it could out-compete most other forest trees for the available resources needed for tree growth. These trees got huge! They often had a diameter of more than 10 feet and grew to heights of well over 100 feet.
The American chestnut was extremely useful to those who lived in its range. The wood from the tree was fairly light, but strong, and easy to work with. It was used for furniture, shingles, siding, telephone poles and fence posts. It was a good wood for use outdoors due to the large amount of tannic acid in the wood keeping it from rotting for a long time. The chestnuts were an important food source for people, livestock and wildlife. The nuts were often gathered by the wagonload as they ripened and fell off the trees.
Then in 1904, the chestnut blight fungus came into the country on some Japanese and Chinese chestnut trees imported to the Bronx Zoological Park in New York City. The blight quickly spread to some American chestnut trees in the park through the air and throughout the entire range of the chestnut by the 1940’s. Any American chestnut tree which evolved without the presence of the blight, is not resistant to the fungus and is quickly killed off by it. The blight enters trees through cracks in the bark which appear once a tree is a few years old, and gradually kills the tree. However, the root system is not affected by the fungus so often sprouts come up, but once again, they are infected with the blight and die back again.
|Hemlocks along a forest stream|
Six or seven years ago when my siblings, a brother-in-law and I were backpacking along the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, we noticed some dying hemlock trees and wondered what the problem was. We talked to a forest ranger, and he told us it was caused by the hemlock wooly adelgid, a small, aphid like insect native to Asia, that threatens the health and sustainability of eastern hemlocks and Carolina hemlocks in the Eastern United States. It was first reported near Richmond, Virginia in 1951 and by 2005, it was established in portions of 16 states from Maine to Georgia, where infestations covered half of the range of hemlocks. Areas of extensive tree mortality and decline are found throughout the infested region, but the impact has been most severe in some areas of Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
The range of the eastern hemlock stretches from Nova Scotia to northern Alabama and west to northern Minnesota and eastern Kentucky. It’s also commonly planted as a tree, shrub, or hedge in ornamental landscapes. For years and years I’ve camped in western Pennsylvania, and loved the hemlock trees along the trails and streams that were so common to the area. I hope it doesn’t come there.
|Gypsy moth caterpillars|
I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of the Gypsy moth invasion. Their normal range was Europe and Northern Africa, but somehow they made it to our continent and the damage they did was horrible. I remember traveling along an interstate in Pennsylvania on my way somewhere and seeing large swaths of trees denuded of leaves and looking dead. The Gypsy moth caterpillars have huge appetites, and about every ten years, gypsy moth populations grow very large and can completely strip trees of their leaves. If they attack a tree for two or three years, it may die. Sometimes they consume the leaves of hundreds of acres of forest at a time which is hard on birds that make their home there and for other forest animals. Their preferred trees are oaks, but hungry gypsy moth caterpillars can eat several hundred different tree species meaning very few are safe from them. Fortunately, scientists have developed control methods that have helped, and natural enemies of the gypsy moth have spread to keep the hungry caterpillars in check, too.
And now we come to the Ash trees. The Emerald Ash Borer, an exotic beetle was discovered in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in the summer of 2002. Most likely it came from Asia in wood packing. That was about the time my sister and I were on a camping trip in Michigan. We weren’t allowed to take any firewood across the bridge to the Upper Peninsula. There were huge bins to throw our firewood into before we could continue on.
I have many ash trees on my property, so I’ve been concerned about them. I have a large one dying, but I’m not sure if it’s from the ash borer or not. So far it’s killed tens of millions of trees in southeastern Michigan, alone, with tens of millions more killed in many other states and Canada. The adult beetle nibbles on the leaves and causes little damage, but the larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients.
|Emerald Ash Borer|
I may be wrong about this, but I’m wondering if through the tree communication system, which I researched and blogged about earlier this year, my ash trees are aware of the damage that’s being done to them. I can’t see the damage because it’s happening under their bark, but the large ones know they’re dying and in order to keep the species going, they’ve been spreading their seeds throughout my property, in my gardens and everywhere little ash seedlings are coming up and turning into saplings. In my twenty-five years living here, I have never had so many of these little seedlings and saplings.
Weather permitting; I walk in my woods every morning. I find great peace there and it’s where I come up with ideas for plots, poems, or solve a problem with a short story or chapter I’m working on. I feel a bond with the trees in my woods, and enjoy watching the changes throughout the year with the trees, and what grows under these trees like wild flowers, fungi, and young saplings. Like all living things, some trees die and eventually fall from storm or rotted bases. Before the trees come down they furnish homes and food for many birds and mammals, and even the dead trees provide life for insects, birds that eat those insects and the fungi that feeds on rotted wood, plus a nice place to sit and rest for a while if I want. I can’t imagine having life with my woods almost or totally destroyed by some blight or invasion of insects
Do you have trees or have seen trees with the problems mentioned?