Contemplating Loss of Green Friends

Although it is overcast today the weather is very pleasant. There is the slightest breath of a breeze and the temperature is a comfortable 64F (17.8C). What a great day to be having coffee on the deck!

The cats are out too. Fleck is doing that funny chattering thing that cats do when they see pigeons. Kai, the hyper-alert one, is scanning everything around him like a radar scope. Since the deck is 10ft high and has no stairs to the garden, it is essentially a giant outdoor play pen for them and they love it. I’m enjoying it quite a bit myself, but as I look at the garden below and imagine how it will be greening up soon, I notice that our largest hemlock is not well.

The graceful thirty foot tall tree, one of an original four, is dying. The hemlock at the back wall died last year. This one nearer the deck will die this year–next year at the latest. Its normal dark green needles have been yellowing and thinning out since last fall. I knew it was likely to happen, although I vainly hoped that our garden in Center City Philadelphia was isolated enough that the woolly adelgids would not find it. Clearly, there is no where for hemlocks to hide from this insect. It has been killing them everywhere and will probably wipe them out much like the chestnut blight wiped out mature American chestnuts from 1904 to 1940.

Worse than contemplating the loss of our garden trees is the thought of the changes this introduced pest is causing to the forests near Asheville, NC where I grew up. A recent article in Science Daily reports that the dying is progressing faster there than previously thought. I saw signs of it myself last September when I visited the area.

We will replace the dead hemlocks in our garden with something else. I wonder what will take the place of the ones in the coves of the southern Appalachians. Something will, as oaks replaced chestnuts, and spring will still come, but saying good-bye to the hemlocks is still not an easy thing to do.

Are Roasting Chestnuts In Our Future?

American Chestnut Nuts with Burrs and Leaves. Photo by myself: Timothy Van Vliet 2004 from my Orchard in New Jersey. (GNU Free Documentation License)In an AP article Growers Bid to Revive American Chestnut Rick Callahan reports on a breeding program that will return the American Chestnut tree (Castanea dentata) to the forests of North America. All natural stands of the formerly majestic chestnut trees were literally obliterated by a fungus imported from China. Scattered American chestnuts still exists, especially in the Appalachians, as shrubs or small trees but they rarely exceed 10 feet tall. Any specimens that one finds in the woods are sprouts from the still living roots of former giants. The sprouts are invariably attacked by the blight before they can flower and cross-pollinate each other. That is why the tree has never developed a natural resistance to the Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica, formerly Endothia parasitica) [see Wikipedia article]. Callahan describes the breeding program scientists have developed to introduce the blight resistance of the Chinese chestnut tree into the gene pool of the much larger American chestnut. The long-term project is now showing some success and the re-introduction of the once most dominant tree in Eastern North America may not be far off.

American Chestnut Nuts with Burrs and Leaves. Photo by: Timothy Van Vliet 2004 from his Orchard in New Jersey. (GNU Free Documentation License)

Biltmore tree raising – AshVid.Net

I just discovered AshVid.net, an area-specific video sharing site. The clip linked to below shows the delivery of this year’s huge Christmas tree as it is hauled in on a wagon drawn by three horses — Clydesdales, by the look of them. The tree is carried into the the great hall then, in a somewhat precarious operation, raised with ropes and braced by 2x4s. I’m glad I don’t have to string the lights on that monster.

Vodpod videos no longer available.