To maintain its continuity, a municipal forest should have trees of all ages with a preponderance of them young. Annual plantings ensure that younger trees are in place to replace aging ones, and the benefits of the forest, whether shade, clean air, blossoms, fruit, autumn color, or psychological balm may be enjoyed by city dwellers without interruption. Imagine the reverse: if all trees were the same age, a significant portion of the canopy would be lost by old age alone. Only volunteers would be left to carry on.
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Botany and Arborism
What’s the first thing you think of when I say Humboldt? If you’re from California you could be thinking of the county, college, bay, fort, state park or wildlife refuge. If you’re from Nevada you might think of the river, the national forest, wildlife area, sink, saltmarsh, lake, mountain ranges, county or creepy ghost town. Dewy-Humboldt in Arizona, Humboldt Illinois, Humboldt Kansas, Humboldt Iowa, Humboldt Ohio, Humboldt Wisconsin, Humboldt Saskatchewan, it’s hard to escape Humboldt. Humboldt is everywhere. The Humboldt name graces multiple mountains and mountain ranges, forests, national parks, waterfalls, glaciers, an ocean current. and a giant sinkhole Animals and plants including, penguins, squid, bat, monkey(s), skunk, snail, an entire genus of flowering plants, legumes, endangered cactus, a beetle, river dolphins, a carnivorous plant, oak, orchid, lily and mushroom all bear his name. Humboldt is in outer space, the Mare Humboldt on the moon and two asteroids bear the name. That doesn’t even touch the organizations, institutions, monuments and other random things that are all called Humboldt.
The orchid family, Orchidaceae is enormous, containing 28,000 species. That’s just slightly more species than the population of Monterey, California. The species count does not include the 100,000 or so cultivars that have been bred by humans. California has only 31 native orchids (most of them live in the tropics). I didn’t realize that I had seen my first one.
A field of tomatoes wilts. A stand of tanoak trees dies. A forest of bay laurels and manzanita withers. An orchard of citrus yellows and decays. A wildland restoration project crumbles into dust. Potatoes turn rancid and spongy. These are the calling cards of Phytophthora, the destroyers of plants
Five feet tall, and half a foot wide, a white flower with bright gold stamens in the center, loomed over the nursery path. Since moving from Michigan four months ago, I had yet to see a plant that really blew me away.
In their natural state riparian corridors are rich in vegetation and wildlife. A presentation by the the Santa Clara Water District states that “native plants are ecologically best suited to the creek environment.” Plants and wildlife benefit from the sediment and organic material that streams transport and deposits on their banks. In this way, soil is enriched, erosion offset, and aquifers replenished. Native plants and aquatic life are adapted to seasonal variances in river flow, including annual flooding. As F. Thomas Griggs writes, “Cottonwood and willows, as well as all other riparian plant species, are directly dependent on patterns of sediment erosion and deposition.”
We’re taking a breather on the Our City Forest blog, a breather from science and botany. It’s time for celebration. Arbor Day is tomorrow (as fellow tree nerds I’m sure you all have it marked on your calendars)! It’s a time to plant and care for trees!
In the United States, Arbor Day has been celebrated since 1872. It was the brainchild of pioneer, journalist and former Secretary of the Nebraska Territory, Julius Sterling Morton. Morton was fascinated with agriculture and trees in particular. On his estate, now the Arbor Lodge State Park, he cultivated 270 varieties of trees and shrubs including apple orchards, oaks, chestnuts and pines. Morton, using his extensive political and journalistic connections to promote Arbor Day as holiday of tree planting and care. It was a rolicking sucess, attracting thousands of participants across the young state of Nebraska, prizes were offered for the most trees planted by teams or couples. In all it is estimated that a million trees were planted on that day. The wild success of the project led to interstate and national adoption of Arbor Day as a holiday.
While Morton’s Arbor Day was the first of its kind in the United States it was not the first Arbor Day-type celebration ever held. It’s thought that the first Arbor Day celebration took place in the 1594 in the small Spanish village of Mondoñedo. The orchard of lime and chestnut trees has been continuously maintained until now. The Spanish also celebrated the first “modern” Arbor Day in 1805. In quaint, picturesque Villanueva de la Serra a local priest, Ramón Vacas Roxo, organized a village-wide tree planting festival. In the shadow of the Napoleonic Wars, the feasting and planting lasted three days. In three years the Spain would be invaded by Napoleon and the countryside torn apart in guerrilla warfare.
Both of these early Arbor Day celebrations can help us understand the purpose of planting trees. Arbor Day, unlike other holidays is not about remembering the past or a religious occasion, Arbor Day is about showing concern for the future. Trees are one of the few things that get bigger and better with age (wine and cheese notwithstanding). Trees grow for generations, providing shade, fruit, erosion control and habitat for many decades if not hundreds of years. Arbor Day, like Earth Day, is a celebration of the future, an act of hope and care in an uncertain world. In war-torn Spain the people of Villanueva continued to plant trees for the future. When Morton held his Arbor Day it was seven years after the Civil War. Over one third of eligible, Nebraskan fought for the Union. In both cases, whether under the shadow of imminent invasion or in the aftermath of war, the act of planting a tree was radically hopeful.
That hope is something we should keep in mind this Arbor Day. The environmental news might be grim. Politics might be a terrifying circus. War, terrorism, poverty and disease still cause millions of people harm. But we’re not in a Young Adult Dystopian Sci-Fi. We’re not trapped in The Sprawl. Skynet hasn’t gone active. This isn’t the Los Angeles of Bladerunner.
The world hasn’t ended.
For all our pessimistic fiction and real-world tragedy the world hasn’t ended yet. We have problems to face and fix. On Arbor Day let's engage in a radical act of hope. Let’s us all plant a tree for ourselves and for the people we hope to have follow us.
If you've enjoyed this or our other blog posts please consider donating to Our City Forest. If you agree with this post, we are having an Arbor Day Planting at Kelly Park. Everybody who volunteers with us gets a free tree from the Community Nursery. The nursery will be featuring face painting, games and other Arbor Day festivities.
With spring and summer come farmers markets and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. In the next two months, berries of a ton of different varieties come into season including, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. Well, I say berries but really only one of the berries mentioned is actually a berry. Guess which one? I’ll wait. As the narrator of a blog piece about botanical fruit varieties I have infinite time.
‘Epiphyte’(“epi” = on top of; “phyte”= plant in Greek), is a fancy-sounding term for a plant that spends most or all of its life living on another plant, usually on a tree . You might think that an epiphyte is a parasitic plant, but it is not! These plants only use the tree as a support system and take no nutrients from the tree itself. They instead rely on rainwater to carry nutrients down tree bark or on collections of soil and detritus in the crotches of branches. Epiphytic plants are represented throughout the plant kingdom, including non-vascular plants (mosses, liverworts, hornworts) and vascular plants (plants that can conduct water).
Incidentally, the Silicon Valley has seen some pretty significant storms (flawless segue). We’ve been flooded with calls about downed trees, bent trees and broken support stakes. Our inboxes doth overflow with cries for help from concerned residents. With this in mind here’s what you need to know to manage tree risk.