Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Growing Vicariously

I won't even tell you my goal for posts in December.  You wouldn't believe me, and keeping it to myself allows me to fail in private ;-)

I have been meaning to post these photos for some time.  I don't own a large piece of Earth.  We own a little less than a half acre, which was very thoroughly "treed" when we moved in.  Ironically, none are oaks - unless you count those in pots waiting for planting and the volunteers I favor over the ash and Norway maple volunteers I compost.

So mostly I grow trees vicariously through my customers and friends - and am very fortunate in the amount of overlap between those two groups.  Nothing makes me happier than to receive photos of trees I had a hand in helping to grow - either by providing seed or seedlings, or by selling tree tubes that protect the seedlings from harm until they get established.

Reader & friend David Olsen in Oregon sent me these photos earlier this fall:

Above: English oak (Q. robur) acorns collected in Jutland, Denmark
Below: Gambel oak (Q. gambelii) acorns collected, well, somewhere where Gambel oak grows.

Bur oak seedling grown from acorns I gathered from three sprawling, majestic trees on the campus of Carleton College.  Looks pretty happy so far!

English oak (Q. robur) seedling grown from acorns (stay with me here) sent to me by a friend who gathered them from a tree in Pennsylvania grown from acorns originally gathered in Sweden.

Thank you so much for the photos, David.  I can't wait to see how they do next year!

I'm still, after all these years in forestry, sorting out exactly where I stand on the issue of "native" plants.  So many negative things have happened from moving plant materials around the world: Disease. Insect infestations. Invasives (kudzu, buckthorn, purple loosestrife, etc etc etc). 


I'd be willing to bet that in the photographs above there are at least 3 non-native plant species shown - plants with which the native oaks of David's area did not evolve to compete.  There's a part of me - a growing part - that, while I absolutely see real value in efforts to restore huge swaths of our land to its pre-settlement (but not "unmanaged") state, thinks that in many other cases the "native" Pandora is long since out of the box. And rather than trying to cram Pandora back in we need to look at the land as it is, not as we wish it was, and make decisions about what to plant based on "ground truth."  And in some cases that means planting non-natives.

Those of us who are interested in getting back to a reliance on oaks as a food source - not just as a once a year novelty but as a daily staple food - recognize that given the population today we could never achieve this vision without "supercharging" those oaks - finding individuals and hybrids that produce many times what your average oak in the woods produces. And that means moving plant materials.

It is a conundrum wrapped in an enigma.  Or vice versa.  Or something equally pithy to that effect.

This is a topic I'd like to explore more, and on which I'd like your feedback and thoughts.

But on these freezing cold December day I'm going to brew up some coffee and enjoy the simple pleasure of growing trees vicariously through my FWD's (Friends With Dirt).

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