Thursday, January 6, 2011

Every Tree Is A Snow Flake

These days no one pays more attention to the characteristics of individual trees -- particularly when they drop acorns/fruit, how much they drop, and how big are the acorns/fruit they drop -- than hunters and sportsmen.

And probably the most observant of these is the guy who, sick and tired of the military style camo available at the time, brought a bag full of leaves, sticks and dirt into a fabric factory and said, "I want a fabric that looks like this."

That man is Toxey Haas of Mossy Oak.  Toxey has an amazing eye for identifying -- and, more to the point, remembering the durn location of* -- hyrbrid oaks and particular oaks with unique characteristics.  I absolutely love his saying: "Every tree is a snowflake."  Toxey gets it.  There are species (or, as in the case of oaks, "species") and then within those species, and especially with oaks, there is immense intra-species variation.  In the case of oaks I contend that that intra-species variation generally exceeds inter-species variation; that in other words our species delineations for oaks are so narrow as to be virtually meaningless and useless.  It is within this immense intra-species variation where so much potential lies.  Within "bur" oaks you have trees that drop acorns in August, and 50 feet away ones that drop in early November.  You have "bur" oaks that drop acorns smaller than marbles, and "bur" oaks that drop these behemoths. (By the way I love the name: Mastadon Oak!  Mast as in acorns, mastadon as in huge.  This is exactly the type of marketing we need to bring to the cause of planting oaks!)  You get shumard oaks that drop late, and ones that consistently, year after year, drop early

No two wild grown trees are exactly alike.  And within that variation lies the potential for oaks to feed a hungry world and safeguard our eroding soil.

It will take nurseries like Nativ out there identifying trees with remarkable traits, schlepping through the woods every fall to gather acorns (How can you tell a hybrid oak nurseryman? By the number of rashes and bites he has at the end of the day!), and eventually, breeding those special trees with others.  Others can gather acorns in lawns and in parks.  Hybrid and specialty oak growers must gather acorns for a specific tree at a specific time.  No matter what.

This is the best explanation of why these Specialty Oaks cost more than bed run seedlings.  I hope more and more people recognize and are willing to pay the difference.  I believe they are.

And of course, as a purveyor and peddler of plastic tree tubes, this warms my heart.

So if you live anywhere within the hardiness zones Nativ Nurseries' trees will grow, I highly recommend ordering some.  And even if you live outside the hardiness zones for their trees, plant some.  Within the vastness of intra-species variation of oaks I have become convinced that there's a lot more cold hardiness in the gene pool of southern oaks than we think.

* Location, location, location is everything.  It's one thing to identify a special tree.  It's another thing entirely to be able to find it again.  I am a very rich man.  I just can't remember where to find the source of my immense wealth.  Twenty three years ago, while driving near Itasca State Park in Minnesota, I saw a quaking aspen in full autumn color.  Only this one wasn't golden like the eight bajillion aspens around it.  It was bright red/orange.  It was stunning.  It was gorgeous.  And I have no earthly idea where the hell it is.  The market potential for that tree is staggering.  So if you're driving near Itasca State Park this autumn, drive carefully.  Don't look for "my" tree, because I don't want you to find it.  Just keep an eye out for a desperate looking guy driving on the shoulder with his head out the window staring up at the trees.  That will be me.  Again.

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