Monday, October 27, 2014

The Best Laid Plans...

When a bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) tree estimated to be as much as 250 years old stood in the way of construction of a new building at the University of Michigan, officials laudably decided to move it rather than chop it down.  Estimated cost:  $400,000.

Their elaborate plan for moving the 700,000 lb behemoth included a spiffy computer animation... so you know it's going to work, right?


The words "KABOOM!"  and "projectile" should probably not be associated with transplanting trees.  In fact, moving trees should be almost entirely onomatopoeia free.  Thank goodness no one was hurt (although there's no mention of possibly hearing loss).

Stay tuned to for updates.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

White Oak Wedding

I was lucky enough to be married about 10 miles from Homer, Alaska on the shore of a gorgeous little lake with a cow moose and her twins grazing peacefully on the opposite shore.  The wedding was attended by five other people (including the minister), two of whom we had known for more than one day. I didn't think I'd ever be jealous of someone else's wedding setting.  I was wrong.  Getting married beneath an oak of that size and age would be spectacular. 

Hopefully the happy couple honored what I have read was a law in Middle Age Germany: Newly wedded couples were required to plant an oak tree, so that it would be mature enough to produce acorns when the couple's children were old enough to marry... so that young couples would have a ready source of food - yes, acorns as food - when they got married and started a family.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Great oak photos and info...

Tons of great stuff on this blog post.

Gobs of great info about Middle Eastern and other oaks I wasn't familiar with.  Gorgeous photos.  And some of the smartest things I have read about oaks outside of this blog.  For example,

"Many Oaks are both fast growing and an investment that will last for many centuries... 1 inch of fill during regrading can kill an Oak by suffocating the roots. Drip irrigation is not recommended. Water more than once a week can cause chlorosis or kill. Roundup on weeds surrounding an Oak is ok. The fact that Oaks like to be left alone may also be one of the highest qualities. They withstand drought and bad soil better than almost any other tree and on good sites can be very fast growing and extremely long lived. They add permanence to the landscape... Here are a few of the many types of Oaks that make awesome landscape plants." (Emphasis mine)

I love how he capitalizes Oak!  As it should be.

"Let it be an oak..."

Click here.  Scroll down to September 17, 2014.

I got into those whole whacky urban forestry caper back in the mid/late 80s because I believed that oaks were massively under planted.  They still are, but the tide is turning.

Today I got an email from a tree tube customer in Kansas.  He said he has now planted 12 different types of oaks on his property.  How awesome.

And (returning to the subject of the link above, instead of - as usual - making it all about me) on September 17  Trees Atlanta will host "Let it be an oak" at their office at 225 Chester Avenue, a program that will extol the virtues of oaks as landscape trees and encourage tree planters to choose oaks.  Super awesome.

Back in the 80s (to return to making this about me) I worked at a couple of different landscape garden centers in suburban Minneapolis/St. Paul.  The first one didn't even offer any oaks for sale, and the second one did but rarely sold any.  Too "messy" (those darn acorns, how dare they litter my lawn?).  To "slow growing."  Homeowners were obsessed with planting seedless green ash. 

Which has worked out really well for them.  On the plus side, I doubt very much that many of those seedless green ashes even lived long enough to be affected by EAB.

Well done Tree Atlanta!

Thanks for the tip Lucas.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A day no oak lover can afford to miss...

...except I will have to miss it.  And it's killing me.

The International Oak Society is holding an Oak Day in Mississippi hosted by Dudley Phelps, nursery manager for Mossy Oak's Nativ Nurseries.

Click here to learn more.

John Wooden was the most successful college basketball coach ever, leading UCLA to ten NCAA championships in a twelve year period.  He was known as the Wizard of Westwood.  When fans, sports radio hosts and especially rival coaches discuss Wooden, the argument always arises:  Was it Wooden's coaching or was it his players?  (As in, who wouldn't have won that many championships with Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor and the other amazing players he coached?)  Chicken, egg, who cares?  Fact is Wooden both got the players and he coached them to reach their fullest potential.  Bill Walton tells the story of his first practice under Coach Wooden.  What nuggets of wisdom would the Wizard bestow upon them?  What complex offensive strategy would he blow their young minds with?  Then Wooden proceeded to spend the first 20 minutes of practice discussing the proper way to tie a pair of basketball sneakers.

His point:  Details matter.  Details make all the difference between success and failure.

Dudley Phelps is the Wizard of West Point (as in West Point, Mississippi).  His accomplishments dwarf those of John Wooden.  Don't believe me?  Take a look.

(Click to enlarge)
 This is a white x overcup oak hybrid.  It was planted as a 20 inch tall seedling in March, 2011.  This photo was taken 7 months later, in October 2011.  The plastic tree tube is 4ft tall.  The tree is twice that.  Do the math (no seriously, I'm not good enough at math to calculate the growth).  Here's that same tree one year later, in October 2012.  It's a good two inches in caliper at the base.

(Click to enlarge)
Yes, that's 19 months - 2 growing seasons - after planting a 20 inch seedling.  
Fluke you say?  Take a gander at this:

(Click to enlarge)
He can make trees grow sideways!  Actually, blogger takes all vertical portrait format photos and turns them sideways and there doesn't seem to be a damn thing I can do about it.  Sorry about that.  Here's the story on this one. Chinese chestnut, planted as an 18 inch tall seedling in July, 2012.  Didn't grow at all above ground for the remainder of the 2012 growing season (although I'm sure the roots were busy).  This photo was taken in September of 2013.  Four foot tube.  Ten foot tree.  One (and a half) growing season.
Kind of puts 10 NCAA Championships to shame doesn't it?

So what's the secret, superior players (in this case planting stock) or superior coaching (planting methods and attention to detail)?  Both.  Dudley 'recruits' the players (identifies superior parent trees* and collects their seed), trains them (cultivates the nursery stock), and coaches them (plants and maintains them).  His attention to every detail of the process is what sets him apart.  Ask him how to plant a tree and he'll spend 20 minutes talking about preparing the soil months in advance - the arboreal equivalent of how to tie your shoes.  It's what makes him the Wizard of West Point.

* The longer I have been a sports fan the more I realize the importance of parentage; so many of the athletes I cheer for today are the sons and daughters - or in some cases grandchildren - of athletes I cheered for as a kid!

I would give up one or two non-essential limbs to be there for Oak Day.  Hope you can make it, and I hope it draws the kind of turn out it deserves - which is to say enough people to fill a stadium.  These days I'd way rather watch oaks grow than a basketball game - more action and fewer commercial.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Reintroducing Acorns Into The Human Diet

Great article on what we've been advocating for years:  It's time for humans to rediscover the food that served as Staff of Life for much of our history.

Click here... in Scientific American!

How awesome is that?

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Massive Oaks of Costa Rica


Just, wow.  I am ambivalent about Eco-tourism.  I get the idea of creating economic value for ecosystems as ecosystems and not as natural resources/commodities.  It might, in the end, be the only way to conserve them within the economic realities of the world.  But I have a problem with consuming fossil fuels to go see natural wonders which are threatened/damaged by the consumption of fossil fuels.

But man, I'd love to go to Costa Rica and see these trees.

Scroll down.  Either that's a REALLY big acorn or the dude has a really small hand.

Thanks Lucas!

Have a great weekend everyone.

South Dakota State University planting hybrid oak on Arbor Day

SDSU is planting a hybrid oak in a Brookings, SD park to commemorate Arbor Day this weekend.  It's great to see an oak being chosen for the planting, instead of the Siberian elms, green ash or blue spruce that were likely the choices.  I don't have anything against those species (although the same can't be said for the panoply of insect and fungal pests that are effectively wiping them out), but oaks have been criminally under planted for decades, and it's great to see an increased emphasis on planting oaks.

But of I course I wouldn't be me without injected a mild quibble with the article.  If you're planting a hybrid oak are you really planted a "certain species" of tree?  (Then again as longtime readers - note the optimistic/delusional use of the plural - know, I defy anyone to plant an oak that isn't, to one degree or another, a hybrid.)

Some friends and I once ran a marathon relay in Brookings, SD.  The only hills on the course were the man-made ramps to create freeway overpasses. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

New species of oak discovered in Thailand

This is so cool!  I know, I'm always carping about botanists who head out into the woods, see an oak with slight variations from the local population of whatever oak "species" they are studying, and then proceed to name this new variant or "species" after themselves.  Or their girlfriends.  I have always thought Quercus siemsii has a nice ring to it.

But there are actual new species of oak out there for the finding.  It would be incredibly thrilling to discover one.

This one is a Lithocarpus, not a Quercus.  It is not closely related to California's tanbark oak, Notholithocarpus densiflorus despite the fact that tanbark oak used to be classified in the Lithocarpus genus.  I have a half written post on tanbark oak which this story reminds me I need to finish.  Prince - as in the singer - is involved.

This new stone oak, by the way, is Lithocarpus orbicarpus, so unless it was discovered by some dude named Orbi Carpus it was actually named for its physical characteristics and not its discoverer - a promising sign that it's truly a new species and not some botanist's ego trip.

Thanks Lucas!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Oak abuse: Sean Hannity advocates spiking trees

I spend a lot of my time in my truck listening to the radio.  Depending on the time of day and my location, at any given moment I might be listening to sports talk, NPR, local San Joaquin Valley talk, Rush, Hannity or oldies (a.k.a. music I listened to as a kid).  The combination often causes intellectual whiplash.

In the last four presidential elections I have voted for candidates from three different political parties, all with equal conviction.  In my meanderings up and down the radio dial I come across smart liberals, dumb conservatives, dumb liberals and smart conservatives.  (In my world smart = pragmatic and dumb = mindless demagogue... and they come in all political stripes.)  There are two local right-leaning talk show guys in Bakersfield who are great - thoughtful, funny, and able to see other points of view.

Sean Hannity, on the other hand, is an idiot.

I was listening late last week as he proposed to provide a great service for the millions of out-of-work Americans who are disheartened by the weak economy and poor job market.  He actually said this:  If the average house in your area costs $400,000 (as if that's the median home value in most places), then the way to make money in a bad economy is to go out and buy a "fixer upper" that's a little run down for, say, $275,000.  Put another $25,000 and some elbow grease into it and you can quickly sell it for $350,000, turning a tidy profit.  Thank God for Hannity!  Because I am sure there are millions of Americans who are out of work trying to figure out what to do with that $50,000 they have sitting in the bank and the extra money that keeps coming in every month, and here comes Hannity with the answer:  Buy a house!  A $275,000 house!  Make a down payment, somehow get financing without an income, somehow make monthly payments, and somehow come up with the money for new cabinets, stainless steel appliances (yes, he said that) and other improvements.  As a bonus you could then employ all of your children who are also out of work, paying them a wage for helping with remodeling, thusly teaching them the value of hard work.  Jesus wept.

I must have been scarfing lunch on the fly and didn't have a spare hand, because for some reason I didn't immediately change the station.  Hannity segued from that stroke of economic wisdom to a brief - but mentally deranged - discussion of trees.  He decried the fact that he lives on a place where you can be fined $10,000 for cutting down a tree in your own yard.  (For the record I have mixed feelings about such ordinances, but I can definitely see why they exist - because it's because of guys like him.)  He went on to say that the way around these ordinances is to - oopsey! - prune the trees so heavily that they die or even to "spike" the trees.  And I quote, albeit loosely:  "Who's to know?  You can do that you know."

Triple moron!  Spiking trees is a horrific thing to do.  It's meant to injure/maim/kill anyone who cuts down or mills the tree.  It is terrorism.  It doesn't kill trees, but Hannity sure sounded like he thought it did, and was therefore a brilliant idea.  So the guy who hates the fact that he has to get permission to cut down trees on his own property is telling millions of (the most patriotic) Americans that the way to kill them without getting in trouble is to spike them.  Thus exposing tree care professionals in the future tasked with removing them to the possibility of grievous injury.  I wept. 

Thank God for intellectual stimulation of ESPN radio's 24 hour coverage of the latest sports scandal or my brain would literally melt out my ears while driving.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Child allergic to nuts, mom wants oaks in nearby park chopped down

It must be constantly terrifying to be the parent of a child with anaphylaxis-inducing food allergies.  Heck, it's terrifying being the parent of any child, then add to that the constant concern about exposure to foods - sometimes as hidden ingredients in seemingly innocent fare - that could have the direst consequences.

But really.  Read this. A mother of a child with severe nut allergies wants a nearby park to remove four large oak trees.  The mother says this is not a case of a parent simply wanting to bubblewrap her child.  The writer points out - correctly - that she's right; this is a case of a parent wanting to bubblewrap everything her child might be exposed to.

Is this really how we want to interact with our natural environment?

A blue jay can transport an acorn 2 miles.  OK, I made that up because I'm too lazy to find the research.  But the point is a blue jay can carry an acorn a long way.  And then drop it in this little girl's back yard.  What is the right "radius of safety?"  Do we eradicate every squirrel, chipmunk or blue jay that might spread disperse acorns?

This appears to be a case of a single mother (I mean one mother, singular - I don't know anything about her marital status ;-) misplacing her - very justifiable - concern, and it appears that the suggestion has met with an appropriate about of derision, so I won't pile on.  Which is a first for me.  I am not sure what is causing the sudden burst of understanding and kindness!

But it strikes me as terribly sad that even a single human being had this thought in the first place.

Thanks for sending this Lucas!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ground acorn patties called Twinkies of the paleolithic...

... by a researcher who has never eaten - or even seen - one.  Actually, by a reporter making a "clever" comment based on the "research" of a researcher who has never tried one.  Read this and weep for the level of what passes for research and reportage.

Louise Humphrey, a paleo-anthropologist at the Natural History Museum of London, is shocked - SHOCKED I TELL YOU - that paleolithic people who made their home in a Moroccan cave 12,000 to 15,000 years ago exhibited significant levels of tooth decay.  I know!  I am as blown away as you that people living thousands of years before the advent of modern dental hygiene (as opposed to us, living as we are about a hundred years before the advent of modern dental hygiene) might have had the odd cavity... or ten.

To Humphrey this apparently is proof that the so-called Paleo Diet isn't as healthy as its adherents claim.  Here's a tip Louise:  NO DIET is as healthy as its adherents claim.  No eating regime with the word diet attached to it is healthy.  Apparently "we" all thought that tooth decay started after the advent of agriculture. Apparently "we" are idiots. No Louise, agriculture spawned moral decay and environmental decay, not tooth decay.

Humphrey based her conclusions on two facts:  These folks had really bad teeth (insert British dental care joke here) and they clearly ate a lot of acorns.  She added two and two... and came up with 137, that acorns cause massive tooth decay.

Here's the part that drives me crazy:

"There's not one kind of paleo diet," Humphrey says. "I think wherever people lived, they had to make best of the wild food resources available to them."

In this case, Humphrey believes, ground acorn patties. She hasn't tried them herself, but she plans to.

"I would like to," she says. "I imagine that they would be something like sweet chestnuts."

Kind of like the Twinkies of the paleolithic.

This is a perfect example of the one-two punch of modern environmental and food reportage:  The researcher with no first hand experience with the subject matter making sweeping conclusions based on what she "imagines," and the reporter summing it all up with a glib turn of phrase.

You know what causes tooth decay?  Food.

You know where paleolithic people would have been without acorns?  Dead.

You know where we would be if acorns once again became a significant part of our diet?  A whole lot better off, teeth and all.

You know where the planet would be if we relied more on permanent woody tree crops like acorns and less on beating the soil to death to grow cereal crops?

... now I am off to go eat a Twinkie.  Then visit my dentist.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Bearded old man

No, I'm not talking about myself.  I'm talking about this stalwart valley oak (Quercus lobata - aka California white oak) growing on a hillside along Old Creek Road between Paso Robles and Cayucos, CA.

(Click to enlarge)
The hillsides are still brown in this, the driest year ever in many parts of California.  Liberally hung with Spanish moss (nature's own t.p.) I'm guessing that given the crown-to-bole ratio this old gent - like so many of us - once had a lot more foliage up top than he does now.
Sorry about the lighting in the photo.  Getting my back properly to the sun would have required that I play in traffic even more than my parents used to encourage me to do.

If that a fleck of light you see coming through base of the tree?  Yes, yes it is:

(Click to enlarge)
Dude is completely hollow, probably after wounds caused by fire, lightening and cattle hooves.  Hollow, but solid - it that makes any sense. 

Cash Cache

So I'm driving along Old Creek Road between Paso Robles and Cayucos, CA today, completely unable to think of too many places I'd rather be.  Out of the corner of my eye, in the hollow of an old dropped branch/pruning wound of an oak I'm passing, I see a flash of fluorescent green.  Of course I have to turn around and see what's up.  And this is what I see:

(Click to enlarge)
A pack of "Ice Breakers" and a Titleist.  And what was behind them?  This:
(Click to enlarge)
58 cents and a toothpick (don't worry, I didn't take either).  
Any theories?  The most likely explanation is a cache left by a cyclist while on a ride, Old Creek Road being a popular bike ride.  I get the bright green candy container - makes it easy to find (too easy, if a dude with iffy eyesight driving by at 30mph can see it, although granted I pay a lot more attention to the passing oaks than most motorists).  I am a little unclear on the reason for the golf ball.

And 58 cents?  Might buy you a phone call, but when's the last time you actually saw a pay phone?  And sadly it's not enough to buy a Coke at the end of the ride.  Now the toothpick I get.  It can get a bit uncomfortable biking up and down hills with a toothpick in your pocket.  Oh, you mean why a toothpick in the first place?  Well our hypothetical cyclist no doubt stopped along the way for a quick snack of acorns!

If it's still there next time I pass I'll leave a note with a pen for a reply!