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Etrogcello for the New Year of the Trees

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat saved the etrogs from last Sukkot and has been soaking them in vodka, making etrogcello to celebrate the trees.

But really the reason I make the etrogcello is so that we can drink it at Tu BiShvat. The New Year of the Trees; the birthday, according to Talmud, of every tree, no matter when it was planted. The date when (our tradition says) the sap begins to rise to feed the trees for the year to come; the time when cosmic sap begins to rise, renewing our spiritual energy for the welter of spring festivals ahead. How better to celebrate Tu BiShvat than with this pri etz hadar, this fruit of a goodly tree, which we so cherished back at Sukkot? It stitches the harvest season to this moment in deepest New England winter. It reminds me that everything which has been dormant can once again bear fruit.

Read the rest.

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Clayton Bell, guerrilla orchardist

Clayton Bell is “an environmental hydrogeologist in Houston, Texas who is obsessed with growing fruit trees,” and his blog The Bell House is the latest addition to our linkroll of blogs about trees and forests. He blogs about pomegranates, Japanese lemons, trifoliate orange trees, how to root fig cuttings, and more. His latest post, “Squat Orchard,” describes how he started a pecan plantation on a vacant lot.

I planted the trees approximately 35 feet apart along the northern edge of the lot where they should be fairly out of the way. It also looks like water from the nearby homes drains to that area, which will be big plus if we have another brutally dry summer. I placed a 3-gallon pot with the bottom cut out around each tree to protect the trunk, and marked them with orange pin flags, small t-posts with some orange flag tape, and metal tags with the variety names. I’m hoping that this will be enough to keep the mowers that come around every couple of months from cutting them down. If I can fool the mowers into thinking that those trees are supposed to be there, then the trees’ chances of survival will be that much better. I’m going to go back later and add some printed labels with an official sounding name, for a little extra insurance.

Read the rest.

Urban tree news: Pittsburgh’s master plan, San Francisco street trees on their own, and the eucalopalypse

There’s some big news about urban forestry coming out of Pittsburgh and San Francisco over the past two weeks.

  • An organization called Tree Pittsburgh is at work on that city’s first ever Urban Forest Master Plan, and is now soliciting public input. Since a majority of the city’s trees are privately owned, public buy-in will critical.
  • As of last week, San Francisco’s Department of Public Works is no longer responsible for the city’s 23,000 street trees. Their maintenance and upkeep costs are now up to local residents.
  • And also in San Francisco, the long-simmering battle over the fate of the thousands of non-native, invasive eucalyptus trees is heating up. What’s a tree-hugger to do when entire regions become taken over by trees with low value for native wildlife species?

Thanks, by the way, to Georgia Silvera Seamans at the local ecologist blog for sending these (and many other recent links) my way.

Re-envisioning a “poem forest”

Continuing with today’s theme of almost-fresh tree news from New York City, a friend sent me this link to a blog post from something called the BMW Guggenheim Lab about a poem trail through an old-growth forest in the New York Botanical Garden. I thought at first this might be hyperbole, but the Wikipedia bears it out: “Sightseers can easily spend a day admiring the serene cascade waterfall, wetlands and a 50-acre (20 ha) tract of original, old-growth New York forest, never logged, containing oaks, American beeches, cherry, birch, tulip and white ash trees — some more than two centuries old.”

Anyway, it seems that they recently finished refurbishing the trails through this tract, and asked artist Jon Cotner, the author of the piece, to “do something poetry-related on site” in conjuction with the Poetry Society of America. He wanted something that would actively engage visitors and lead them to pay closer attention to the forest around them.

So I “installed” 15 lines pulled from 2,500 years of poetry along a trail through the old-growth forest. Visitors spoke each line (printed on a handout) at specific locations (marked by small orange signs) to which the lines corresponded conceptually or physically. For example, near the start of the self-guided walk, people would recite Pythagoras’s maxim “The wind is blowing; adore the wind” to clear their heads. Or just as the Bronx River came into view, people would recite Gary Snyder’s verse “Under the trees/ under the clouds/ by the river” to grow closer to the landscape. At the final spot, above a waterfall, people said Ch’u Ch’uang’s “Waterfalls, with a sound/ Like rain” to sharpen the auditory sensation.

Walking Poem Forest took about 20 minutes. Several participants had long histories with the Garden. They felt surprised by how intimately they encountered a landscape that had seemed “familiar” or “known.” A bench near the waterfall became an informal classroom, where we discussed their experience. The overwhelming message was that the poetic lines encouraged everyone to slow down, to see and sense more clearly, to inhabit the present more deeply, and to fill with enchantment.

The post includes photos of each spot, evidently taken in November, paired with the corresponding quote. There’s also an audio compliation of visitors reading the lines. Pretty cool!

A look back at New York City trees in holiday attire

red-light treesGillian from treeaware blog visited New York City over the holidays, and has a stunning series of photos of trees decked out in lights, “turning the streets into fairyland.” She also takes a look around Central Park, and throws in a couple of photos from February 2011 when it was considerably more wintry to show the contrast. Go look.

Allen Bush, Ash Assassin

Allen Bush is a brave man and a great writer: he risked the wrath of his Louisville, Kentucky neighbors by cutting down a big white ash in his front yard, then wrote a long and thoughtful essay for the Human Flower Project about his decision.

I have a better understanding, now, of why our white ash played a vital part in a larger landscape. I created more neighborhood anxiety than could any concerns with the looming emerald ash borer (EAB). Few, if any, have thought about the “functional extinction” of ashes. The projected threat means less today than the loss of the one ash tree I took down last month. In part, that’s because there is a communal hole; much of the loss is cumulative.

It’s been a rough few years for trees in Louisville. Winds and ice have devastated the city over the last three years. The remnants of Hurricane Ike blew through in September 2008, packing winds in excess of 65 mph that knocked-out power for a week and left scattered fallen limbs and trees in its wake. Convoys of out of state electric workers pitched camp in Louisville for weeks. Local arborists were flooded. Black market tree operators arrived from as far away as Florida. They filled-in, chopped-up, took cash, paid no local or state taxes and went home a month or two later.

They were back in late January 2009. The eerie sound of trees being torn apart by a burdensome half inch of ice lasted through the night. Limbs and age-old tree trunks, strained by more weight than they could carry, came crashing to the ground. The power went-out again for a week; the debris took weeks to clean up. Indigenous, native trees including oaks, hickories, black gums and ashes generally held-up better than river birches, lacebark elms and silver maples that took a pounding. Bradford pears and southern magnolias didn’t fare much better.

The true ash assassin, of course, is the emerald ash borer, but people can be proactive in creating more diverse plantings, too. Read the rest of Bush’s post to learn his prescriptions, which blend ecological realism with public-relations savvy.

The Human Flower Project, by the way, is a fascinating multi-author site, “an international newsgroup, photo album and discussion of humankind’s relationship with the floral world. We report on art, medicine, society, history, politics, religion, and commerce,” according to their About page. Check it out.

How to study trees right

Without necessarily casting any aspersions on forestry schools and the way they inculcate knowledge of trees and forests, I’d like to suggest that the way Rebecca has been doing it, as shared at her blog A Year With the Trees for the past two years, might be the best way to really understand our arborescent neighbors.

The 93 trees of “A Year With the Trees” have become a big part of my life. For the past two years, I sought each one of these trees, found them and sat with them. I have looked into their branches, looked closely at the veins in the leaves, at the branching, at the bark, at the land each of these trees lives in, and at the birds that live in the branches. I watched the bared branches of winter sprout new green growth in the spring. I watched the fullness of summer life that lives in the trees, and watched how summer turned into fall with the changing color. I watched as the gold, brown, red and yellow leaves fell to the ground. I have seen the branches laid bare once again awaiting new growth in the spring.

What’s next in 2012 for Rebecca’s apparently unending “year”? Click through to find out.

A visit to the forests of Endor

Blogger Dave Wenning claims that the forests of Endor featured in the Star Wars films are real places you can visit. Where could this be? Click through to find out.

Guess this tree

Pine cones and Robin Andrea

Robin Andrea at Dharma Bums says,

I took this ridiculous photo of myself holding these two cones. It’s a crazy self-portrait with reflections of my laptop on my glasses, but I wanted to convey the size. I named these two Ego and Id because they’re bigger than my head!

They’re from a species famous for possessing the longest cones of any conifer — and for producing the largest trees in the pine genus. Think you know what it is? Leave your guess in the comments here if you’re feeling bold. But one way or another, be sure to click through and find out.

Study: Wolves in Yellowstone have helped both trees and beavers

The Associated Press today drew our attention to a just-published paper in Biological Conservation: “Trophic cascades in Yellowstone: The first 15 years after wolf reintroduction,” by William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta. Since the AP has been known to object to even the briefest unauthorized quotes from their stories, however, screw them. Check out instead the story by Cory Hatch in the Jackson Hole Daily online, “Wolves helping aspens.”

The study was launched in 1997 in an attempt to understand why aspen trees were at the time declining in Yellowstone, said study coauthor William Ripple, an ecology professor at Oregon State University.

“There was no clear scientific answer,” he said. “The topic of predators and wolves was not on my radar.”

After coring aspen trees and counting tree rings, “we found that there was a major decline … starting in the first half of the 20th century,” Ripple said. “Aspen continued its decline all the way up to our study period, in 1997. At that point, we looked at the records. We found that wolves were extirpated early on, and the last wolf was killed in 1926.”

Since wolves were returned in 1995 and ’96, Ripple and his colleagues formed a hypothesis that aspens and other plants would start growing again into tall trees.

Indeed, the percentage of aspen trees browsed in one habitat type ­­— upland areas without logs — dropped from 84 percent to 24 percent from 2006 to 2010. In 97 aspen stands, the mean height of the five tallest trees increased from 60.6 inches to 100.7 inches during the same four years.

And if you’re not too intimidated by ecological jargon, do read the study itself (it’s a PDF).

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