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.