Trees/ Tree Biology


July 14, 2016: It's a good year for fruit in the Willamette Valley and, in this election summer, it is important that every owner of fruit tree(s) come together, regardless of their affiliations, and support their trees . . . particularly apples, plums, pears, peaches (the heavier fruits). Just yesterday I lost half of a venerable plum tree when a major limb broke off due to a bumper crop of plums.
Cut sapling & 2 x 4 propsCut sapling & 2 x 4 props
Go out and look at your fruit trees now! If they are starting to bend over from fruit, prop them up NOW! A fruit tree prop can be as simple a 2 x 4 or 2 x 2 with a small piece nailed to the top as a tee and cut to a length to jam between the ground and the limb. I've used forked saplings I've cut from my forest.PVC schedule 40 pipe works. You also can buy fancier and more aesthetic looking manufactured telescoping prop poles such as Prop-A-Crop.
The important thing is to act now. Fruit tree owner apathy and disengagement is a major threat to a free and functioning home orchard. It is imperative for every American fruit tree owner to support and uphold our tree's right to bear fruit and to do so without the constraints and strictures of any government or foreign power. But that means we must bear that responsibility responsibly ourselves. Our fruit liberties depend upon an informed and engaged fruit populace.
PVC Sch, 40 pipe gaily decorated with flagging tapePVC Sch, 40 pipe gaily decorated with flagging tape


July 13, 2016: "A dog, a kid, and a walnut tree, the more you beat them the better they be." That's an old Appalachian saying. Let me say, right away, that I DO NOT agree with that . . . at least the first two targets. The third, the walnut, well there may be something to that.

First of all, to be fair to the people of Appalachia, they did not originate this cruel and insensitive adage. It passed to the colonies from Old England and from Europe and varied slightly in that the dog and the kid were sometimes replaced by similarly defenseless targets such as mules, horses, and women. The walnut it appears has never been substituted for anything else over time.

I'm fascinated with how agricultural adages evolved. It obviously starts with observation of results. Along the way, it may be accompanied by insightful or hokey reasoning, but in the end does science eventually back it up? In the case of the walnut tree, it does.(the dog and kid part of it was probably thrown in there by some child beating, animal abusing jerk of a forebear).

Walnut whippingWalnut whipping"Whipping walnuts" was a procedure where the trunks were beaten with long sticks and the result was often greater walnut production the next year. Walnuts were not the only trees to suffer at the hands of trunk mutilators. In the Deep South, pecan growers would take logging chains and beat their pecans trees for better pecan production. In Oregon, some holly growers would shoot their trees with bird shot to increase the next year's amount of holly berries for their Christmas greens trade. Apple and pear growers cut strips of bark off their trees in a process called "ringing" to reduce vegetative growth while increasing future fruit production.

The most commonly held reasoning of the time was that by mutilating the trunk of a tree you "scared" theBark ringingBark ringing tree into producing more fruit. Increased flowering (from which comes fruiting) was the tree's response, a last ditch effort at propagation before the tree mutilator returned. Wow, if trees went to the movies and Alfred Hitchcock was a tree, I can see a whole different, and more terrifying version of Psycho here. But trees don't go to the movies (and it's probably a good thing 'cause you'd never see anything if you sat in the back row) and they don't respond to anthropomorphic (ascribing human qualities to non-human things) reasons such as fear, thinking. or the desire to have some last minute propagation fling. There is physiology behind the responses of plants and it is the science that is behind the adage that is fascinating.

Plants, with the exception of mosses and liverworts, have a vascular system. For that matter, we have a vascular system -our arteries, veins and heart that move blood through our body. Vascular plants have xylem and phloem that move sap through their bodies. The xylem moves water and dissolved nutrients from roots to leaves and shoots. In trees (except for palms) It's located in the sapwood, the outermost and newest laid rings of wood. The phloem moves food (sugars) made by the leaves down to the live growing portions of the trees - the trunk cambium and the root tips. This phloem is located in the inner bark which lies just underneath the outer bark.

So when someone with a big stick or logging chain or shotgun comes up to a tree and whams it upside the trunk, it damages the phloem. Food can then not pass through the injured tissue and more of it remains in the top of the tree, where the new surplus is then put to use in flower buds and subsequent fruit production. The tree will attempt to regrow new tissue with phloem over the damaged area to reconnect the system. This new growth is called callus tissue. Since there are more photosynthates (food) trapped above the damage, there is more callus growth there often causing a swelling above the damage. I've seen this a lot, particularly with unintentional tree mutilation such as tree staking.

Ever plant a tree and to keep it from falling over in a high wind you drive a wooden stake or two into the Girdling due to StakingGirdling due to Stakingground and then tie the stake to the tree trunk and then walk away and forget it? Eventually that tree tie begins to girdle the trunk and constrict the phloem as it expands outward and you have the same effect as whacking it with a chain. If I had a low fat, decaf, caramel macchiato for every customer's tree I removed from careless tree staking, I'd be hanging out in Starbucks for a couple of weeks. Come to think of it, I have noticed an increased growth above my belt line over the past ten years. Maybe my belt is girdling me and it time to switch to suspenders.

Because of the science behind the adage, we can now see that beating some fruit and nut trees may indeed make them better, for fruit production, at least. And, I might further point out, that since dogs and kids do not have xylem and phloem then beating them is patently absurd, most ineffective and without scientific basis.

Observant reader that you are, you're probably wondering whether such trunk torture techniques are harmful to the tree. The answer to that is yes. Those same sugars that are trapped in the crown are not Girdling due to PartakingGirdling due to Partakinggetting to the roots. A healthy tree has a lot of stored food in its roots and may be able to stand it for a year or several, but eventually when it runs out of food the root dies. It also depends on the severity and extent of phloem damage. Is it 50%, 70%, 100% of the circumference of the phloem damaged? Some young apple trees can withstand 90% ring barking once. It also depends of tree species, vigor, age - a lot of variables and from what I've been able to garner there's not a lot of research out there on this topic.

Beware and be aware of the wanton beating of your fruit and nut trees. In the case of old non-producing trees, it may be an alternative to try before the final solution of removal.


Dec. 3, 2015: I have always been interested in the junction where history and botany meets. One of the more peculiar junctions involves the horse chestnut tree and how it won World War I and started the nation of Israel (well, it kinda helped, but that's not as dramatic)

The horse chestnut, a native of the Balkans, is used as a street and ornamental tree throughout Europe and North America. It's large brown nut is contained in a green spiny husk and, unlike the sweet chestnut that is edible, the horse chestnut is poisonous.

In Britain, the nut is called a conker and a game, "conkers", is played where the nut is suspended on a string and one swings it into an opposing players nut to see if you can crack it. There is even a World Conkers Championship. In the US, as a child, we used throw the nut, with spiny husk attached, at each other's heads to see if we could get them to stick. I don't recall how we scored those matches but it was much more violent than the English version. I recall having been scored upon several times.

But, I digress, back to WWI and the horse chestnut. In the spring of 1915 Britain was suffering from The Great Shell Shortage. Stores of cordite, the stuff that makes high explosive shells go boom, were dangerously low. It was so bad that artiliery and naval guns were rationed four shells a day. Since 1889, Britain had replaced gunpowder with cordite as the explosive agent in shells. Cordite is a mixture of nitroglycerine, petroleum jelly and gun cotton and the chemical process to produce it required large quantities of acetone. Acetone was produced by the destructive distillation of wood and whole forests were cut and burned to keep the shell factories going.

Britain did not have enough wood to meet its ammunition needs and relied on the forests of North America to supply it. The problem resulted from shipping that wood to Britain through German sub infested waters. It wasn't working. British Minister of Munitions, David Lloyd George, enlisted the aid of a Jewish chemist, Chaim Weizmann. Weizman developed an acetone production process that could use varied forms of cellulose, such as corn or potatoes. Once again there was a problem because corn and potatoes were needed to feed the English populace and troops.

So where do you find an abundant supply of cellulose that's not a foodstuff or wood? Turns out there's a whole lot of horse chestnuts in Britain. The government put out an appeal to the schoolchildren of Britain to collect the nuts. In short order, the patriotic (plus a few shillings per hundred pound bag) kids collected so many horse chesnuts that tons of them were left rotting by the railway. Shell production was back on track and the Brits were back to bombing the bejesus out of the Germans.

Chaim Weizmann, the Jewish chemist that made this possible , became a venerated member of British political circles. Chaim was also an ardent Zionist and argued passionately within those political circles for the formation of an independent Jewish nation. In 1917 his persuasion lead to the Balfour Declaration, which was a promise by the British government to help form a national homeland for the Jew out of Palestine, then in control of by the Ottoman Turks. It was the first in a long series of steps to the birth of Israel and Weizmann later became the first president of the nation.

And that's how the horse chestnut conkerd Germany, won WWI and started Israel (or sorta, kinda). If I had known all that as a kid, it would have seemed less painful having them stuck to my head.


Nov . 8, 2013: I learned a new word today. If you don't use a new word, you lose it. In fact, some educational psychologists say you must hear and use a new word at least 35 times before it becomes a kept portion of your vocabulary. The word I learned is "psithurism" (1) (sith-err-iz-um) which is the sound the wind makes when moving through trees. How on earth, I thought, am I going to manage to use the word "psithurism" (2) thirty five times in conversation or in prose. Perhaps in a greeting, "Good morning! Such a nice day with a gentle psithurism (3) in the air". But then folks might look at me a little odd and I'm not expecting to greet 35 people psithurectically (4) anytime soon. But then it struck me - my blog! On a blog you can subject the world or your reader(s-maybe) to all manners of repetition. Yes I will blog about psithurism (5). Psithurisms (6) a good idea, I think.

I discovered this word (psithurism (7)) on an online seminar for arborists. The author of the online article (on psithursim (8)) talked about how the great bards of the past, Longfellow, Thoreau, Liu Chi had been inspired to write great prose and poetry by the sound of wind moving through the trees (psithurism (9)). How they had waxed poetically about how the trunk, form and leaf texture of a tree affects it's tonal, or shall I say psithurectic (10) properties. How we arborists might want to look at the technical side of psithurism (11). How one group of people hear the wind (psithurism (12)) . . . . . I'm getting tired of this as , I'm sure, are you, so let's get it over with - psithurism, psithurism, psithurism, psithurism x 20) . Anyways, how one group of people hear the wind and anaylze it's effects on our soul, and another, like we arborists, analyze it's effects. Perhaps there's a little bit of scientist trapped in a poet's soul and a little bit of poet in the scientist.

Is there a difference in the psithurism (36) of a Doug fir forest, with its short needles and dense crown and a lodgepole pine forest with its large needles and open crowns? Does rough bark make more noise than smooth bark? Does an oak in summer sound different than an oak in winter? I don't know. But then I've never stopped and taken the time to psithurize (37) the moment. Next time I'm pruning a tree I believe I will.


June 26, 2012: When my daughter was young I used to play a game with her friends and her. While walking through a park or the woods I would point to a tree and holler “Trees are worth money! 10 cents!” The child that correctly identified the tree got the dime or nickel or sometimes a whole quarter. I found the financial incentive to be great for teaching tree identification and besides, it made me feel like an arboreal Alex Trebec ( “You've chosen Conifers for 10 cents . . . )

The problems with financial education incentives are that the bar is continually pushed upwards. Nickels and dimes, soon became quarters and dollars, and in the teen years it became, “That’s a cascara. I want to borrow the car tonight. That’s Holodischus, ocean spray, I want my own telephone in my bedroom!” Being unable and unwilling to meet these EDO’s (extortionary debt obligations) the Tree Bank folded in short order.

Your trees are worth money though and there is a way that their value can be assessed. It’s called tree appraisal and it’s an organized methodology to derive a specific dollar value to a tree. Most often tree appraisal comes up when there has been damage to a tree – sometimes due to another party, sometimes due to a natural disaster. For example, someone’s car careens off the road and strikes a tree in your yard. Just like if your car was struck by another car and an insurance appraiser inspects the damage and derives a settlement dollar amount, a tree appraiser can inspect your tree and determine the extent of damage and the dollar value of that damage.

Tree appraisals are conducted by registered consulting arborists and certified arborists. One size does not fit all when it comes to tree appraisal. There are different methods that are applied and that is determined by what is most appropriate for the situation. I’ve done a couple of handfuls of appraisals over the years. They have ranged from the more garden variety of “a dump truck backed over my tree”, to 3 acres of hurricane damaged landscape, to an intentional tree murder by an adjoining landowner dumping diesel fuel on the roots of a tree.

In every appraisal situation the first question the appraiser must ask is what is the most appropriate method to use. The worth of a salmon at the fighting end of a fishing rod will not be its worth served at a posh restaurant grilled with lemon juice and olive oil and delicately seasoned with herbes de provence and perhaps some of them curlicued beet and carrot strips alongside for visual impression. Appraising the worth of a tree in the forest will not be the same as appraising the worth of a 100 year old Oregon oak that is the centerpiece of a landscape.

The appraisal menu has the following entrees:

- The Diameter Method: This is the method most often used in larger trees in the urban/suburban landscape. It often results in a larger dollar value. It is often used where litigation is involved to determine a claim amount.

- The Property Value Method: This method is used to determine the loss of property value resulting from the loss of trees. In the 3 acres of hurricane damage, I mentioned above, I knew Mother Nature was not going to pay for the damages. If any kind of financial redress was forthcoming, it would be from the loss in property value that might be claimed on a tax return. This appraisal really required three different professionals. An arborist knows tree values. A real estate appraiser knows property values. A tax accountant knows when and how you can claim it on your taxes. Each needs the input of the other for a valid claim.

- The Replacement Method: This method is used for smaller trees, ones that can be realistically replaced (say 8” diameter or less). It involves an estimate of the cost to remove the damaged tree and to replace with one of a similar size. This may involve professionals other than an arborist, such as a tree grower and/or landscape contractor, folks that regularly plant trees and can give accurate, up-to-date costs.

- The Crop Method: Used where the damaged tree is part of an agricultural crop - trees in a forestland or trees in a Christmas tree plantation, for example. I live in a stand of Doug fir. If someone trespasses and cuts down one of my fir, the law says I’m entitled to 3 times its worth as a sawlog delivered to the mill, and no one cares whether I’ve hugged that tree daily for years, it’s the centerpiece of my rural landscape or I was planning to be buried beneath it. It’s a timber tree.

Once an appropriate appraisal method has been chosen, the tree appraiser goes on site and inspects the tree. For the diameter method, the tree’s “DBH” (diameter breast height – 4 ½’ above the ground) is measured. From that is calculated the square inches in the truck and that is multiplied by a dollar value per sq. inch. That’s the base worth of the tree and then the arborist will begin knocking that down based on it’s species, condition and location.

Let me create a scenario to illustrate. That hypothetical Doug fir that I mentioned above, let’s say it front and center in my suburban landscape, a key element of the landscape. A dastardly neighbor uphill of me, secretly cuts down the tree one dark night to get a better view. Forensic scientists are able to match the wood fiber of the trunk to the wood fibers inside the neighbor’s chainsaw and we have captured the culprit. Unfortunately, tree murder is not a jailable offense, and instead we take this butcher to court.

This was a large Doug fir, 36” DBH. It’s cross sectional area is 1018 square inches. At $60/sq. in. that’s $61,180!!! Holy Sequoia! But now we have to figure in other factors. First, there is the species factor.]Species factor is based on the desireability of a species for a given area. Does it grow well? Is it prone to disease and insect problems. Does it have pleasing form, flower or fruit? This is a very subjective judgement and to keep it a little more objective tree appraisers as a group through the CTLA (Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers) have published guidelines for judging these factors. Douglas fir have a species rating between 65-85%. Let’s pick the middle – 75%. Now the tree’s value becomes $61, 180 x 70% or $45,885.

The second factor is the condition factor, how healthy was this tree. This tree was healthy but it wasn’t perfect. It had a long lightening scar running down the trunk, it had some dead branches, but the trunk was sound and without signs of decay. The arborist rates it @70% of perfect. 70% of $45,885 = $32,119.

The last factor is the site location factor. It rates how prominent and important the tree was in the landscape. Was is a focal point in the front yard? Was it one of several in the backyard? Did George Washington sleep underneath it? The CTLA appraisal handbook gives a range of 80-90% for residences. This tree was prominent , but Washington didn’t sleep under it, only the owner when he was locked out one night. The arborist rates it at 80%. Now $32,119 x 805 = $25, 695. That’s still a big chunk of change for that tree.

Now it’s a matter for the court to take that appraisal information and determine a settlement amount. There is a lot of room for subjective judgement and it is the responsibility of the arborist to document the reasons why they chose the factor amounts that they did. Two different arborists may come up with two different appraisals and it can often be a matter of dueling arborists (one for the plaintiff and one for the defendant) in a court of law.

If we take the same Doug fir and transport it to my rural woodlot. The neighbor this time cuts it down wrongfully for firewood. The value of that tree delivered as logs to the sawmill is about $450. Triple that due to the Oregon timber trespass law and that neighbor will owe $1350. That’s a long ways from the 26K for the suburban landscape tree.

So you’re trees are worth money and usually more than you think. A good reason to take care of them .

F & P