This Friday, April 27, Ohio and many other states will mark Arbor Day, a day set aside to celebrate the value that trees add to our lives and to promote tree planting and care.
Arbor Day is a time to reflect on the Greek proverb: A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.
In the last 100 years, America has lost some great tree species in our communities such as ash, American elm, and American chestnut. In honor of Arbor Day, I would like to remember these trees, remind us what we have lost, and give hope that science may bring them back for our children or grandchildren to enjoy.
Ash is the most recent tree that we have lost in our area. A little green insect from China, called the emerald ash borer, arrived in Michigan and began to kill native ash trees. It was first identified in Ohio near Toledo in 2003.
It only feeds on ash, Fraxinus ssp. Large trees died within three to five years after the initial attack. It has spread to every county in Ohio and continues to spread — it has been detected in 26 other states.
When emerald ash borer first attacked our area we had no means of protection. Since then, research has shown several insecticides that may be used as preventatives, which have to be applied regularly and before borers start to kill the tree. It will be decades before science may develop seedlings with resistance.
Another large tree that I have seen disappear during my lifetime is the American elm. This tree was a favorite for many towns, as it was fast-growing and had a beautiful umbrella shape.
Many streets in the U.S. were lined with American elm. It was also the favorite of many birds and other animals. I saw my first Baltimore oriole nest dangling from its high branches, which was one of its favorite trees for nesting.
American elms could become quite large, reaching heights of 100 feet and trunks 7 feet wide. A fungus called the Dutch elm disease was first seen in the Cleveland area in the 1930s. It quickly spread across the U.S. and killed most of the mature American elms by the 1970s.
The disease did not originate from the Netherlands (most likely Asia) but was named for the Dutch pathologist who isolated and identified the causal fungus that invaded elms in Europe. The fungus was carried from infected trees to healthy trees by elm bark beetles.
Today expensive preventative treatments can be used to keep a large susceptible American elm alive. The treatment has to be repeated every two to three years. In the long term, genetic resistance will be required to bring back the American elm.
Disease-tolerant cultivars that have been developed from a few surviving large trees are commercially available under the name of “Valley Forge” and “New Freedom.” A homeowner may also consider Asian elms, which are resistant to the disease.
There are also hybrids available from crosses between American and Chinese elms. The U.S. Forestry Service has an extensive testing program for resistant American elms and hybrids near Delaware, Ohio.
Large American chestnut trees disappeared before I was born. American chestnut was one of the largest, tallest and fastest-growing trees in the eastern forests. Its wood was valuable for furniture and building material.
Nuts from the tree provided abundant food for birds and other wildlife and for livestock and humans.
Chestnut blight, a disease caused by a fungus originally from Asia, was first discovered in New York in 1904. By 1950 it had wiped out large American chestnut trees in eastern forests and communities. Today we are just beginning to see the introduction of American chestnut hybrids back into the forest.
These hybrids have been developed from plant breeding programs that for decades have been crossing American chestnuts with Chinese chestnuts to get the resistant genes from the Chinese type and keep at least 90 percent of the American chestnut characteristics.
In recent years, a genetically modified American chestnut has been developed that has 100 percent resistance to the blight. It is currently being evaluated by regulatory agencies for approval to be introduced into forests.
Besides the loss of these great trees, there is another reason I would like to honor Arbor Day. Ten years ago, I lost one of my heroes around Arbor Day — my Dad.
Dad was always planting trees somewhere. Dad grew trees from seeds, healed young seedlings in the garden, and assisted the community in obtaining trees from grants and other sources. Appropriately, his last public activity was taking part in the Arbor Day proclamation for his city. Cancer took him 10 days later.
His motto: Communities were better because of trees. He worked hard for my hometown to become a Tree City USA. He was recognized as one of Missouri’s state arborists of the year.
My Dad may be remembered as an agriculture engineer, a World War II veteran of the Okinawa invasion, and a longtime city councilman, but I will always remember him for his passion for trees.
Every time I go back to my hometown and visit the city park, I see his memory all around me — trees. He planted most of them. Create your memory this year by planting a tree for Arbor Day.
If unable to plant, read Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” to your small children or grandchildren, and of course, one can always read Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Trees.”
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for The Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at email@example.com.
Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.