I recently read an article by Morgan Greene in the Chicago Tribune abut the catastrophic loss of ash trees in the Chicago Area. Since the emerald ash borer was introduced in the United States around 2002 (first discovered in Michigan), the ash population has been decimated. A decade ago there were close to 13 million ashes in the Chicago area, and today there are approximately 7 million trees, and 4 million of those are dying.
It doesn’t take much observation to see the same thing happening in our area, also. Our property has a host of ash trees, most of which are on their way out. This winter and spring alone we took down 10 ash trees in our yard, and that does not take into account the numerous ash trees visible in the wooded areas that are dead. On any drive through the country in our region, you will see the bare tops of trees (newly dead and probably ash) sticking out above the forest canopy. It is sad!
Ironically, the ash was such a popular tree because it was so hardy. It grew in areas that were wet, in areas that were dry, and it grew large. The benefits of numerous ash trees ranged from natural cooling on hot days, to pollution control by absorbing carbon, to a habitat for all sorts of critters, or just the beauty of a large tree.
There was also a survey of trees in the Chicago area. While the ash used to be the most numerous, it has since been overtaken by the buckthorn. Once again, we can see the same type of ‘takeover’ in our region, just with the honeysuckle. These shrubs are invasive and due to their rapid growth, squeeze out young trees and plants so that we will not see the easy growth of new large forest areas.
So what can we do? I think there are two possible solutions. First, plant more trees. This could mean going to a nursery and buying a tree, or sweeping up the maple squirters on the sidewalk and broadcasting them to allow them to take off. We have six maple trees, some over 10 feet tall, that were started by a squirter landing in a flower pot and being transplanted. (I have to thank my mother-in-law, Jean Powers, for providing us with the starts.)
The other solution is diversity. When we plant new trees, Theresa and I look for a species that we do not have established on our property. Hopefully, this will make it less likely that we face another ‘ash massacre’ by not leaning too much on one specific species of tree.
As I wrote on a previous blog, there is an old saying that the best time to plant a trees was 20 years ago. The second best time is now! This looks like a nice Spring to plant, so go for it!