Submitted by: Chris Turner, Old Northside Parks Horticulturalist
If you visit Great Oak Commons this year you will notice some trees missing. Specifically four honey locusts that were probably about 30 years old. The decision to remove them was not one we came to easily. Over the last few years we have had them evaluated by two ISA certified arborists, and have taken various steps to try to save them. We have had soil decompaction, fertilization, treatment for scale insects and dead wood removal done, but in the end nothing worked. At this point more than half of each tree is dead, and they are a safety hazard.
What next? Actually we have already installed some trees to start replacing them. Specifically hybrid chestnut trees. American chestnut trees were a dominant species in Eastern forests before the early 1900’s when chestnut blight killed billions of them. Chestnuts were a major source of food for wildlife and humans alike not to mention lumber. Much like American elms and more recently ash trees, imported disease and insects killed them off and dramatically altered our native forests.
You may have noticed American elm returning to our city. Scientists were able to find trees that survived Dutch Elm disease and have reintroduced these fast growing native trees. Similarly science is working on trying to bring back chestnuts. The chestnut trees we have planted are a hybrid of the American chestnut and the Chinese Chestnut. The majority of their DNA is American with just enough Chinese to impart disease resistance. The holy grail would of course be a %100 American chestnut, but that hasn’t happened yet.
One thing you will notice about the trees we have planted is that they are relatively small. This is partly because there aren’t large hybrid chestnuts to be had. Sure I could have planted another variety of tree in a larger size, but I have always enjoyed pursuing unusual plants. Also smaller trees tend to adapt to their surroundings more quickly than large trees, and quickly catch up to their larger transplanted cousins.
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