Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ashes to ashes: Dead trees standing?

White Ash (Fraxinus americana 'Autumn Purple')
 Not that long ago, Denver discovered White Ash--or more specifically--Denver discovered 'Autumn Purple' and suddenly it was the flavor of the month. Of the year--everywhere you look around this region, you will see streets spotted with bright purple red this time of year (with the wonderful hint of gold in the middle)--some places a whole block is lined with them, rather like unto the days of the American elm monocultures. Start the Drum Roll!....

Trunk of White Ash (Fraxinus americana 'Autumn Purple')
 But let's wait just a bit for the bad news...let's linger on this particular white ash at Crown Hill Cemetery--a few hundred feet south of the main building in the middle of a wide field. I have admired this tree for many years, and when I helped Crown Hill with their centenary (and contributed a chapter on their trees to the book published to honor that centenary: "A Century of Dignity") my payment was to have a plaque affixed to this tree--which may have been the State Champion specimen of the cultivar at another time, another place. I was a bit embarrassed by having a premature plaque in a cemetery, moreover on a tree that was so vulnerable to a pest--that pest commonly known as E.A.B.--which has pretty much obliterated the native ashes east of the Mississippi over the past few decades. I worried that as the ash goes, so go I. Notice the graft line at the bottom of the picture. This really is a wonderful tree. It was a great honor. I was relieved yesterday to see that the plaque was not evident any more...

Trunk of White Ash (Fraxinus americana 'Autumn Purple')
 I love lichens on the trunks of trees--this tree may only be a few decades old, but it's beginning to show signs of venerability. Come to think of it...so am I!

 White Ash (Fraxinus americana 'Autumn Purple')
 Here's its cousin actually planted next to the headquarters of Crown Hill--not as big as my would be honoree (strange phrase that.) The color on these and on Acer freemanii 'Autumn Splendor' around Denver this week is truly unbelievable. The scarlet maple and the deep purple ash have added two novel hues to the predominately yellow and orange streetscapes. This autumn has been the most luminous and interminable of any I can remember: trees were beginning to turn in September, but this month they've gotten better and better. Most oaks and pears and mountain ashes are still bright green--provided we don't have a typical Colorado arctic blast (one a few years ago seared everything in early October and the Autumn was a bust)...but this year they are glowing like never before--with a sort of valedictory splendor.

Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
The ash borer was found in Boulder this year. I'm sure every effort will be made to eradicate it. But basically, the vast number of white ashes planted in the last few decades, and more tragically even, the million or so massive green ashes that were among the first trees planted in this region--some of which are of astonishing size and splendor--all are dead trees standing (barring some miracle of course)...It is possible the borer will be contained--but then any ignorant bozo who brings ash tree firewood from the east might re-introduce it subsequently. Perhaps a miracle control will emerge that doesn't involve neonicotinoid pesticides that can be broadcast safely (yeah, right). Or maybe they will not be as virulent here (after all, many of our elms made it through Dutch Elm disease because the disease had lost some virulence by the time it got here--this is a likelier scenario)...I snapped the picture above on my commute home: the green ashes around Denver are luminous as never before. I find myself looking for them now--trees I once held in contempt. Idiot that I was. I fear for them now and regret my pseudo-sophisticated posture that only rare and strange trees matter. 
White Ash (Fraxinus americana 'Autumn Purple')
Getting back to my sometime honorary tree--here gleaming in the backlight. Reminds me a tad of the sacred tree in Avatar in a way. Would our story end in triumph like that strange movie..

In a way, we are all American ash trees, trying to stand tall and dignified in the wintry blasts, in the summer heat. Shedding our tears like leaves, and our hair like leaves and our days like the Homeric leaves that scatter and disappear. Just as the ash borer is munching away at the cambium in a few trees in Boulder, preparing to explode its population in this virgin land...so to do we have more and more carbon accumulating in the troposphere, boding enormous potential for catastrophic climate change in our lifetimes. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.


  1. Hi Panayoti,
    If you are unaware, the below article sounds like something you would enjoy.
    They are working on breeding EAB resistant ash trees at the moment.

  2. Thanks, James. If my Dashboard didn't show me that I get quite a few visits, sometimes I'd think it's just the two of us having a conversation! I look forward to reading the Morton Arboretum piece at my leisure (plant collecting is after all my thing, as is China...as for disease resistant ashes, too late for our's that we have, I fear)


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