The Lost Generation of Ancient Trees

September 22, 2021 · 1 minute read
The Lost Generation of Ancient Trees

At around 1,100 years old, and almost 11m (36ft) in girth, the Big Belly Oak is the oldest tree in Savernake Forest in southwest England. A tiny sapling at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Big Belly Oak has lived through the War of the Roses, the Black Death, the English Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, and two world wars. Now gnarled and knobbly, Big Belly Oak’s trunk is strapped up with a metal girdle to keep it from falling apart.

While an ancient tree like this is impressive at a distance, take a look inside and you will see something even more intriguing.

Oak polypore fungi and stag beetle larvae feast on the dead heartwood, adult stag beetles sup the sugary liquid from the “sap runs”, the living layers of wood that transport water and minerals throughout the tree. Hoverflies lay eggs in water-filled rot holes, rat-tailed maggots devour leaf litter and violet click beetles eat up wood mold that is rich with feces and other remains, accumulating over a century. Knothole moss and pox lichen cling to the bark in rainwater channels. Barbastelle bats hibernate in crevices and under loose bark. Woodpeckers and nuthatch enlarge holes for nesting, while owls, kestrels, marsh tit, and tree-creeper move into ready-made cavities.

These rich pockets of life are a secret world, a diverse habitat teeming with insects, fungi, lichen, birds and bats. The ancients of our forests provide essential food and shelter for more than 2,000 of the UK’s invertebrates speciesIn Savernake Forest alone, these trees are home to nearly 120 species of lichen, more than 500 species of fungi, and other important wildlife such as the elusive white-letter hairstreak butterflies.

We face losing these micro-worlds as, one by one, the ancient trees of today are dying and there are not enough ready to replace them.

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4,000-Year-Old Tree Trunk Coffin Discovered in Golf Course Pond

September 14, 2021 · 0 minute read
4,000-Year-Old Tree Trunk Coffin Discovered in Golf Course Pond

In July 2019, construction workers renovating a pond at a golf course in Tetney, England, stumbled onto a 4,000-year-old wooden coffin. Now, reports BBC News, the Bronze Age relic is set to go on display at the Collection Museum in Lincoln after undergoing extensive preservation work.

Per a statement from the University of Sheffield, the half-ton sarcophagus contained human remains, an ax and plants used as a bed for the deceased. Made from the hollowed-out trunk of an oak tree, it was buried beneath a gravel mound—a practice typically reserved for elite members of Bronze Age society. The coffin measures around ten feet long and three feet wide.

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The Grassroots Effort to ‘Regreen’ Puerto Rico

September 8, 2021 · 1 minute read
The Grassroots Effort to ‘Regreen’ Puerto Rico

WHEN THE FURY OF HURRICANE Maria subsided long enough to allow Amira Odeh to leave her grandmother’s home in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, she stepped into a terrifying scene. “It was like waking up in a sci-fi, alien-invasion kind of movie,” she says. “All of this destruction.”

The storm that swept through the Caribbean in the fall of 2017 devastated Puerto Rico, where Odeh was born and raised. High winds, floods, and landslides killed people across the island, destroyed the power grid, and wrecked innumerable homes. Next came months of hardship, as shuttered ports and a carelessly executed aid effort from the mainland United States meant few supplies for weeks on end. “We didn’t have anything to eat,” says Odeh. While the semi-official death toll from the storm is 4,645, the lack of food, clean water, electricity, and shelter led to many more preventable deaths.

But in the immediate aftermath of the storm, the memory that most stands out for Odeh was that first glimpse of the post-Maria landscape. “There wasn’t green anymore,” she says. “A tropical landscape always has green. And the only thing green was the grass. There were no trees.”

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Study: Almost Half of World’s Wild Tree Species Could Be At Risk of Extinction

September 1, 2021 · 0 minute read
Study: Almost Half of World’s Wild Tree Species Could Be At Risk of Extinction

Between a third and half of the world’s wild tree species are threatened with extinction, posing a risk of wider ecosystem collapse, the most comprehensive global stocktake to date warns.

Forest clearance for farming is by far the biggest cause of the die-off, according to the State of the World’s Trees report, which was released on Wednesday along with a call for urgent action to reverse the decline. The five-year, international study found 17,510 species of trees are threatened, which is twice the number of threatened mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles combined.

This was 29.9% of the 58,497 known species of trees in the world. But the proportion at risk is likely to be higher as a further 7.1% were deemed “possibly threatened” and 21.6% were insufficiently evaluated. Only 41.5% were confirmed as safe.

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Where Are the Last of Maine’s Historic King Pines?

August 20, 2021 · 1 minute read
Where Are the Last of Maine’s Historic King Pines?

ON A BRIGHT, BUGGY JUNE day, I set off across a Maine river into a preserve called The Hermitage. I was in search of a pine tree claimed by the king of England centuries ago. Snow, mud, and raging water make the preserve impassable at different times of the year, but in early summer the river reached just above my ankle. Ahead of me, on the river’s north bank, sloped a stand of tangled beech, sugar maple, and hemlock—and then, rising above the understory, the straight mud-brown trunks of eastern white pines, crowned by ragged branches at their peaks. These were big trees, ancient trees, more than 120 feet tall, the kind you don’t expect to see on the logging-decimated East Coast.

It was Jeff McCarthy, a roofer who grew up here in north-central Maine, who first told me that I should come here to look for the last king pines, trees that were marked by surveyors for the king centuries ago. McCarthy grew up playing in sporting camps—rustic resorts that are a treasured Maine tradition—near The Hermitage. In the 1990s, he and his friends would try to wrap their arms around the preserve’s larger trees. Sometimes, even three of them together couldn’t complete the circle. When wind felled the trees around the camps, they would count the rings on the stumps: Once, he said, they counted 275, making the tree older than the United States.

Click here to read the rest of the article in Atlas Obscura.

12 Forests with Hidden Secrets

August 18, 2021 · 0 minute read
12 Forests with Hidden Secrets

Forests can be enchanting places — the sunlight filtering through the trees, wildlife scampering in the underbrush, trunks reaching to the sky. They can also be bastions of solitude and quiet, the only break in the stillness from the snap of a branch,  a breeze rustling the leaves, or, perhaps, the faint whispers of a secret. Some forests hold ruins, sculptures, artifacts, even entire museums waiting to captivate the next intrepid explorer.

On the outskirts of the Forest of Fontainebleau in Noisy-sur-École, France, is a sandy but waterless beach surrounded by pine and birch, perhaps a relic of an ancient ocean. In the woods of Härjedalen, Sweden, a statue of one of Hollywood’s greatest actors is hidden in the dense foliage, fitting for a starlet with a reputation as a recluse. And in New Jersey, forest is taking over the remains of a grand mansion. From a stained-glass window that illuminates the forest floor to strange stone carvings, here are a dozen of our favorite woodland secrets.

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Pitching in for the Next Generation of Trees at the Augusta Forestry Center

August 18, 2021 · 2 minute read
Pitching in for the Next Generation of Trees at the Augusta Forestry Center

The James River Association, the Virginia Department of Forestry, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation are working with landowners across the middle and upper James watershed to restore or create forest buffers that improve the quality of local waterways through their James River Buffer Program.

The James River Buffer Program will require hundreds of thousands of tree seedlings to meet established goals for improving water quality and soil health. However, Virginia’s current capacity to supply hardwood seedlings does not match the growing demand.

The Augusta Forestry Center, a Virginia Department of Forestry nursery in Crimora, supplies most of Virginia’s seedlings. The self-supported nursery has served the tree planting needs of the Commonwealth for over a century, but it is currently short-staffed, an issue that has worsened since the Covid-19 pandemic. To meet the increased demand for hardwoods like oaks, maples, and hickories, they need more support (especially in the form of hands-on labor).

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation hosted two volunteer events this summer. CBF staff, partners, and volunteers worked alongside nursery staff to assist with the simple—yet critical—task of weeding in the seedling beds. While weeding isn’t quite as glamorous as tree planting, it’s equally important. If seedlings aren’t healthy when they’re planted, they won’t have a great chance at success in a riparian buffer or elsewhere, which can be disheartening for landowners and conservation professionals alike.

Among basic inputs like water, light, and nutrients/fertilizers, young trees must be free of unnecessary competition from other plants to thrive. And while there are certain situations for which herbicides can be used, the majority of weed removal must be completed by hand to prevent damage to seedlings. Though it can be tough work to remove weeds manually, there’s no better way to start the day than by working in the shadow of the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains with our hands in the soil.

“I just want people to know that we exist, we are here, and we have high-quality product,” says Nursery Manager Joshua McLaughlin. Starting October 1, 2021, you can place an order with the Augusta Forestry Center for the next planting season by visiting https://www.buyvatrees.com/. McLaughlin also asks for help collecting acorns and nuts this fall. Locally sourced seeds have better chances of long-term survival, since they are adapted to local environmental conditions. In September, VDOF will announce the details for this year’s acorn/nut drive at https://dof.virginia.gov/.

Meeting Virginia’s goal of 70,000 acres of new riparian buffer within the James River watershed by 2025 requires the collaboration of several partners. The James River Association (JRA) convenes the Upper & Middle James Riparian Consortium that supports this wide network of partners that acquire and provide funding and technical assistance for landowners such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, local Soil and Water conservation Districts, and non-profits such as JRA and CBF, as well as contractors who prepare sites for tree planting and install and maintain buffers. Those who source the plant material, our nurseries, are also crucial to this collaboration. Thus, our partnership with the Virginia Department of Forestry and their Augusta Forestry Center is critical for the health of the James and Chesapeake Bay watersheds.

If interested in learning more about the Augusta Forestry Center, volunteer opportunities, or other ways you can get involved, email Joshua McLaughlin at joshua.mclaughlin@dof.virginia.gov.

Conservation Groups Announce Acquisition of Richmond Riverfront Property

August 11, 2021 · 0 minute read
Conservation Groups Announce Acquisition of Richmond Riverfront Property

Yesterday morning, JRA’s CEO Bill Street joined leaders from The Conservation Fund, Capital Region Land Conservancy, Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation, The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, and Richmond Public Schools to announce the purchase of 5.2 acres on Richmond’s riverfront and plans for a future river education center.

The JRA is under contract to purchase just under one acre of land from The Conservation Fund with the intention of building a river center for environmental education programs. The James River Center will focus on connecting Richmond youth with immersive river-based, hands-on learning experiences while inspiring confidence, ecological understanding, nature appreciation, and conservation action.

“I applaud The Conservation Fund, Capital Region Land Conservancy, and James River Association for working together to expand the James River Park System with the purchase of 5.2 acres of riverfront property. This significant acquisition, and plans for the James River Center, will benefit Richmonders for generations to come.” -Levar Stoney, City of Richmond Mayor

Click here to learn more about the land acquisition and the future James River Center.

What We Can Learn from Paris’ Oldest Tree

July 21, 2021 · 2 minute read
What We Can Learn from Paris’ Oldest Tree

From the window of the apartment I’m staying in I can see the top of a not very tall but very remarkable tree, one that has occasionally been distracting me from the story I came to Paris for. I know the tree (pictured above) is remarkable because a plaque identifies it as the city’s oldest, planted in 1601. It’s a black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, and it came originally from the Appalachians, in the United States.

Now, for various reasons that 1601 date is doubtful. But it appears likely that the tree was indeed planted sometime in the early 17th century by one Jean Robin, gardener to a succession of French kings. It has survived wars and revolutions and this summer has sprouted a nice full head of greenery. A wounded old soldier itself—its scarred trunk is kept upright by concrete braces—it turns out to have been the spearhead of an invading army: Since the 17th century, American black locusts have advanced across Europe and indeed the world.

In Central Europe, especially, foresters soon fell in love with them. Black locusts grew quickly on land that had been denuded for firewood, protecting it from erosion. More recently, on the Loess Plateau in northwestern China, 25 million acres have been planted with black locusts over the last few decades to combat some of the worst soil erosion on Earth. Black locust wood is valuable too, and not just for burning; it’s hard and durable. Four centuries after Robin first planted the American import in his garden, Robinia is advertised here as the only “European” wood that can be used for garden furniture without pesticide treatment—a sustainable alternative to imported tropical teak.

The trouble is, black locust doesn’t stay where it’s planted. It’s incredibly invasive, spreading by underground runners. In that it’s like another hardy pioneer, Ailanthus altissima, aka the tree of heaven, which in the 18th century traveled the world in the other direction, from China to America, with Paris botanists again offering a crucial assist. American gardeners fell in love with the pretty tree, which grows just about anywhere, even through cracks in pavement—it’s the central character in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. But as Troy Farrahreported recently for Nat Geo, scientists are now desperately looking for a way to kill the biodiversity-wrecking “tree of hell,” pinning their hopes on a newly discovered fungus.

The world is a mess, our mess. Czech scientists, reviewing the spread of black locusts in southern Europe recently, concluded: “Our results confirm that it is difficult to answer an important question, whether Robinia should be cultivated and promoted, widely tolerated, or eradicated as a dangerous invasive alien.” The answer has to be local, case-by-case, they said.

About 500 feet north of the oldest tree lies the wreck I came here for: the cathedral of Notre Dame. It’s a portal into the 12th and 13th centuries, but also the 19th, when it was extensively rebuilt. The team now rebuilding the church again, after the catastrophic 2019 fire that sent its steeple crashing through its soaring vaults, are trying to recapture both those layers of history. The scruffy black locust that’s rarely noticed in the little park across the Seine is a reminder that in the natural world too, we can only rarely unwind the complicated history we’ve created. We can just try to manage it better.

Redwood ‘Ghosts’ May Hold Clues to Ecosystem Health

July 14, 2021 · 1 minute read
Redwood ‘Ghosts’ May Hold Clues to Ecosystem Health

Thirty miles north of San Francisco, Tom Stapleton sets out on a trail that takes him deep into the forest, weaving around the massive trunks of redwoods. The trees have special significance for him. “Being in a redwood forest is actually like being in a cathedral,” he says. “There’s something that’s very spiritual, very humbling and moving there. It makes you seem so insignificant because you’re this human being that’s a tiny speck compared to these towering trees.” He veers off the trail, consulting a secret map that will lead him to the “ghosts of the forest.”

For decades, Stapleton has searched for and logged rare albino redwoods, their silver-white branches a stark contrast to the dark wood of the surrounding forest, and even less common wild chimera redwoods, which sport patchworks of green and white needle leaves. Collaborating with albino redwood researchers and enthusiasts, he has found more than 500 albino redwoods and 116 wild chimeras. Their locations are kept secret to protect them from souvenir hunters or other vandals. Although curiosity and wonder drove his initial interest, Stapleton is now working with researchers to understand why these unusual trees exist, and what their presence may mean for the health of surrounding trees and even entire ecosystems.

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Chicago Man Ticketed in Dog Park for Tree Treatment

July 7, 2021 · 0 minute read
Chicago Man Ticketed in Dog Park for Tree Treatment

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — A man who said he sprayed trees in a suburban Chicago park to protect them after an anxious dog chewed off the bark has been ticketed by authorities.

Asher Thomas is accused of “altering flora” in a Naperville dog park. The ticket from the Will County Forest Preserve carries a $225 fine, the Aurora Beacon-News reported.

“Just as you can’t go around doing things to other people’s property, even if intentions are good, you can’t allow your dogs to do damage or spray a foreign substance on trees,” said Forest Preserve Deputy Police Chief Dave Barrios.

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‘Tree Farts’ Raise Ghost Forests’ Carbon Emissions

June 30, 2021 · 0 minute read
‘Tree Farts’ Raise Ghost Forests’ Carbon Emissions

Along the Atlantic coast of the United States, climate-driven sea-level rise is sending salt water increasingly farther inland. The encroaching brine is killing off coastal woodlands in places like North Carolina, leaving behind “ghost forests” of lifeless trees.

Now, a new study suggests these expanding, ghoulish ecosystems are also contributing to climate change via a much less spooky-sounding phenomenon: “tree farts,” reports Valerie Yurk for E&E News.

When these dead trees—or snags as researchers call them—break wind, they release greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, according to the paper published last week in the journal Biogeochemistry. While tree farts still pale in comparison to emissions from soil, they increased the total emissions of the ecosystem by around 25 percent, according to a statement.

The researchers say quantifying the carbon emissions of these ghost forests will become even more important in the future as sea-level rise drowns more trees.

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Fire Destroyed Over 10% of World’s Giant Sequoias Last Year

June 23, 2021 · 0 minute read
Fire Destroyed Over 10% of World’s Giant Sequoias Last Year

Last year, California’s Castle fire may have killed off ten to 14 percent of the world’s giant sequoias, reports Joshua Yeager of the Visalia Times-Delta.

The tally of dead trees comes from a new draft report that used satellite imagery, forest modeling, and surveys to revise initial estimates of how many titanic trees were lost when flames ripped through parts of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. That initial estimate was around 1,000 dead sequoias, but now scientists with the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) suspect between 7,500 and 10,600 mature trees may have died, reports Kurtis Alexander for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Per the Chronicle, among the fallen is the planet’s ninth-largest giant sequoia, nicknamed the King Arthur tree. Sequoias can live for thousands of years and grow to more than 250 feet tall and measure 30 feet in diameter, per the Chronicle.

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UN: World Needs Massive Rewilding

June 9, 2021 · 1 minute read
UN: World Needs Massive Rewilding

The world must rewild and restore an area the size of China to meet commitments on nature and the climate, says the UN, and the revival of ecosystems must be met with all the ambition of the space race.

Existing conservation efforts are insufficient to prevent widespread biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, the global body has warned at the launch of the decade on ecosystem restoration, an urgent call for the large-scale revival of nature in farmlands, forests and other ecosystems.

Governments must deliver on a commitment to restore at least 1bn hectares (2.47bn acres) of land by 2030 and make a similar pledge for the oceans, according to the report by the UN Environment Programme (Unep) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to launch the decade.Advertisementhttps://7a0e820c5dc488740c9bb351c94961dd.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Humans are using about 1.6 times the resources that nature can sustainably renew every year and the UN said short-term economic gains are being prioritised over the health of the planet. The rallying cry calls on all parts of society to take action, including governments, businesses and citizens, to restore and rewild urban areas, grasslands, savannahs and marine areas.

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The Scientist Who Shoots Trees to Study How They Migrate

June 2, 2021 · 0 minute read
The Scientist Who Shoots Trees to Study How They Migrate

In Black Rock Forest, just north of New York City, Angie Patterson aims a shotgun at a northern red oak tree. Patterson is a plant ecophysiologist, and the leaves that she’s shooting out of the canopy will give her data to understand how and why trees migrate.

Trees have been on the move since at least the last ice age. As their native habitats become inhospitable, tree ranges shift, slowly, to areas they can thrive. But climate change is disrupting the process, scientists say. As of 2019, the IUCN Red List categorized more than 20,000 tree species as threatened, and upward of 1,400 as critically endangered.

As scientists scramble to learn more about what drives tree migration, others are planning for the future. To preserve biodiversity, both citizens and researchers are employing interventionist tactics once steeped in controversy like “assisted migration” — taking tree seedlings and planting them in new locations. Rising global temperatures may force wildlife agencies and forest managers to decide what to save and what to leave behind.

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‘Zombie Fires’: Blazes That Refuse to Die

May 26, 2021 · 0 minute read
‘Zombie Fires’: Blazes That Refuse to Die

Zombie forest fires are on the rise.

According to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, fires in far northern forests that smolder throughout the wet, cold winters and pop up again in the spring could become more common because of climate change. That presents challenges — but also opportunities — for fire management, and for minimizing the release of greenhouse gases, the researchers say.

Most of us think of forest fires as being contained within a single year. And for the most part, they are. But in the Arctic-boreal forests of Alaska, Siberia, Canada’s Northwest Territories and similar landscapes, fires can burn deep into the carbon-rich soil where they linger and lurk, often undetected.

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Why You Should Plant Oak Trees

May 19, 2021 · 0 minute read
Why You Should Plant Oak Trees

These large, long-lived trees support more life forms than any other trees in North America. And they’re magnificent.

When I arrived years ago at the piece of land I now garden, I saw it as a blank canvas and set about madly planting things, imagining my efforts would bring every square foot to life. I did not understand then that the heavy lifting had already been done — and probably by some blue jay, or maybe a squirrel.

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One of the World’s Longest-Running Experiments Sends Up Sprouts

May 12, 2021 · 0 minute read
One of the World’s Longest-Running Experiments Sends Up Sprouts

David Lowry was impatient for the very old seeds to wake up. For days, Dr. Lowry, an associate professor of botany at Michigan State University, had entered a basement room at the school, peeked into the growth chamber and seen only dirt.

But on April 23, he checked again and there it was: A tiny plant, its two leaves reaching upward. “It was kind of an amazing moment,” he said.

This was no average springtime sprout. Back in 1879, the botanist William James Beal plucked that seed and thousands of others from different weedy plants in and around East Lansing, Mich. He then stashed them in bottles and buried them in a secret spot on the Michigan State campus, with the goal of learning whether they’d still grow after years, decades or even centuries of dormancy. In mid-April, Dr. Lowry and four colleagues sneaked out under cover of night to dig one of the bottles up and plant its contents, thus continuing one of the longest-running experiments in the world.

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The Farmer Trying to Save Italy’s Ancient Olive Trees

May 5, 2021 · 1 minute read
The Farmer Trying to Save Italy’s Ancient Olive Trees

In early 2016, Giovanni Melcarne, an agronomist and the owner of an extra virgin olive oil farm in Gagliano del Capo, walked through the southern Italian countryside of Puglia. He was with a fellow olive oil farmer who had called and told him there was something he had to see.

The two approached a centuries-old olive tree growing at the edge of the street along a traditional stone wall. All around, the old olive trees that covered the red clay were either dead or in an advanced state of decay, filling the landscape with an unnatural greyness. Melcarne was not surprised: At least 2 million olive trees in Puglia looked this way, including many of his own.

The cause of the blight was Xylella fastidiosa, a bacteria that researchers believe arrived around 2010 from Latin America, possibly from Costa Rica on an imported ornamental plant. Today, Xylella has infected at least one-third of the 60 million olive trees in Puglia, which produces 12 percent of the world’s olive oil. The bacteria leaves no chance of survival: Once a plant is infected, it’s doomed to die in a handful of years. Today, Xylella is spreading fast across Puglia, crossing into other Italian regions and Mediterranean countries, and upending the production of olives and olive oil, the symbols of the Mediterranean.

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The Ultra-Wealthy’s Newest Must-Have: Trophy Trees

April 27, 2021 · 0 minute read
The Ultra-Wealthy’s Newest Must-Have: Trophy Trees

For decades, Walter Acree operated a modest landscaping business in Deerfield Beach, Fla. A self-described rebel, he mowed lawns in his bare feet, his then-long hair falling around his shoulders. Then, a few years ago, he stumbled into a lucrative niche business: helping South Florida’s superrich find trophy trees—the latest in status symbols for the most well-off Americans.

“I’m kind of unique,” said Mr. Acree, now the owner of Green Integrity’s, a tree relocation and landscaping firm. “Not a lot of people do what I do.”

Mr. Acree, 61, a so-called tree broker, regularly drives his wealthy clients around South Florida in search of the perfect tree for their garden, whether it is a giant kapok, an enormous canopied oak, a baobab, a ficus or a banyan. Together, they scope out trees in other people’s gardens and outside local businesses, then approach the owners with an unsolicited offer.

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Sea-Level Rise Creating ‘Ghost Forests’ on East Coast

April 13, 2021 · 1 minute read
Sea-Level Rise Creating ‘Ghost Forests’ on East Coast

(Featured image from NC Wetlands.)

Trekking out to my research sites near North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, I slog through knee-deep water on a section of trail that is completely submerged. Permanent flooding has become commonplace on this low-lying peninsula, nestled behind North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The trees growing in the water are small and stunted. Many are dead.

Throughout coastal North Carolina, evidence of forest die-off is everywhere. Nearly every roadside ditch I pass while driving around the region is lined with dead or dying trees.

As an ecologist studying wetland response to sea level rise, I know this flooding is evidence that climate change is altering landscapes along the Atlantic Coast. It’s emblematic of environmental changes that also threaten wildlife, ecosystems and local farms and forestry businesses.

Like all living organisms, trees die. But what is happening here is not normal. Large patches of trees are dying simultaneously, and saplings aren’t growing to take their place. And it’s not just a local issue: seawater is raising salt levels in coastal woodlands along the entire Coastal Plain, from Maine to Florida. Huge swaths of contiguous forest are dying. They’re now known in the scientific community as “ghost forests”.

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Historic Cherry Trees Experience Unusually Early Bloom

April 7, 2021 · 0 minute read
Historic Cherry Trees Experience Unusually Early Bloom

The blooming of the East Asian Cherry tree is a major springtime tourist attraction in Washington, D.C. and in cities across Japan. But this year the beautiful hues of pink and white came earlier than normal, and in some parts of Japan, blossoms peaked at the earliest point on the calendar in more than 1,200 years.

That’s according to a new study released in Japan which looked at documents dating back to the year 812 kept in the city of Kyoto. That’s where this year, the brief window of time when blossoms were at their peak, occurred on March 26th.  That makes for the city’s earliest peak bloom in the long trail of records dating back centuries upon centuries.  

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The Centuries-Old French Oaks That Will Soon Help Rebuild Notre Dame

March 31, 2021 · 0 minute read
The Centuries-Old French Oaks That Will Soon Help Rebuild  Notre Dame

Deep in the former royal forest of Bercé, in France’s Loire region, a 230-year-old tree comes crashing to the ground with thunderous intensity.

Just a sapling during the French Revolution, the 65-foot-tall oak tree is one of many being felled as part of ongoing efforts to rebuild Notre Dame.

The tree eventually will join 1,000 other oaks being used to reconstruct the wooden lattice of the roof and replace the base of the fallen spire engulfed by the blaze that devastated the Gothic building almost two years ago, in April 2019.”We know it’s the end of something, but it’s also the beginning,” said Pauline Delord, a 15th-generation forest guardian responsible for protecting and managing the forest.

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Harvard Red Oak Live Tweets Climate Change

March 24, 2021 · 0 minute read
Harvard Red Oak Live Tweets Climate Change

If a tree could talk, what might it say?

Would it plead for rain in a drought? Fawn over a neighbor’s foliage? Crack jokes about how fast another tree loses its leaves in fall?

It seems unlikely anyone will ever come across a loquacious linden. But for the arbor-curious, a red oak at the Harvard Forest in Petersham has been tweeting as @awitnesstree since July 17, 2019. Outfitted with sensors and cameras, and programmed with code that allows it to string together posts with prewritten bits of text, the Harvard Forest Witness Tree has been sharing on-the-ground insights into its own environmental life and that of its forest.

Already renowned in certain circles as the subject of the popular climate-change book “Witness Tree” by Lynda Mapes, the century-old oak’s social-media debut was the brainchild of Harvard Forest postdoctoral fellow Tim Rademacher and is now a team effort with Clarisse Hart, who heads outreach and education for the forest. Its online presence is modeled after similar “twittering” trees that chronicle their life experiences as part of a tree-water and carbon-monitoring network based in Europe called TreeWatch.net.

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Petrified, 20 Million-Year-Old Tree Found in Greece

March 17, 2021 · 0 minute read
Petrified, 20 Million-Year-Old Tree Found in Greece

Experts have made an “extraordinary” discovery of a tree which is still intact after being petrified by a volcanic eruption 20 million years ago in Lesbos, Greece.

Lesbos’ Petrified Forest was created 20 million years ago when a volcano exploded in the island’s north, covering the entire area with ash and lava. The area, which spans 15,000 hectares, is renowned for its vivid and colorful fossilized tree trunks.

Nickolas Zouros, a professor of geology at the University of the Aegean, had been excavating the fossilized forest ecosystem but told CNN he had never before uncovered such a find.

“We have a lot of findings over these years but the latest ones are the most important — really extraordinary,” he told CNN on Thursday.

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Yaupon: The Rebirth of America’s Forgotten Tea

March 11, 2021 · 0 minute read

What if you were surrounded by tea and didn’t know it? In an age where tea is the most consumed drink on the planet after water and is expected to become an $81.6bn global industry by 2026, the possibility of living among an endless supply of ready-to-be-picked, wild tea might seem like a far-fetched dream. But across large swaths of the southern United States, such a reality exists.

For those who know what to look for, what was once the most widely consumed caffeinated beverage in the Americas comes from a plant growing in plain sight, ignored by most, but deeply rooted in history and intrigue.

Yaupon (pronounced yō-pon), is a holly bush indigenous to the southeast United States and happens to be North America’s only known native caffeinated plant.

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California’s Sequoias, Redwoods Can Survive Climate Change — If We Help Them

February 23, 2021 · 1 minute read
California’s Sequoias, Redwoods Can Survive Climate Change — If We Help Them

On a rolling granite hill in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, on a hot August night, tree scientist Kristen Shive camped beneath a giant sequoia tree she estimated could be a thousand years old.

Her employer, the nonprofit Save the Redwoods League, had just bought the property on which the tree stood, a 530-acre forest outside Sequoia National Park packed with ancient trees. Plans for how to preserve them spun through her head as she stared up at the stars through the tree’s frilly foliage.

A few months later, in October, she stood ankle-deep in ash at the foot of that same tree. But this time, the foliage overhead was charred to a crisp.

This giant sequoia—and likely hundreds of others—had fallen victim to an intense fire that swept over 174,000 acres of the western Sierra.

It was just one of more than 9,000 fires that scorched more than four million acres of California in 2020, a horrifying and record-breaking year. Fires burned through homes and oak forests, grasslands and pines—and also through huge patches of giant sequoias and their close cousins, the coast redwoods, respectively the most massive and the tallest trees on Earth.

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Tree Etchings, ‘Witches Marks’ Offer Window into Ancient England

February 17, 2021 · 1 minute read
Tree Etchings, ‘Witches Marks’ Offer Window into Ancient England

England’s New Forest is home to trees that bear the marks of more than 500 years of human activity. Known as arborglyphs, the etchings range from charms against evil that may have been carved during Shakespeare’s time to much more recent initials and dates.

Visitors from around the world can now explore the glen virtually via a free digital display, including an interactive map showing where specific carvings were found, reports BBC News.

One common type of graffiti seen in the forest is the “King’s Mark,” an arrowhead-shaped symbol used by the Royal Navy to identify beeches and oaks slated for use in shipbuilding. Some of the trees bearing the sign were spared from the ax after Great Britain shifted to using iron and steel for its warships in the early 19th century. Other carvings show eagles, boats, houses and faces.

A number of trees display concentric circles identified as “witches’ marks.” Per Historic England, the signs were probably intended to ward off evil spirits. Researchers have found witches’ marks—which often take the form of double “VV” carvings—at locations all over the country, including caves, barns, churches and inns. Most were made between the 16th and early 19th centuries.

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Announcing the 2021 RVA (Virtual) Environmental Film Festival

February 10, 2021 · 1 minute read
Announcing the 2021 RVA (Virtual) Environmental Film Festival

The 2021 RVA EFF is fast approaching and planning is nearly complete. This year’s festival will take place from February 12th– 26th and is completely virtual and free to the community. Our all-volunteer film committee has gathered more than 20 stunning, powerful and impactful films to screen for the RVA community.

The world premiere of the feature-length film Frozen Obsession kicks off the festival with a panel discussion to followThe film is a visually stunning and historically poignant expedition through a dramatically changing Arctic aboard the Icebreaker Oden. The expedition included scientists, historians, journalists, education professionals, and college students, including several from Virginia Commonwealth University. The panel includes director and producer David Clark, Donglai Gong of Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and the VCU students who were part of the expedition.

Other unique aspects of the festival include the Virginia Environmental Film Contest (winning films awarded and screened February 14, beginning at 4:05 p.m.) and a film for children, Microplastic Madness, which documents 56 fifth graders from Brooklyn whose actions on plastic pollution morph into extraordinary leadership and scalable victories. Don’t miss Into the Okavango from National Geographic Documentary Films, which documents a 1,500-mile expedition across three countries and shows the effects of increasing pressure from human activity. The Okavango River Basin and the Okavango Delta, one of our planet’s last wetland wildernesses, provide a vital source of water to people, African elephants, lions, cheetahs, and hundreds of species of birds.

Registration is required for all films. To see the schedule, view trailers, and register please click here RVAEFF.org.

The World’s Oldest Living Things: A Photographic Masterpiece

February 10, 2021 · 1 minute read
The World’s Oldest Living Things: A Photographic Masterpiece

Our overblown intellectual faculties seem to be telling us both that we are eternal and that we are not,” philosopher Stephen Cave observed in his poignant meditation on our mortality paradox And yet we continue to long for the secrets of that ever-elusive eternity.

For nearly a decade, Brooklyn-based artist, photographer, and Guggenheim Fellow Rachel Sussman has been traveling the globe to discover and document its oldest organisms — living things over 2,000 years of age. Her breathtaking photographs and illuminating essays are now collected in The Oldest Living Things in the World (public library) — beautiful and powerful work at the intersection of fine art, science, and philosophy, spanning seven continents and exploring issues of deep time, permanence and impermanence, and the interconnectedness of life.

With an artist’s gift for “aesthetic force” and a scientist’s rigorous respect for truth, Sussman straddles a multitude of worlds as she travels across space and time to unearth Earth’s greatest stories of resilience, stories of tragedy and triumph, past and future, but above all stories that humble our human lives, which seem like the blink of a cosmic eye against the timescales of these ancient organisms — organisms that have unflinchingly witnessed all of our own tragedies and triumphs, our wars and our revolutions, our holocausts and our renaissances, and have remained anchored to existence more firmly than we can ever hope to be. And yet a great many of these species are on the verge of extinction, in no small part due to human activity, raising the question of how our seemingly ephemeral presence in the ecosystem can have such deep and long-term impact on organisms far older and far more naturally resilient than us.

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Can an Ambitious Breeding Effort Save North America’s Ash Trees?

February 2, 2021 · 1 minute read

DELAWARE, OHIO—On a weekday morning in August, just one pickup truck sat in the sprawling visitors’ parking lot here at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Forestry Sciences Laboratory. A decadeslong decline in research funding had been slowly quieting the place—and then came the pandemic.

But in a narrow strip of grass behind a homely, 1960s-era building, forest geneticist Jennifer Koch was overseeing a hive of activity. A team of seven technicians, researchers, and students—each masked and under their own blue pop-up tent—were systematically dissecting 3-meter-tall ash trees in a strange sort of arboreal disassembly line. Over 5 weeks, the researchers would take apart some 400 saplings, peeling wood back layer by layer in search of the maggotlike larvae of the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), the most devastating insect ever to strike a North American tree. Since the Asian beetle was first discovered in Michigan in 2002, it has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees across half the continent and caused tens of billions of dollars of damage.

“We have contests for who can successfully pull out the smallest larvae and the biggest larvae,” Koch says. “People get pretty excited and competitive about it. You have to do something, because it is very tedious—and [the larvae] are really gross.”

The larvae kill ash trees by burrowing into them to feed on bark and, fatally, the thin, pipelike tissues that transport water and nutrients. They then transform into iridescent green beetles about the size of a grain of rice that fly off to attack other trees. Dead larvae excite Koch and her team the most. Those finds signal trees that, through genetic luck, can kill emerald ash borers, rather than the other way around. Such rare resistant trees could ultimately help Koch achieve her ambitious goal: using time-tested plant-breeding techniques to create ash varieties that can fend off the borer and reclaim their historic place in North American forests.

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Street Trees Close to Home May Reduce Risk of Depression

January 27, 2021 · 0 minute read
Street Trees Close to Home May Reduce Risk of Depression

Having street trees closer to your home may reduce the risk of depression and the need for antidepressants, research has shown.

Multiple studies already show that mental health can be strongly impacted by environment so a German research team tried to assess if everyday objects people engage with – such as trees dotted along the pavement – could have a positive impact.

They analysed data from 10,000 residents of Leipzig, Germany, and found a correlation between the amount of street trees and antidepressants prescribed to a patient.

A larger amount of trees less than 100 metres from someone’s home was associated with a lower risk of having antidepressants, the researchers said.

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History and Botany on an Island in the James

January 27, 2021 · 0 minute read
History and Botany on an Island in the James

Have you ever been to Pony Pasture and wondered about that patch of land in the middle of the James? It’s just downriver from Huguenot Flatwater, and well before the Powhite overpass.

That’s Williams Island.

Williams Island is just under 100-acres, and has no land access. It’s an actual island – get it? Because of this, it’s sort of a microcosm of what a natural James River Park would look like. Over the years, people have documented the abundant wildlife of Williams Island. They’ve seen every sort of bird you could imagine, deer, foxes, and even the occasional black bear.

But what of the plant life?

Throughout 2020, folks from VHB used funding from the James River and Tuckahoe Garden Clubs to try and catalog all of the plant life on Williams Island. You would think that would be simple. “Oak tree, maple, grass, shrub…” But what KIND of oak? What sort of grass? Which type of shrub?

Click here to read more about Williams Island from the Friends of the James River Park

One of the World’s Oldest, Largest Living Organisms Is a Grove of Quaking Aspens

January 20, 2021 · 1 minute read
One of the World’s Oldest, Largest Living Organisms Is a Grove of Quaking Aspens

IN THE FISHLAKE NATIONAL FOREST in Utah, a giant has lived quietly for the past 80,000 years.

The Trembling Giant, or Pando, is an enormous grove of quaking aspens that take the “forest as a single organism” metaphor and makes it literal: the grove really is a single organism. Each of the approximately 47,000 or so trees in the grove is genetically identical and all the trees share a single root system. While many trees spread through flowering and sexual reproduction, quaking aspens usually reproduce asexually, by sprouting new trees from the expansive lateral root of the parent. The individual trees aren’t individuals but stems of a massive single clone, and this clone is truly massive. “Pando” is a Latin word that translates to “I spread.”

Spanning 107 acres and weighing 6,615 tons, Pando was once thought to be the world’s largest organism (now usurped by thousand-acre fungal mats in Oregon), and is almost certainly the most massive. In terms of other superlatives, the more optimistic estimates of Pando’s age have it as over one million years old, which would easily make it one of the world’s oldest living organisms. Some of the trees in the forest are over 130 years old.

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Restoring Longleaf Pines, Keystone of Once Vast Ecosystems

January 13, 2021 · 0 minute read
Restoring Longleaf Pines, Keystone of Once Vast Ecosystems

DESOTO NATIONAL FOREST, Miss. — When European settlers came to North America, fire-dependent savannas anchored by lofty pines with footlong needles covered much of what became the southern United States.

Yet by the 1990s, logging and clear-cutting for farms and development had all but eliminated longleaf pines and the grasslands beneath where hundreds of plant and animal species flourished.

Now, thanks to a pair of modern day Johnny Appleseeds, landowners, government agencies and nonprofits are working in nine coastal states from Virginia to Texas to bring back pines named for the long needles prized by Native Americans for weaving baskets.

Longleaf pines now cover as much as 7,300 square miles (19,000 square kilometers) — and more than one-quarter of that has been planted since 2010.

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Opinion: Va. Legislators Can Fund Tree-Based Community Improvement

January 5, 2021 · 0 minute read
Opinion: Va. Legislators Can Fund Tree-Based Community Improvement

Have you ever noticed a blooming dogwood in the spring? Relaxed in the shade of a spreading oak on a hot day? Stayed dry under the canopy of a leafy tree during an unexpected downpour? Day in and day out, trees quietly lend a hand in our communities without us giving it much thought.

The list of benefits tree canopies provide is vast — mitigating local flooding, filtering air pollution, reducing polluted runoff, cooling areas prone to extreme heat, creating homes for wildlife, taking carbon out of the atmosphere and more.

Trees are a simple and effective tool to make Virginia neighborhoods more livable while providing a cost-effective option to address environmental concerns. In the upcoming General Assembly session, Virginia legislators should help cities and counties expand those efforts.

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Europe’s Ancient Forests ‘In Perilous State,’ Scientists Warn

December 30, 2020 · 0 minute read
Europe’s Ancient Forests ‘In Perilous State,’ Scientists Warn

A new assessment of Europe’s remaining old-growth forests – the pockets of undisturbed ancient woodland where humans have had minimal impact – reveals they are in a “perilous state” and lack proper protections.

Scientists from 28 institutions have gathered data and detailed mapping over five years in order to assess the conservation status of these primary forests in Europe, and found many of them continue to be logged.

The research paper describes primary forests as being “composed of native species, where signs of past human use are minimal, and ecological processes, such as natural disturbances, operate dynamically and with little impairment by anthropogenic influences”.

They are critical for conserving forest biodiversity and provide important ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and natural water course management which can help maintain resilient environments.

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The Social Life of Forests

December 23, 2020 · 0 minute read
The Social Life of Forests

Foresters once regarded trees as solitary individuals: They competed for space and resources, but were otherwise indifferent to one another.

The work of the Canadian ecologist Suzanne Simard upended that. She found that while there is indeed conflict in a forest, there is also negotiation, reciprocity and even selflessness.

Ms. Simard discovered that underground fungal threads link nearly every tree in a forest. Seedlings severed from this network are more likely to die; chemical alarm signals to warn of danger can be passed between trees; and a dying tree can sometimes pass on a share of its carbon to neighbors.

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Wooded Parcel Near JRPS, Maymont Saved from Development Through Easement

December 16, 2020 · 1 minute read
Wooded Parcel Near JRPS, Maymont Saved from Development Through Easement

The allure of the James River Park System attracts thousands of visitors to its woods, trails, and shorelines annually. Its 600 acres along the north and south bank of the James River provide flood protection and riparian areas while also providing critical natural habitat for terrestrial and aquatic species being impinged by downtown neighborhoods such as Riverview, which is more commonly known as Maymont due to its adjacent grand-estate namesake.

For some nearby residents, the proximity of the James River Park System is an important factor for choosing a home in the neighborhood. For Chris and Jody Liesfeld, raising their family amidst the setting of the park was a primary goal as they set to build their dream house on Carter Street. Yet as development pressure increased in the area, long-time residents of Riverview began to worry that the attractive natural character of their neighborhood and its nearby parks may be under threat, and the Liesfeld’s purchase only heightened that worry.

“It had been a property neighbors cautiously watched as we witnessed the transformation of surrounding streets,” said Mark Brandon, President of the Maymont Civic League. “We were very suspicious upon learning that someone had bought the property.”

However, to the delight and relief of many neighbors, the Liesfelds share a deep appreciation for environmental stewardship, and as they planned their home, the Liesfelds worked with Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) to set aside a 3.036-acre area of deciduous woods along the North Bank Trail connector between Texas Beach and Maymont along the historic Kanawha Canal to be protected by a conservation easement in perpetuity. The conservation easement restricts development so that no dwellings can be built and the woodlands will be preserved to protect water quality and native species. Through a separate agreement, the Liesfelds have also committed to combatting the invasive species and removing debris from the property. 

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An Urban Forestry Collaborative Plants Deep Roots in RVA

December 16, 2020 · 0 minute read
An Urban Forestry Collaborative Plants Deep Roots in RVA

There is a cautionary tale you hear all too often in environmental planning. An organization visits a neighborhood, identifies an opportunity to build public green space, plants rows of trees, but a year later, many of the saplings die and the residents are left with nothing but sticks.

Whenever this happens, not only are time and resources wasted, but the community members often become stubbornly against any future tree plantings—and understandable so.

Engaging a community before and after trees are planted is a difficult task, but an urban forestry collaborative working in the Carver neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia offers a solution. Here, community members weren’t just the recipients of new trees, but partners providing input and buy-in every step of the way.

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Land Donated for Public Park in South Richmond

December 2, 2020 · 0 minute read
Land Donated for Public Park in South Richmond

A wooded 13-acre tract straddling Warwick Road in Richmond’s South Side will soon become a city park as part of a deal between the city and a nonprofit land conservancy.

After originally envisioning the area for high-density residential development more than 20 years ago, the city is now considering tentative plans for trails and other park amenities near Thomas C. Boushall Middle School and the Deerbourne and Walmsley neighborhoods.

The nonprofit Capital Region Land Conservancy announced Monday that it will donate the property to the city to help meet a goal of making public park space more accessible for 50,000 city residents.

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How Isaac Newton’s Apple Tree Spread Across the World

December 2, 2020 · 1 minute read
How Isaac Newton’s Apple Tree Spread Across the World

At Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, England, the ancestral home of Sir Isaac Newton, sketches drawn by the revolutionary physicist, mathematician, and astronomer still adorn the house’s walls. Outside, a gnarled apple tree has been growing for centuries.

A genetically identical tree is growing at Newton’s alma mater, Trinity College, Cambridge. Several more grow at Parkes Observatory in Australia, and another at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Descendants and clones of the Woolsthorpe Manor tree dot college campuses and research centers on every continent, except Antarctica. I myself took long college naps under one such tree at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “Newton’s Apple Tree,” the plaque read, like many others across the globe. “Grown From An Apple From The Estate of Sir Isaac Newton, Lincolnshire, England.”

Newton’s apple tree holds a special place in the annals of science. In 1665, the just-graduated Newton fled to his family home to avoid a plague outbreak. After observing an apple fall from the then-young tree, Newton considered what force could pull objects in a straight line towards the earth. It was the first step towards his theory of gravity, which he would publish in 1687.

The story is widely believed to be false, like the myth of a child George Washington chopping down a cherry tree with a little axe. But Newton himself said his theory arose from seeing a falling apple while he stayed at Woolsthorpe. In physicist R.G. Keesing’s exhaustive history of Newton’s apple tree, he records sources (from the writer Voltaire to Newton’s niece) relating the tale of the apple tree. Newton may have embellished his story. But due to multiple sources of the tale, Keesing writes, there’s little doubt that there’s a seed of truth to it.

Which tree exactly inspired the theory of gravity? Keesing examined the apple tree still standing in the garden at Woolsthorpe Manor. Regular sketches of Woolsthorpe Manor after Newton’s death continuously show an apple tree in the same spot as the current tree. With no other aged apple trees recorded as growing in the garden, before or after Newton, the Woolsthorpe Manor tree is now widely considered “the one.”

AI Sees the Forest and the Trees

November 12, 2020 · 1 minute read
AI Sees the Forest and the Trees

A beetle no larger than a grain of rice is ravaging European forests, infesting and killing trees faster than they can be culled to slow the insects’ spread. It turns out the best way to spot the pests, and stop them, may be from space.

For years, Swedish forestry cooperative Södra has deployed hundreds of foresters to walk the widely spaced spruce on properties it helps manage, monitoring the trees’ bark for drilling holes that are a telltale sign of infestation. But it can take days to assess a single 100-acre estate by foot, and Södra oversees more than five million acres. Last year, the beetles damaged five million cubic meters of lumber, about a quarter of the season’s potential yield, says Johan Thor, an applied physicist and head of data science at the cooperative.

So in early 2019, Södra began working with the Dutch technology company Overstory to find the beetles from above—way above. By matching high-resolution satellite imagery with geographic readings of sick trees as recorded by the company’s harvesters, and integrating other satellite-derived data such as land-surface temperature, they were able to train a model to quickly and accurately locate infested areas. The complexity of the data—with a profusion of tree species and canopy heights—was “a sweet spot for machine learning,” says Overstory’s chief executive officer, Indra den Bakker.

“The preliminary results are really quite astonishing,” says Mr. Thor.

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Could a Tree Help Find a Decaying Corpse Nearby?

November 9, 2020 · 1 minute read
Could a Tree Help Find a Decaying Corpse Nearby?

SINCE 1980, THE UNIVERSITY OF Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center has plumbed the depths of the most macabre of sciences: the decomposition of human bodies. Known colloquially as the Body Farm, here scientists examine how donated cadavers decay, like how the microbiomes inside us go haywire after death. That microbial activity leads to bloat, and—eventually—a body will puncture. Out flows a rank fluid of nutrients, especially nitrogen, for plants on the Body Farm to subsume.

That gave a group of University of Tennessee, Knoxville researchers an idea: What if that blast of nutrients actually changes the color and reflectance of a tree’s leaves? And, if so, what if law enforcement authorities could use a drone to scan a forest, looking for these changes to find deceased missing people? Today in the journal Trends in Plant Science, they’re formally floating the idea—which, to be clear, is still theoretical. The researchers are just beginning to study how a plant’s phenotype—its physical characteristics—might change if a human body is composing nearby. “What we’re proposing is to use plants as indicators of human decomposition, to hopefully be able to use individual trees within the forest to help pinpoint where someone has died, to help in body recovery,” says UT Knoxville plant biologist Neal Stewart, coauthor on the new paper.

As a large mammal like a human decomposes in a forest, its breakdown transforms the soil in a number of ways. The body’s “necrobiome”—all the bacteria that was already in it when it was alive—replicates like crazy in the absence of an immune system. This necrobiome mixes with the microbes in the dirt. “The soil microbiome will change and, of course, the plant roots will also sense some changes,” says Stewart. But, he adds, “we don’t really know what those changes are.”

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Stuck at Home, I Discovered the Joy of Identifying Trees

November 3, 2020 · 1 minute read
Stuck at Home, I Discovered the Joy of Identifying Trees

Every few years my mother would buy a different version of the same book, only to abandon it after several weeks: How to Identify the Trees of Northeastern America. With the regularity of a trans-hemispheric weather cycle, she’d come home, drop what appeared to be a travel brochure to the Republic of Trees on the table, and proclaim: “This time I’m going to learn the names of the goddamn trees.” She never did.

Growing up amid this excess of tree-based literature I at least learned to distinguish maple from oak, beech from elm, spruce from pine. But even long after my mother died, my taxonomic view of trees remained arrested in something like a primary color filter of the world: I knew there were thousands of them, but I could only name six. Until the arrival of a pandemic.

This new cycle of family obsession began with the eastern redbud outside my window, or as I’d often called it, the “pink flowery one”. In mid-March, along with much of the world, I found myself stuck at home, no longer making the 100-mile train trip south to New York City for work. As infection rates climbed, and we began to count deaths along with new cases, the eastern redbud burst into bloom, scandalously pink flowers in brash contradiction of its name. My nine-year-old, who has spent endless afternoons tucked into the boy-shaped crook of this tree, asked what it was called. With all the unearned confidence of my mother I blurted out the first word my glitchy dial-up of a mind could locate: “Lilac.”

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The Tree That Could Help Stop the Pandemic

October 28, 2020 · 1 minute read
The Tree That Could Help Stop the Pandemic

In early april, Paul Hiley was kicking back in the executive suite at Desert King International LLC, gazing out the window at the San Diego sunshine and daydreaming about his golf game. California had issued its initial stay-at-home order for COVID-19, but apart from the hand sanitizer around the office, life was more or less normal. Retirement was on the horizon for Hiley. Maybe he’d sell the business. Maybe his son, Damian, would take over.

For more than 42 years, Hiley has been a leading purveyor of certain plant-based food additives such as saponins, foaming agents used in root beer and Slurpees. Most of us never think about these compounds, and Hiley has always liked it that way. “My theory of business is the only two people who need to know my name are my wife and my banker,” he told me recently.

Then, one day—April 14th, to be exact—his son told him that they had a call with Stanley Erck. Erck is the CEO of Novavax, a Maryland-based maker of vaccines. Not a seller of vaccines, mind you: The company had yet to bring one of its candidates to market. But like other companies around the world, Novavax had thrown its hat into the coronavirus-vaccine race. And its success, Erck believed, depended on that odd ingredient in Slurpees.

The inner bark of the Chilean soapbark tree, Quillaja saponaria, is the source material for some of these saponins. Pulverized and soaked in water at the Desert King factory in Chile, the bark is transformed into a brown, bitter, bubbly fluid. This precious goo does many things well, and it happens to be the raw material for one of the world’s most coveted vaccine adjuvants: QS-21. Adjuvants are compounds that boost the body’s immune reaction to a vaccine. Owing to their potential risks to human health, however, only a handful of adjuvants have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and QS-21 is one of the newest.

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Chestnut That Survived Two World Wars Wins Belgium’s Tree of the Year

October 19, 2020 · 0 minute read
Chestnut That Survived Two World Wars Wins Belgium’s Tree of the Year

A chestnut tree that miraculously survived the shelling of Ypres and the combined horrors of two world wars has been named the winner of Belgium’s Tree of the Year competition and celebrated as an enduring symbol of survival in the face of adversity.

The tree, which British Tommies marched past on their way to the front, was badly damaged during the First World War in bombardments that razed the Belgian city to the ground. 

Incredibly the tree survived the shelling, which lasted from October 1914 to September 1918, as it was protected by the city walls.

The tree was planted in 1860 on the eastern rampart of the medieval Flemish city’s fortifications, and its root structure was strong enough to help the tree recover.

It grew back with four separate trunks as Ypres was painstakingly rebuilt after being obliterated by German bombardments, and the base trunk now has a 9.2m circumference. 

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Forgotten Richmond Forest ‘Is Being Unleashed To Be Itself’

October 13, 2020 · 0 minute read
Forgotten Richmond Forest ‘Is Being Unleashed To Be Itself’

We met on a recent morning for a walk in the woods.

“This has always been one of my favorite places,” said McChesney “Ches” Goodall III as we set off.

Goodall knows a good forest when he sees one: He’s a forester by training and co-founder of Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group, a natural resource consulting firm.

He and his son began exploring these woods — behind the Carillon and Dogwood Dell amphitheater in Byrd Park — years ago.

“It was amazing,” he recalled. “There were hardly any trails. It was this kind of forgotten block of mature woods that no one seemed to visit … an old-growth forest with a beautiful creek. A peaceful place in the middle of the city.”

There was also something else about this part of the park, officially known as Dogwood Dell, though Goodall likes to refer to it as Carillon Woods: It was suffocatingly overgrown with ivy, kudzu and all sorts of other invasive species. The trees, some dating to the 1800s and many covered with vines reaching up into their tops, were choking to death.

Click here to read the rest of Bill Lohmann’s article in the Times-Dispatch.

The Ancient Trade Holding Back the Sahara Desert

October 13, 2020 · 1 minute read

In the Malian bush, a scattering of acacia trees grow through the wild grass and shrubs that spread for miles across the semi-arid scrub. Herders graze cattle nearby and local people fetch firewood. The acacias are among the taller and faster-growing trees of this habitat, with old individuals reaching high above the surrounding scrub.

This is the Sahel, a savannah that stretches across six countries in mainland West Africa. This dry strip of land between the tropical rainforests to the south, and the Sahara to the north, sees just three months of rain a year. It’s a region that is changing quickly. Climate change has seen the Sahara Desert grow around 100km (62 miles) southward since 1950, and is expected to continue the same trend in the coming decades.

But the Sahel’s acacia trees, growing close to the boundary of the desert, are at the heart of a reviving ancient trade with the potential to stem the advance of the Sahara.

To see what is special about these trees, you have to tear off a strip of bark or make a small incision into the tree. The sap that exudes from the wound is a pinkish substance that dries into a round springy ball. This is gum arabic, and it comes from two species of tree found in the Sahel: Acacia senegal and Acacia seyal.

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An acacia tree on the Sahel.

Fires Scorch a Way of Life that Still Grows from the Trees

October 7, 2020 · 0 minute read
Fires Scorch a Way of Life that Still Grows from the Trees

The fire that galloped down the canyon along the North Santiam River last week charred tall firs to matchsticks and coated the survivors’ needles in dull, sepia-gray ash.

The blaze claimed some of the Douglas firs that Fred Girod and his father planted in 1968, along with the old family house that overlooked the river. It claimed the maples and oak where bald eagles and osprey would settle, visible from Mr. Girod’s bedroom window.

“I can rebuild the home,” Mr. Girod, a Republican state senator who represents this area, said this past week, as smoke rose from a hole where his back door had been. “I can’t rebuild the setting.”

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Boston Still an Urban Orchard 400 Years After First Apple Farm

September 30, 2020 · 1 minute read
Boston Still an Urban Orchard 400 Years After First Apple Farm

John Bunker normally searches for heirloom apple trees in the fields and forests of rural Maine, but on a trip to Boston, he stumbled upon one in an unexpected place: an ice-cream-parlor parking lot. An expert on American heirloom apples, particularly those of Maine, Bunker has been investigating, preserving, and growing nearly forgotten apple cultivars since he graduated college and immediately bought a parcel of Maine farmland in the 1970s.

“I could spend the rest of my life studying, tracking down, learning to identify, and preserving historic apples from Maine, and I’d never run out of something to do,” says Bunker, who grows the rare apple trees at his family-run Super Chilly Farm, and sells them through Fedco Seed Cooperative.

The parking-lot apple tree was a rare find for Bunker, who mostly searches the woods and fields of sleepy New England towns. Apple trees can stand watch in quiet forest hollows for two centuries, remembered only by neighborhood elders. But these days, Bunker says, old urban apple trees “are mostly gone.” So Bunker got into the habit of visiting the ice-cream-parlor tree. “One year, when I stopped by—oops, it had been cut down,” he says.

The parable of the parking-lot apple tree, which survived decades of urban development before finally succumbing to the saw, embodies the trajectory of New England’s heirloom fruits as a whole.

Boston’s reputation as an epicenter for heirloom fruit dates back to 1623. That was the year European settlers planted their first apple orchard on the land of the Massachusett tribe, in what is now Boston’s posh Beacon Hill neighborhood. There were apple relatives in the New World before European colonization, but the ancestors of the fruits we eat today originated in Central Asia, entered Europe through the Silk Road, and were brought to North America by Europeans. Settlers developed dozens of new fruit cultivars, but apples were the most important, offering colonists cider and sustenance through the brutal New England winters.

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Recent Findings on Carbon Storage in Old-Growth Forests

September 23, 2020 · 0 minute read
Recent Findings on Carbon Storage in Old-Growth Forests

Have you ever heard of the Old Grown Forest Network? Their mission is to create a network of forests across the U.S., with one in each county where forests can grow, open for visitors and never logged, and a network of people inspired to protect them.

A long-standing debate over the value of old forests in capturing and storing carbon has prompted a surge of studies published in top science journals during the last decade. Here are seven emerging points that are supported by solid evidence.

  1. Trees accumulate carbon as long
    as they live
  2. Old-growth forests accumulate and store vast quantities of carbon
  3. Old forests accumulate carbon in soils

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Richmond Planning Five New Green Spaces In Southside

September 16, 2020 · 1 minute read
Richmond Planning Five New Green Spaces In Southside

Richmond officials announced plans this past Monday to create five new green spaces south of the James River.

The proposed green spaces will be created using 36 acres of city-owned land. Mayor Levar Stoney made the announcement alongside 8th District Councilwoman Reva Trammell. Along with Councilman Mike Jones, the three plan to introduce an ordinance making the green space designations official later this month. 

Brianne Mullin, who heads Richmond’s Office of Sustainability, said the city chose the locations in Southside using data on heat islands and park access.

“We used these tools to identify where [there are] those who are more at risk due to climate change, who live in areas of the city that experience more extreme heat and those without access to a vehicle who may not have the ability to get to a cooler green space to seek relief,” Mullin said. 

The city’s next steps after approval from Richmond City Council will be to hold community meetings to see if they want the green spaces turned into parks, trails or community centers. Until that’s done, it’s unclear how much the proposal will cost.

The Trust for Public Land identified several areas in Richmond where park access is limited. According to city officials, Richmond currently uses only six percent of its land for parks and recreation, compared to the nationwide median of 15 percent.

Some Trees May ‘Social Distance’ to Avoid Disease

September 16, 2020 · 1 minute read
Some Trees May ‘Social Distance’ to Avoid Disease

On a warm day in March 1982, biologist Francis “Jack” Putz strayed into a knot of black mangrove trees seeking relief from the afternoon heat. Drowsy from his midday meal and hours of fieldwork in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste National Park, Putz decided to lie down for a short siesta.

As he gazed skyward, the wind stirred the tops of the mangroves above him, causing the limbs of neighboring trees to claw at each other and snap off some of their outermost leaves and branches. Putz noticed that this reciprocal pruning had left tracks of empty space running through the canopy.

This network of treetop chasms, called crown shyness, has been documented in forests around the world. From the mangroves of Costa Rica to the towering Borneo camphor trees of Malaysia, gaps in the greenery abound. But scientists still don’t fully understand why the tops of trees so often refuse to touch.

Beneath the mangroves 40 years ago, teetering on the verge of a post-lunch snooze, Putz reasoned that trees need personal space, too—a critical step toward unraveling the roots of the branches’ bashful behavior.

“I often make great discoveries at naptime,” he says.

Today, a growing body of work continues to support the early observations of Putz and his colleagues. Wind, it seems, plays a crucial role in helping many trees maintain their distance. The boundaries carved by bouts between branches may improve the plants’ access to resources, such as light. Gaps in the treetops might even curb the spread of leaf-munching insects, parasitic vines, or infectious disease.

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When Planting Trees Threatens the Forest

September 9, 2020 · 1 minute read
When Planting Trees Threatens the Forest

Campaigns to plant huge numbers of trees could backfire, according to a new study that is the first to rigorously analyze the potential effects of subsidies in such schemes.

The analysis, published on June 22 in Nature Sustainability, reveals how efforts such as the global Trillion Trees campaign and a related initiative (H. R. 5859) under consideration by the U.S. Congress could lead to more biodiversity loss and little, if any, climate change upside. The researchers emphasize, however, that these efforts could have significant benefits if they include strong subsidy restrictions, such as prohibitions against replacing native forests with tree plantations.

“If policies to incentivize tree plantations are poorly designed or poorly enforced, there is a high risk of not only wasting public money but also releasing more carbon and losing biodiversity,” said study co-author Eric Lambin, the George and Setsuko Ishiyama Provostial Professor in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “That’s the exact opposite of what these policies are aiming for.”

There is no question that forests have an outsized role to play in efforts to slow global biodiversity loss and combat climate change by sequestering carbon as biomass. So it makes sense that tree-planting as a solution has gained traction in recent years with ambitious commitments, such as the Bonn Challenge, which seeks to restore an area of forest more than eight times the size of California by 2030, and Trillion Trees, which seeks to plant as many trees as its name implies.

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To Save This Palm-filled Paradise, Biologists Must Kill the Trees

September 1, 2020 · 1 minute read
To Save This Palm-filled Paradise, Biologists Must Kill the Trees

PALMYRA ATOLL IN THE CENTRAL PACIFIC OCEAN—Duncan Coles lops the head off a juvenile coconut tree with a practiced swing of his machete. He and nine other volunteers chop away at the thicket, stepping over piles of fallen coconuts and fist-size hermit crabs. Soon they return to their decapitated kills, dousing each stump with blue-dyed herbicide. Two other volunteers use power drills to set upon the mature coconut trees towering overhead, boring holes and filling them with shots of herbicide.

The slashing and poisoning is part of an unprecedented endeavor to rid this remote atoll of all but a few coconut palms (Cocos nucifera). The gangly tree is an icon of idyllic tropical islands, but also an aggressive invasive species that crowds out native plants and animals. By removing 99% of Palmyra’s millions of palms, biologists hope to create more room on the atoll’s three dozen islets for indigenous forests and seabirds, including the world’s second largest colony of red-footed boobies. If all goes as intended, the restoration effort could help make this coral-ringed atoll, which has an elevation of just 2 meters, more resilient to sea-level rise and other ravages of climate change.

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Ancient ‘Big Basin’ Redwoods Survive Scorching

August 26, 2020 · 0 minute read
Ancient ‘Big Basin’ Redwoods  Survive Scorching

BOULDER CREEK, Calif. — When a massive wildfire swept through California’s oldest state park last week it was feared many trees in a grove of old-growth redwoods, some of them 2,000 years old and among the tallest living things on Earth, may finally have succumbed.

But an Associated Press reporter and photographer hiked the renowned Redwood Trail at Big Basin Redwoods State Park on Monday and confirmed most of the ancient redwoods had withstood the blaze. Among the survivors is one dubbed Mother of the Forest.

“That is such good news, I can’t tell you how much that gives me peace of mind,” said Laura McLendon, conservation director for the Sempervirens Fund, an environmental group dedicated to the protection of redwoods and their habitats.

Redwood forests are meant to burn, she said, so reports earlier this week that the state park was “gone” were misleading.

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The Oak Tree That Taught the World a Lesson

August 19, 2020 · 0 minute read
The Oak Tree That Taught the World a Lesson

This is a video report. Click here to watch.

Fifteen million trees were felled by “The Great Storm” which hit the south of England in 1987. But the remarkable Turner’s Oak in Kew Gardens in London not only survived the storm, but also changed the way that trees are cared for around the world.

Tony Kirkham, head of the Arboretum at Kew Gardens has been telling BBC Witness History about what he learned from the ancient oak.

The Trees That Survived the Bombing of Hiroshima

August 13, 2020 · 0 minute read
The Trees That Survived the Bombing of Hiroshima

This is a video report. Click here to watch.

When an atomic bomb was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945, hundreds of thousands of people were killed and injured.

Despite many survivors believing nothing would grow in the city for decades, 170 trees survived and are still growing 75 years later.

Green Legacy Hiroshima is a project that sends seedlings from those trees around the world, spreading a message of hope.

Tomoko Watanabe is a co-founder of the project and spoke to Witness History. Click here to watch.

Can Trees Live Forever? New Kindling for an Immortal Debate

August 5, 2020 · 1 minute read
Can Trees Live Forever? New Kindling for an Immortal Debate

Trees do not pay taxes. Some seem to avoid death as well. Many of the world’s most ancient organisms are trees, including a 3,600-year-old cypress in Chile and a sacred fig in Sri Lanka that was planted in the third century B.C. One bristlecone pine known as Methuselah has been alive for nearly five millenniums, standing in a forest in what is now called California.

But according to a paper published Monday in the journal Trends in Plant Science, time ravages us all in the end. The paper, “Long-Lived Trees Are Not Immortal,” argues that even the most venerable trees have physiological limits — though we, with our puny life spans, may never be able to tell.

Sergi Munné-Bosch, a plant biologist at the University of Barcelona, wrote the article in response to a January study on ginkgo trees, which can live for over a thousand years. The study found that 600-year-old ginkgos are as reproductively and photosynthetically vigorous as their 20-year-old peers. Genetic analysis of the trees’ vascular cambium — a thin layer of cells that lies just underneath the bark, and creates new living tissue — showed “no evidence of senescence,” or cell death, the authors wrote.

Dr. Munné-Bosch said he found the paper “very interesting,” but disagreed with how some readers of the study in popular media and beyond had interpreted it.

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Superfund, Meet Super Plants

July 22, 2020 · 1 minute read
Superfund, Meet Super Plants

An hour’s drive south of San Francisco, a stand of several hundred poplars grows in a Y-shape — a rather unusual sight wedged between two baseball fields. The trees were planted in 2013 to suck carcinogens out of a 1,500-acre Superfund site contaminated by the U.S. Navy, which disposed of toxic waste generated from developing military aircraft into ponds and landfills.

The Naval Air Station at Moffett Field is one of more than 1,000 Superfund sites in the U.S., the legacy of decades of industrial pollution. Cleanup of these sites is expensive, often owing to the specialized machinery and tools needed to excavate and dredge the land. And the moving of contaminated soil to landfills or the pumping and filtering of systems used to decontaminate water can themselves be disruptive to the environment.

But just by living and continuing to grow, the poplars, in Mountain View, Calif., can slurp up about 50 gallons of toxic water a day and break it down into innocuous byproducts such as carbon dioxide and chloride.

The poplars are part of a wave of advances in phytoremediation, the process of using plants to clean up toxic soil or water. They arise from work by Sharon Doty, a plant microbiologist at the University of Washington, who identified the microbes that naturally colonized poplars. She then licensed those strains of microbes to Intrinsyx Environmental, which gave the poplars in Mountain View a boost to enable the trees to survive and even thrive in a toxic landscape.

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2 Million Indians Plant 20 Million Trees On the Ganges River – All While Social-Distancing

July 22, 2020 · 0 minute read
2 Million Indians Plant 20 Million Trees On the Ganges River – All While Social-Distancing

In the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, there is space enough for trees to grow—and space enough for 2 million residents to plant truckloads of trees while social distancing.

Although the virus has spread fast throughout the country, its threat was not enough to dissuade the government of the most-populous Indian state from conducting a mass tree-planting campaign along the banks of the river Ganges as part of its pledge to shade a third of the nation under tree cover by 2030.

The nation’s target acreage of 235 million acres would represent an area the size of Texas and New Mexico combined.

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The Fight to Save Poland’s Ancient Forest from Destruction

July 15, 2020 · 1 minute read
The Fight to Save Poland’s Ancient Forest from Destruction

The forest floor is a graveyard, covered with fallen spruce and oak trees. But beneath the broken limbs and rotting leaves, thousands of species of insects are feeding in Bialowieza Forest. Fungi of many types are found only here and sprout year-round. More are discovered every year.

More than 200 species of birds, including rare woodpeckers and owls, fill the air with song.

“There is more life in a dead spruce than a living one,” says Professor Rafal Kowalczyk, the leader of the Mammal Research Institute at the Polish Academy of Sciences, during a tour of the forest – one of Europe’s last remaining primeval forests and part of an ecosystem largely untouched since the last glaciers receded from the continent more than 10,000 years ago.

It has been more than a year since the European Court of Justice ordered an end to logging in the forest, finding that it posed a clear threat to the world heritage site.

The scars, though, are still visible – from the tracks gouged into the earth by the heavy machinery used to cut down thousands of ancient trees to the gaping holes in the canopy created by their removal.

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Amazon Deforestation Soars as Pandemic Hobbles Enforcement

July 8, 2020 · 0 minute read

RIO DE JANEIRO — Since coming to office, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil has enabled increased razing of the Amazon rainforest.

Now, the coronavirus has accelerated that destruction.

Illegal loggers, miners and land grabbers have cleared vast areas of the Amazon with impunity in recent months as law enforcement efforts were hobbled by the pandemic.

Those recently cleared areas will almost certainly make way for a rash of fires even more widespread and devastating than the ones that drew global outrage last year. The newly cleared patches are typically set ablaze during the drier months of August to October to prepare the land for cattle grazing, often spiraling out of control into wildfires.

“The trend line is shooting upward compared to a year that was already historic in terms of a rise in deforestation,” said Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança, a federal prosecutor who leads a task force that investigates environmental crimes in the Amazon. “If state entities don’t adopt very decisive measures, we’re looking at a likely tragedy.”

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The South Carolina Forest That Looks Like Melted Ice Cream

July 1, 2020 · 0 minute read
The South Carolina Forest That Looks Like Melted Ice Cream

WITH ITS SOMETIMES-SWAMPY LANDSCAPE STIPPLED with soaring cypresses, Congaree National Park in central South Carolina looks like a prehistoric diorama. And occasionally it also resembles a Lisa Frank folder come to life. When conditions are right, standing water appears orangey, blue, and pinky-red—hues usually reserved for garish school supplies or swirls of melted sherbert on a hot day.

The sheen comes from oil, but isn’t the product of a spill or other industrial mess-up. Rather, the “oil-slick sheen” comes from Taxodium—the genus of water-loving conifers in the cypress family—which produce massive quantities of resin and oils, says Az Klymiuk, collections manager of paleobotany at the Field Museum in Chicago. The iridescence comes from oils freed up through decay, they say, that then float and coat the surface.

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Can Genetic Engineering Bring Back the American Chestnut?

June 24, 2020 · 1 minute read
Can Genetic Engineering Bring Back the American Chestnut?

Sometime in 1989, Herbert Darling got a call: A hunter told him he had come across a tall, straight American chestnut tree on Darling’s property in Western New York’s Zoar Valley. Darling knew that chestnuts were once among the area’s most important trees. He also knew that a deadly fungus had all but wiped out the species more than a half-century earlier. When he heard the hunter’s report of having seen a living chestnut whose trunk was two feet thick and rose to the height of a five-story building, he was skeptical. “I wasn’t sure I believed he knew what one was,” Darling says.

When Darling found the tree, it was like beholding a mythical creature. “To be so straight and perfect a specimen — it was just outstanding,” he says. But Darling also saw that the tree was dying. It had been struck by the same blight that had, starting in the early 1900s, killed an estimated three billion or more of its kind, modern history’s first major tree-destroying disease spread by man. If he couldn’t save the tree, Darling figured, he would at least save its seeds. There was just one problem: The tree wasn’t making any, because there were no other chestnut trees nearby to pollinate it.

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Why Trees Are the Most Reliable Historians of Early America

June 17, 2020 · 1 minute read
Why Trees Are the Most Reliable Historians of Early America

Despite our best intentions, humans can be awful recordkeepers. There are personal biases and faulty memories to consider, older means of documentation that can decay or crumble (thereby jumbling any meaning there was to begin with), and so many other inherent hazards. So it’s no wonder that hazier parts of the historical record require an entirely different species of historian.

Increasingly, American researchers are turning to trees, and reading them to fill in the gaps. A new study, published in the Journal of Biogeographylooks at the tree rings of West Virginia’s historic log cabins and other wooden structures to better understand the period in which they were built. It’s just the latest example of what the science of dendrochronology can tell us.

As trees grow each year, they sprout new rings of tissue under their bark. These rings are formed by the rate at which trees grow over the course of the calendar year—slower in winter, when there aren’t many nutrients, and faster in the spring and summer. Each new ring, a testament to the tree’s survival, encircles the older ones, inscribing a hidden historical record beneath the bark, in concentric circles.

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How America’s Botanic Gardens Are Growing Without Visitors

June 8, 2020 · 1 minute read
How America’s Botanic Gardens Are Growing Without Visitors

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS SHUTTERED countless workplaces for the foreseeable future. But a botanic garden isn’t like most offices: The flowers and trees that live there don’t pay any mind to human health or anxieties, and they need a hand from their caretakers, especially at this time of year. “Right now is the season when everything has to happen with garden collections,” says Tim Johnson, director of the botanic garden at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

At Smith, students are learning remotely, and the college grounds are closed to the public, but the plants and trees are of course staying put. The botanic garden team is navigating the thorny question of how to take care of them in an era of social distancing. “Everything is waking up, everything is demanding attention, from the indoor collections to the outdoor collections,” Johnson says.

To keep up with botanic gardens from a distance, you can peruse the Morton Arboretum’s at-home educational offerings or check in on the Conservatory of Flowers’s current stunners, including the giant water lily. The Smith College Botanic Garden and Chicago Botanic Garden are both blooming on social media. In the meantime, Atlas Obscura asked four botanic garden employees (including two Tim Johnsons—no relation!) how they’re caring for their leafy green charges in the midst of a tumultuous spring.

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Massive Tropical Forest Loss in 2019

June 8, 2020 · 0 minute read
Massive Tropical Forest Loss in 2019

Destruction of tropical forests worldwide increased last year, led again by Brazil, which was responsible for more than a third of the total, and where deforestation of the Amazon through clear-cutting appears to be on the rise under the pro-development policies of the country’s president.

The worldwide total loss of old-growth, or primary, tropical forest — 9.3 million acres, an area nearly the size of Switzerland — was about 3 percent higher than 2018 and the third largest since 2002. Only 2016 and 2017 were worse, when heat and drought led to record fires and deforestation, especially in Brazil.

“The level of forest loss we saw in 2019 is unacceptable,” said Frances Seymour, a fellow with the environmental research group World Resources Institute, which released the deforestation data through its Global Forest Watch program. “We seem to be going in the wrong direction.”

“There has been so much international effort and rhetoric around reducing deforestation, and companies and governments making all these commitments that they are going to reduce by half their tropical forest loss by 2020,” said Mikaela Weisse, who manages the Global Forest Watch program. “The fact that it’s been so stubbornly persistent is what’s worrying to us.”

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Can Redwoods Save the World?

June 2, 2020 · 1 minute read
Can Redwoods Save the World?

For a tree too big to wrap your arms around, the California coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, is surprisingly elusive. Their bases might be elephantine, but the upper reaches, they’re lofty, inscrutable. It’s this zone that I’m preparing to enter, a fog-shrouded crown on the northern California coast. A guide cinches me into a harness, and before I know it, I’m 140 feet up, then 150, 160. I stare at the tree’s dark, gnarled bark to quell the vertigo rising in my temples.

By the time I’m about 20 stories off the ground, the dot-sized people staring up at me are gone, replaced by intertwined branches and needles that close around me like a net. Clumps of sage-colored moss dangle and an inexplicable calm descends. Somewhere, my mind is scrambling like a squirrel, aware that I’m dangling 200 feet off the ground, but the tree’s unrelenting solidity—it’s been here since before the Magna Carta, after all—is having an effect. There’s a stillness up here that passes understanding.

I should have seen this coming. It’s just the way David Milarch described it. Milarch’s singular goal in life is to bring these primeval forests back from the brink, and he knows just how to win people to his cause. The best baptism is the experience. I see it in the faces of others after they return from a crown visit: blooming cheeks, starry eyes, deep sighs. They’ve gotten big tree religion.

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The Best Trees to Reduce Air Pollution

May 26, 2020 · 1 minute read
The Best Trees to Reduce Air Pollution

Cities usually come at the price of green space. Since prehistoric times, humans have busily cleared forests to make way for settlements. But increasingly, greenery has been edging its way back into modern urban landscapes, and for good reason. Vegetation helps cities become better habitats for wildlife and for people, and it helps to make city air safer.

Trees have a remarkable range of traits that can help reduce urban air pollution, and cities around the world are looking to harness them. In January 2019, the mayor of London announced that 7,000 trees would be planted before the end of the following year. Meanwhile, China’s Hebei Province, home to Beijing, has been working on a “green necklace” of plants that could help reduce pollution from factories that surround the capital. And Paris is planning an urban forest that will encompass its most iconic landmarks in an effort to adapt to climate change, and also improve the city’s air quality.

While trees are generally effective at reducing air pollution, it isn’t as simple as the more trees you have in an urban space, the better the air will be. Some trees are markedly more effective at filtering pollutants from the air than others. To make the most difference in air quality in a street or city, it has to be the right tree for the job.

And, of course, trees are only a way to filter pollution; better is to reduce emissions of pollutants in the first place, notes David Nowak, a senior scientist at the US Forest Service who has been studying plants’ contribution to air quality for 30 years. “But trees can be of great help,” he says.

Trees can improve air quality in direct and indirect ways. Indirectly, they can help by shading surfaces and reducing temperatures. If buildings are shaded by trees, it reduces the need for conventional air conditioning, and the emissions of greenhouse gases that come with it. Plus, lower temperatures decrease risk of harmful pollutants like ground level ozone that commonly spike on hot days in urban areas.

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The Living Forest

May 18, 2020 · 1 minute read
The Living Forest

Years ago, my family hiked into the Navajo Nation forest with a medicine man in search of a tree that could act as an intermediary to the Creator. It had to be sturdy enough to match our prayers for positive growth and young enough to have time to mature so its protection could last a lifetime. The medicine man selected a young Douglas fir that had no blemishes, bends, or twists. It was perfect.

We offered the little fir gifts that signified our gratitude. My husband and son placed turquoise while my daughter and I laid a white shell near its trunk. We sprinkled corn pollen on its needles to honor our lives as part of nature.

When I was 21, my birth mother died of cancer. Seeking grounding, I turned to the natural world, and soon, to the indigenous people most connected to it. In this way, I met Ursula Knoki-Wilson of the Táchii’nii, who adopted me as the daughter she never had and hired the medicine man for my Blessingway Ceremony. Later, I was adopted by Elaine Abraham’s family of the Naa Tláa of Yéil Naa, K’inéix Kwáan from the Tsisk’w Hit of Yakutat, Alaska, who named me Guna Kadeit Seedi Shaawat. My relatives taught me that everything has a spirit and needs to be respected.

Trees are people to be negotiated with and lived with on shared terms. Their lessons are available to anyone who hikes among the forest with an open heart, and listens.

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The Life and Fiery Death of the World’s Biggest Treehouse

May 7, 2020 · 1 minute read
The Life and Fiery Death of the World’s Biggest Treehouse

For the thousands of people around the world who’d once visited and admired the world’s largest treehouse in Crossville, Tennessee, the news came as an awful shock. In October 2019, a blaze consumed the singular construction. But for Horace Burgess, the treehouse’s architect, this is just how things go. He was well acquainted with how it feels to lose your own, self-built treehouse in an angry conflagration. Heck, he’d already burned one down himself.

“It was just evil,” says Burgess of the older treehouse he built and then razed back in the 1980s. There was “no good about it.” The house had ended up serving as Burgess’s hideaway for doing drugs, which he committed to quitting after the deaths of some friends. Trouble was, the house itself had become part of the habit. A voice came to Burgess, saying that he had to burn the house down if he was going to rebuild his life. And it wasn’t just any voice.

People typically think “you’re a little bit crazy when you say that God spoke to you,” Burgess admits, “but really he’s the one that tells us to put our pants on in the morning.” Looking back, Burgess says that burning that first treehouse down—on God’s advice—was “probably the most sane moment in my life.”

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This Floating Park in Copenhagen Is Made of Tiny, Tree-filled Islands

May 1, 2020 · 0 minute read
This Floating Park in Copenhagen Is Made of Tiny, Tree-filled Islands

Copenhagen is rethinking the way we enjoy our time in our city park.

City parks all over the world are wonderful places to enjoy green spaces while still enjoying urban life. However, in Copenhagen, architects and designers are looking for ways to use the city’s unused space in a different way.

Copenhagen Islands, a project headed up by Danish studio Fokstrot and Australian architect Marshall Blecher, has launched the first of many floating parks in the city’s harbor.

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Deadly Olive Tree Disease Across Europe ‘Could Cost Billions’

April 20, 2020 · 1 minute read

Researchers say the economic costs of a deadly pathogen affecting olive trees in Europe could run to over €20 billion.

They’ve modelled the future worst impacts of the Xylella fastidiosa pathogen which has killed swathes of trees in Italy.

Spread by insects, the bacterium now poses a potential threat to olive plantations in Spain and Greece.

The disease could increase the costs of olive oil for consumers. Xylella is considered to be one of the most dangerous pathogens for plants anywhere in the world. At present there is no cure for the infection.

It can infect cherry, almond and plum trees as well as olives.

It has become closely associated with olives after a strain was discovered in trees in Puglia in Italy in 2013.

The organism is transmitted by sap-sucking insects such as spittlebugs.

The infection limits the tree’s ability to move water and nutrients and over time it withers and dies.

In Italy, the consequences of the spread of the disease have been devastating, with an estimated 60% decline in crop yields since the first discovery in 2013.

“The damage to the olives also causes a depreciation of the value of the land, and to the touristic attractiveness of this region,” said Dr Maria Saponari, from the CNR Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection in Italy.

“It’s had a severe impact on the local economy and jobs connected with agriculture.”

As well as in Italy, the Xylella bacterium has now been found in Spain, France and Portugal.

Tackling it at present involves removing infected trees and trying to clamp down on the movement of plant material and the insects that spread the disease.

But if these measures fail, what will be the financial impact of the infection? Click here to read more…

Scientists Say Joshua Trees May Warrant Listing as a Threatened Species

April 15, 2020 · 0 minute read

Joshua trees face the risk of extinction after decades of development, drought and more frequent wildfires due to climate change in their Mojave Desert stronghold, according to California state wildlife authorities who are recommending that the trees be considered for listing as an endangered species.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife on Monday said it based its recommendation on a review of a petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, which argues that the western Joshua tree’s spindly desert woodlands are “likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future” without protection under the California Endangered Species Act.

The fate of Joshua Tree National Park’s namesake plant is now in the hands of the state Fish and Game commissioners. They are to decide in June whether to accept the department’s recommendation and declare the tree a candidate for listing. If the trees are listed, the law requires state wildlife managers to devise a recovery plan for them, which could limit development on some of Southern California’s sunniest real estate.

A final decision is expected sometime next year. Click here to read more…

Sapsucker Damage and What to Do About It

April 6, 2020 · 0 minute read
Sapsucker Damage and What to Do About It

If you have ever noticed small holes, made in neat rows on the trunk of a tree, you are probably looking at the damage caused from a yellow bellied sapsucker.

Sapsuckers are a type of woodpecker, but are smaller than the usual woodpeckers. Both birds use their beaks to tap on tree trunks to make holes. Sapsuckers make lots of small holes in horizontal or vertical lines in the trunks of trees. Woodpeckers make larger holes in different spots up and down tree trunks. These holes are referred to as sap wells.

Sapsucker and woodpecker damage is usually found on trees that are stressed from some sort of disease or physical wounds. Both birds seem to really love young live oaks, although I have often seen sapsucker damage on older live oaks.

When a tree experiences stress caused by humans, animals or any other means, sugars from the tree’s sap will concentrate in the area to help repair the problem. Many types of insects and animals, including sapsuckers, detect the sweet tree sap and will be attracted to the area.

Click here to read more.

The Million-Dollar Trade in Trafficked ‘Blood’ Trees

March 30, 2020 · 0 minute read
The Million-Dollar Trade in Trafficked ‘Blood’ Trees

The rosewood tree is one of the most trafficked species on earth. When it’s cut it bleeds a blood-red sap, thus the name “Blood Tree.”

Having exhausted stocks elsewhere, Chinese traders have turned to West Africa. This video report by BBC Africa Eye comes from Senegal where it is illegal to fell or export a Rosewood tree. And yet, they reveal the trees are been logged and smuggled at an alarming rate. From the forests of Casamance, through the port of neighboring Gambia and all the way onto China.

For a year BBC Africa Eye with Umaru Fofana has been investigating the million-dollar trade in trafficked rosewood.

Click here to watch the report.

In Holy Land, Protecting One of the World’s Oldest Olive Trees Is a 24/7 Job

March 20, 2020 · 1 minute read
In Holy Land, Protecting One of the World’s Oldest Olive Trees Is a 24/7 Job

Salah Abu Ali has three children. But he has another son here, he says, pointing towards the gnarled trunk of the Al Badawi tree. Weathered and ancient, it looks more like an oak than an olive tree, with muscular stalks and a cavernous trunk. Sensing confusion, Ali walks to the tree. He kneels below the branches and gently caresses a small sapling that’s sprouted near the base. He says he found it on the day his last son was born.

In the sleepy Palestinian village of Al Walaja, on the outskirts of Bethlehem, Ali wakes every morning to tend to his family’s orchard. Entering through a neighbor’s yard, he trots down the grove’s narrow paths in a way that belies his age, occasionally reaching down to quickly toss aside trespassing stones; briskly descending verdant terraces, one after another until he comes to the edge of the orchard. It is at this edge where Ali spends most of his day, pumping water from the spring above or tending to the soil. It is where he sometimes sleeps at night, and where he hosts people that have made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But many come for the tree, an olive that some believe to be the oldest in the world.

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Peak Bloom: 10 Fun Facts About Cherry Blossoms

March 11, 2020 · 1 minute read
Peak Bloom: 10 Fun Facts About Cherry Blossoms

Every spring, the 3,800 cherry trees along Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin burst into a symphony of pink-and-white blossoms. Because this picturesque period lasts, on average, just four to seven days, the spectacle is a much-anticipated annual event, with local horticulturalists and cherry blossom enthusiasts alike predicting the timing of peak bloom ahead of the National Park Service’s (NPS) official announcement.

This year, reports the NPS, peak bloom—when more than 70 percent of Yoshino cherry trees, the most common species in the area, open their buds—is projected to begin between March 27 and 30.

The floral explosion and accompanying National Cherry Blossom Festival draw more than a million visitors to the city each year. The festival commemorates the cherry trees’ 1912 arrival in D.C.; Tokyo’s mayor, Yukio Ozaki, gifted 3,020 cherry blossoms to the capital as a symbol of friendship between the United States and Japan.

In honor of the peak bloom announcement, Smithsonian magazine has compiled a list of ten fun facts highlighted in Cherry Blossoms: Sakura Collections From the Library of Congress, a new offering from Smithsonian Books that invites readers to learn about the trees’ history through original artwork, artifacts and photographs.

The 1,200-year-old tradition has its roots in plum blossoms.

Beginning in the ninth century A.D., Japanese aristocrats often brought saplings and trees down from the mountains to grace their gardens. The practice was initially associated with plum blossoms, known as ume, but became linked almost exclusively with cherry blossoms during the Heian period (794 to 1185). Hanami flower-viewingcelebrations featuring food, drink, poetry and music continued through the Meiji era (1868 to 1912) to modern times. These gatherings later influenced Washington D.C.’s own cherry blossom traditions.

Click here to read the rest of the facts…

The Secret That Helps Some Trees Live More Than 1,000 Years

March 10, 2020 · 1 minute read

The ginkgo is a living fossil. It is the oldest surviving tree species, having remained on the planet, relatively unchanged for some 200 million years. A single ginkgo may live for hundreds of years, maybe more than a thousand. They’ve survived some of our world’s greatest catastrophes, from the extinction of the dinosaurs to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

So what’s the secret to their longevity?

In the rings and genes of Ginkgo biloba trees in China, some of which are confirmed to be more than 1,000 years old, scientists are starting to find answers.

“In humans, as we age, our immune system begins to start to not be so good,” said Richard Dixon, a biologist at the University of North Texas. But in a way, “the immune system in these trees, even though they’re 1,000 years old, looks like that of a 20-year-old.”

He and colleagues in China and the United States compared young and old ginkgo trees, ranging in age from 15 to 1,300 years old, in a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. By examining the genetics of the vascular cambium, a layer or cylinder of living cells behind the bark, they found that the ginkgo grows wide indefinitely through old age.

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Below Ground, Life Goes on in the Winter Forest

March 2, 2020 · 0 minute read

The James River Association website recently featured a piece by Deya Ramsden of the Virginia Department of Forestry on the secret life of forest soil in winter.

In February, the winter forest may not appear to be particularly active. However, below ground, the soil remains dynamic in temperate forests even when outdoor temperatures are chilly. In a mature forest, the soil is made up of a complex mix of tree roots and a community of fungus, microbes and good bacteria. The soil organisms are vital for breaking down organic matter so nutrients are available for uptake by the tree roots and to sustain the community itself.  The soil bed maintains at a fairly comfortable temperature year-round. Even if above grounds temperatures are below freezing, soil temperatures never drop below 30˚F. In addition, the deeper layers of soil maintain even higher temperatures.

Click here to read the entire article.

‘Priceless’ Bonsais Returned to Museum 72 Hours After Being Stolen

February 27, 2020 · 1 minute read

Two “priceless” bonsai trees have been returned to their rightful home at a Washington state museum after they were stolen last week.

The Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way, Washington, is home to more than 100 rare and ancient bonsai trees. On February 9th, museum staffers were left frantic with worry when they discovered that a pair of 70-year-old trees had been taken from the facility.

One of the trees, a Japanese Black Pine, was particularly notable for being grown out of a tin can by a Japanese-American man incarcerated in a World War II internment camp.

The museum quickly made a social media post begging for information on the trees’ whereabouts.

“This is a tremendous loss, not only to our collection but there is a strong likelihood that the trees will perish. These trees have been cared for every day for more than 70 years, and if that daily care doesn’t continue the trees will die,” wrote Aarin Packard, Pacific Bonsai Museum Curator.

The post was shared across the internet until—just 72 hours after their reported theft—museum security guards found the two stolen trees sitting on the roadside near the museum.

Although one of the trees had suffered from some minor broken branches, they were in surprisingly good condition following the heist.

They were put back on display later that very same day and museum staffers thanked members of the public for helping to bring the bonsais back home.

They announced that they now plan on installing an updated security system thanks to the sudden influx of online donations following the trees’ return.

Money Trees: Cities Find New Ways to Value Urban Forests

February 24, 2020 · 1 minute read

Urban trees stand guard against storm damage, raise property values, boost wellbeing and even help other city systems like roads work more efficiently, according to urban forestry experts.

So, should city officials treat them as core infrastructure — as a utility themselves?

In the face of a warming planet and breakneck urbanization, a growing number of U.S. policymakers and citizens are asking that question.

“We’re having a moment in our field right now, a sudden awakening,” said Ian Leahy, vice president of urban forestry at American Forests, a non-profit.

Last week Republican lawmakers proposed legislation setting a goal for the United States to plant a trillion trees by 2050 to fight global warming.

U.S. cities alone could plant about 400,000 of those trees, noted the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based think tank. And the benefits would go well beyond carbon storage.

According to the National Tree Benefit Calculator, which uses data from the U.S. Forest Service, a single 36-inch diameter (91-cm) willow oak in a residential area in the D.C. suburbs can provide nearly $330 in benefits per year.

Those include slowing stormwater runoff, cooling air temperatures, and even boosting student achievement and public health, Leahy explained.

Citing similar benefits, the United Nations food agency in September announced plans to plant up to 500,000 hectares of urban forests in 90 cities across Africa and Asia by 2030.

Click here to read more…

Explore the World’s Largest Single Tree Canopy

February 21, 2020 · 1 minute read

Flourishing within one of India’s driest regions is Thimmamma Marrimanu, the world’s largest single tree canopy. The banyan tree was first added to the Guinness Book of World Records in 1989 (its entry updated in 2017) as being 550 years old and having the “greatest perimeter length for a tree”, spreading over five acres with a circumference of 846m.

The banyan (Ficus benghalensis), also called Indian banyan or banyan fig, is part of the mulberry family and is native to the Indian subcontinent. Stretching outward in every direction, it looks more like a grove or a forest than a single tree. Considered a “strangler” tree, it begins life as an epiphyte, a plant that grows on the surface of another plant, first by planting seeds in the branches of other trees and then by sprouting vine-like roots that block the host tree of sunlight as they wind down and eventually anchor themselves into the forest floor. These roots then spread underground, depriving all other nearby plants of water and nutrients, using these resources to then thicken into big pillars that look like tree trunks. The banyan will keep growing and expanding as far as its surroundings permit.

Thimmamma Marrimanu has more than 4,000 roots making up its canopy. It has been damaged by cyclones and droughts over the centuries, with large clumps of well-established roots having fallen sideways or broken off completely. But nevertheless, the tree is still expanding. The small collection of dusty mountains in which it is nestled provides a small, bowl-like clearing that allows for good drainage and sunlight with plenty of room for the tree to grow.

Click here to see more pictures of this incredible specimen…