Naughty and nice. A bit late tradition-wise, but as a spur to New Year’s resolutions, these shall be the tales of this Almanac. For plants and for their pests, it was the best of years, the worst of years. Let us begin.
• Water water everywhere: the good and maybe the bad. It was a great green year for lawns, with bluegrass never going dormant due to consistent water through the season. A bit too much in the autumn however, possibly resulting in inadequate oxygen for plant root systems, and the development of root rot disease in some cases. So far, not too bad.
However, should we have a significant early drought in the 2019 growing season, then perchance new feeder root development will fall short. This occurred with near-record wet-then-dry seasons in 2001-2002 and again in 2011-2012. Nothing to worry about now, but stay tuned.
• Naughty: Callery pears. The die is cast: Little more than four years from now, the Asian-native Callery pear cannot be grown, sold, or planted by licensed nursery stock dealers in the state of Ohio. That is how far it has fallen since its introduction over a half century ago to the United States.
Though it does have positive attributes of flower and foliage, it has become a problem invasive. It is too late to eradicate from landscapes and many wetlands and natural areas, but the Ohio Department of Agriculture edict of last January aims to stem the tide of planting and at least slow their spread by angry birds.
The ‘Bradford’ cultivar was largely self-sterile, but subsequent cultivated varieties did cross-fertilize and the subsequent fruits have proliferated. Within weeks the countdown to prohibition will reach four years. On a positive negative note, within the last few years pear trellis rust and cedar quince rust diseases have emerged and in some states are fairly severe on Callery pear.
• Nice: Is not beauty nice? It is, and so, a picture I took this year says it all: Kolkwitzia amabilis, the beautybush, a rather clumsy, large, old-fashioned shrub, overcomes its distractions with truly nice, beauteous flowers. And in recent years, too many years down the line, plant breeders are introducing more compact beautybushes, joining plant form to flowers in the landscape pantheon of niceties.
• Naughty: While in Brooklyn this past week, I noted puffy-white cottony masses on the needles of hemlock trees as I passed through my daughter’s neighborhood. Alas, it had not snowed nor was it snowing. This was not a case of “The day the crow shook down on me/the dust of snow from a hemlock tree/has given my heart a change of mood/and saved a part of a day I had rued,” from Robert Frost. Nay, this was hemlock woolly adelgid, a devastating insect pest of hemlock trees.
This adelgid, not to be confused with minor pests such as the larch woolly adelgid, celebrated its sixth anniversary as a known in Ohio this year, spreading from more seriously infested states to our east and south. It started in woodland Eastern hemlocks in southern Ohio, then was found in Hocking Hills State Park, and is now known in some Northeast Ohio locations. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio State University Extension are trying to manage this plant pest and there is hope it will be contained.
• Nice: And that hope is reasonable, unlike the widespread devastation of emerald ash borer. We shall still have hemlocks in our forests and in our landscapes. We can hope, as John Updike penned in “Planting Trees”:
"At the back of our acre here, my wife and I,
freshly moved in, freshly together,
transplanted two hemlocks that guarded our door
gloomily, green gnomes a meter high.
One died, gray as sagebrush next spring.
The other lives on and some day will dominate
this view no longer mine, its great
lazy feathery hemlock limbs down-drooping
its tent-shaped caverns resinous and deep.
Then may I return, an old man, a trespasser,
and remember and marvel to see
our small deed, that hurried day.
so amplified, like a story though layers of air
told over and over, spreading."
• Naughty: Oak wilt disease and its vascular-wilting fungal pathogen is most naughtily becoming more prominent in Ohio, though Nicely, it does not spread as efficiently as the related Dutch elm disease fungus.
• Naughty: This past year, bee queen and pollinator expert Denise Ellsworth and I planned quarterly Secrest Arboretum nature book club sessions in Wooster. We failed to deliver and plans for the book salon are shelved for now, but …
• Nice: For 2019, book lovers can look to two events at Secrest. The first is planned for March 27, with a 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. program featuring discussions, presentations and activities associated with “Reading Trees and Nature.” The 10 books featured include “The Wizard and the Prophet” by Charles C. Mann, about Norman Borlaug, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his plant breeding efforts of the Green Revolution and William Koch, an influential sustainability ecologist, both intellectual players in the middle of the 20th century.
Also included will be "The Lord of the Rings.” I mentioned it recently to a friend who said, are you sure there is enough about plants in these Hobbit Tales? Please. Ents — Tree Shepherds! Case closed. I even have a book my daughter Sara gave me: “Flora of Middle Earth,” by Walter S. and Graham A. Judd, which catalogs every mention of plants in the trilogy plus “The Hobbit” and subsidiary Tolkien works.
How about: apples (probably crabapples) as the hobbits depart for Crickhollow, apples Sam hurls at Bill Ferny as they depart from Bree. All the way to the White Tree of Gondor: “And he climbed to it, and saw that out of the very edge of the snow there sprang a sapling tree no more than three feet high. Already it had put forth young leaves long and shapely, dark above and silver beneath, and upon its slender crown it bore one small cluster of flowers whose white petals shone like the sunlit snow.”
Other books will include “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold, a summary of plants from the Bible by Paul Snyder, “Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants” reviewed by arborist Jack Savage, and on and on. And of course:
• Extra Nice: “The Discovery of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World" by Andrea Wulf. I have written of this before, but now the time is at hand. On Sept. 14, 1869, the 100th anniversary of von Humboldt's birth, hundreds of thousands of people celebrated around the Earth, from Adelaide to Mexico City, from Alexandria to New York City. And as Wulf writes, “Eight thousand people poured out into the streets of Cleveland, Ohio.”
All of this for a natural philosopher, who today we would call a scientist, a synthesizer, an ecologist, a climate predictor, a man who taught us that Nature is not to be feared and tamed, but is part of us.
So, on Sept. 14, 2019, this fall, on the 250th anniversary of his birth, Secrest Arboretum will celebrate the book, Alexander von Humboldt, a program on forest ecology with experts from around the country, a playful world premier dramedy adapted by OSU’s Fred Michel about scientific literacy held outside at the Secrest Arboretum Amphitheatre, and a trip to Cleveland to pour out into the streets to celebrate the birth and life of a scientist. Who’d have thought it?
To close, here is von Humboldt on June 5, 1799: “In a few hours we sail around Cape Finisterre. I shall collect plants and fossils and make astronomic observations. But that’s not the main purpose of my expedition. I shall try to find out how the forces of nature interact upon one another and how the geographic environment influences plant and animal life. In other words, I must find out about the unity of nature.”
In the spirit of Alexander von Humboldt, we still search and explore.
Jim Chatfield is a horticultural educator with Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden, write to email@example.com or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.