Spring, spring … the first month for spring is here. Cold as it may be, with future snows probably to come, with howling winter winds still blowing, all lose much sting with our minds registering the coming of spring.

Cornelian-cherry dogwood buds are fattening and the pollen-bearing stamens lurk within. As sugar maple buds fatten, stored sugars, produced by last year’s photosynthesis, can be tapped from this sap, and voila — soon we shall say maple syrup has arrived!

Maple sap is full of carbohydrates. And yes, biologists, climate scientists, physicists and the elementary students that I occasionally teach realize carbon dioxide is essential. Carbon dioxide, along with water and energy from the sun and the presence of chlorophyll in plants, results in production of carbohydrate, the energy source that then fuels development of proteins and other substances, the metabolism of cells, and ultimately starts the food chain.

Adults are being silly when they act as if our discussions of climate change — fueled by ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the environment largely due to release of stored carbon in fossil fuels — are somehow disrespectful to carbon dioxide. Laughable, if they were not real roadblocks to important discussions of climate change. Laughable, in a Seinfeldian way, reminiscent of Kramer accusing Jerry of being a rabid anti-dentite for criticizing his dentist.

As readers may have heard, William Happer, a physicist and member of the National Security Council, who may lead what is called an “adversarial” peer review Presidential Committee on Climate Security, is on record making claims of a conspiracy of anti-carbondioxites. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld must be proud that comedy not only imitates life, but it is also being given new life.

Happer has talked about a “CO2 Anti-Defamation League,” that the CO2 molecule "has undergone decade after decade of abuse, for no reason,” that “the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”

Of course, as noted, there is no such demonization. We are all avid carbon dioxideiphiles, including all the climate scientists that deniers decry. This is a silly narrative and should be condemned as such.

The real issue is the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and its connection to climate change. Follow the science. Read all about it and read with discernment. Debate the very real issues of what is best to do now.

This sideshow is like saying in reverse that people believe that apples are bad because apples, along with other fruits such as peaches and cherries, contain cyanogenic glycosides, one of which is converted in our guts to cyanide. Yes, if you eat and grind up apple seeds and peach pits, you will end up with small concentrations of cyanide in your system.

Not enough to hurt you. And I do not recommend eating hundreds of such fruits, with their seeds, each day. I am not an anti-apple-ite and never have been, and if I were I would not name names, Senator.

The issue of course is the concentration of cyanide. The climate issue is the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and effects that will occur if we do nothing. What we do is the key debate, but to ignore it with false-issue deflections of whether carbon dioxide is a good thing is a fallacy. Have you no shame, Happer?

ArboReadUm

How do people make informed decisions about science and about plants? There are many ways. Doing research, hearing reasoned arguments, seeing experiments conducted, and reading books. Which brings us to the rest of this Almanac.

A group of us were talking recently about an upcoming program at Secrest Arboretum (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 27) that will include half-hour presentations about plant and nature books. It shall be a joy, from demonstrations of plants to perhaps music and poetry to how books are made (from trees!), and all sorts of creative approaches.

You are all invited to come — and maybe next time to present. The $10 fee includes pastries and coffee. Bring your own lunch, unless enough people register, in which case we will have a food truck or two. Email Sarah Mays at mays.201@osu.edu.

So what is the name of this program? Everything I could think of seemed clunky. Then arborist Jack Savage, of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center grounds department, playing upon our fall ArborEatUm program on edible landscaping, came up with the simple, obvious, yet brilliant name: ArboReadUm. Read. Listen. Dialogue.

Bill Snyder was the longtime grounds superintendent at Stan Hywet Hall who became garden editor and columnist of the Akron Beacon Journal in the 1970s and 1980s. Bill’s is a great legacy at Stan Hywet, at the then-largest Men’s Garden Club in the country, and at the Beacon Journal. Garden books poured in to the Beacon from publishers and authors. After Bill’s death the books continued to arrive for others writing about plants there, and I have partaken of some of them over the past three decades-plus.

Which brings us to the point. Features editor Lynne Sherwin at the Beacon Journal emailed that space in the newsroom is becoming more at a premium; could Denise Ellsworth (former bee-loved Almanac writer) or me find a home for some of the books that have accumulated? Being book lovers and accumulators ourselves, we jumped at the chance. Denise picked them up and their new homes are good ones.

Denise took a few, certainly any that referenced bees, which she will use in her pollinator education programs for her role in the Entomology Department at OSU. Secrest Arboretum’s Jason Veil, Paul Snyder and Matt Shultzman chose some (they will all be speaking at ArboReadUm). I took a few.

But the coolest use is this: My brother-in-law Jim Hoskins teaches horticulture at the Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility in Massillon. He now has more than 50 books in his library for his young students.

I have taught horticultural classes at correctional facilities over the years, my favorites with my brother-in-law using manuals our OSU team wrote. Never have I had a more attentive and interested class of active learners with excellent insights and questions than at a recent arborist certification class at the Richland Correctional Institute.

This program is the brainchild of leadership there, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture. As with many other certification classes, plant jargon is always challenging. What do all these terms mean?

So, let us learn two: allelopathy and allelochemicals. Allelopathy is a term used when one organism chemically inhibits another, usually referring to plant on plant crime. A classic example is black walnut trees, which produce the chemical juglone that is taken up by other plants, inhibiting their growth in the root zone of the black walnut. Most plants can tolerate these effects without too much damage, but some cannot, especially tomatoes.

If your tomatoes are growing within the root zone of walnut and they wilt for some reason, juglone toxicity is a real possibility. It is also a good case study of how far roots grow; a 40-foot-tall black walnut growing 60 feet from your tomato garden means that the black walnut roots are intermingling with your tomato roots.

The term allelochemical usually refers to chemicals that plants produce, such as phenols and tannins, which are harmful to plant pests and pathogens. Naturally, we feel a little better about these plant-on-pest crimes, as these chemicals help trees grow.

The long arc of evolution of these chemicals over time is what is so frustrating when a new pest is introduced, such as the Asian emerald ash borer killing our native North American ashes. It is also why Europeans and Asians are worried about our North American bronze birch borer and its potential threat to their birches that have not evolved in its presence.

Spring in words

"Landscaping With Trees in the Midwest" was one of the Beacon books that will help with the Massillon student gardening library. It was written by my buddy Scott Zanon, so here is the first season of his haiku for the book:

"With spring’s emergence

Blooms dazzle and seeds abound

Baring gardener’s souls"

I love sassafras in the springtime, and all the time. It is a much underappreciated native tree. Fresh green twigs, rounded balls of bursting buds, electric yellow blossoms most do not see, cool leaves in singlets, doublets, and triplets, wonderful curving trunks on older trees, and varied and fine fall foliage of yellows, flame oranges, reds and even purples. Check out the emerging buds and flowers in late April or early May.

So many more books, so little space to write. Pruning books. Books about tulips, about bulbs, and annuals and perennials. Essays about nature in Kent. Landscape design. Garden calendars.

I still have a little more time before the books head to Massillon, so I shall extract knowledge and perspectives. All will go to the student library to spark the love of plants, and ideas for careers. Martha Stewart made crabapple jam while in her West Virginia prison. May these books help lead others to rehabilitation.

As each spring, this poem from Lilja Rogers:

“First the howling winds awoke us

Then the rains came down to soak us

Now, before the mind can focus —

Crocus.”

 

Jim Chatfield is a horticultural educator with Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden, write to chatfield.1@osu.edu or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.