Monday, July 16, 2012

I never thought I'd sing the praises of silver maple (Acer saccharinum). This fast-growing species, common to river bottoms and floodplains throughout the central and eastern US, is considered by most tree enthusiasts (or tree snobs, whichever you prefer) to be a rather trashy tree not deserving of much attention or wide-spread planting. I've thumbed my nose at it most of my life and have literally cursed it many times as my neighbor's large tree drops its helicopter seeds by the millions clogging my gutters and leaving me with many hundreds of seedlings to pull every year. In fact I am now up to an estimated 7,384 seedlings I've pulled out of my yard over the last 20 years. Another concern with the species is its weak-wooded nature. It grows fast and big and is prone to significant damage in high-winds and ice storms and is a common culprit to power outages in such events. Over the years, many homes, vehicles and people have been damaged by falling limbs.  

Silver maple leaf - deeply lobed with prominent serrations and a "silvery" underside.

Tree huggers and a large silver maple in Ithaca New York. (credit Rich and Royal Hue) 

There is most definitely a lot to dislike about silver maple. And yet as I look around eastern Nebraska in this brutally hot and dry summer, the silver maple should be a much appreciated tree for the wide-spreading shade it casts. Look up at the canopy of any community forest and some of the most important trees helping to cool the air around us are the silver maples. The heat doesn't bother them and although they are a floodplain species, they seem to be very tolerant of significant drought. I doubt I will ever plant one myself, but in a summer like this I can sure appreciate the big silver maples that we do have - especially my neighbor's tree shading the south side of my house and property.

State Champion silver maple, Chautauqua Park, Beatrice

Yours truly - in the state champion silver maple.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

It's Hot Out There - Go Pin Oak!

Much of Nebraska has baked under record-setting heat in recent days (115°F in McCook!) and we haven't even reached the hottest days of the summer. Thank goodness for the shade trees working tirelessly to help keep our communities cooler! I like to run and on a recent noon-hour jog through a neighborhood near UNL’s East Campus, I couldn’t help but notice how important the shade trees were. Indeed, my jogging route in the 90degree heat was made manageable as I was mostly able to stay in the shade of some well-placed street trees. This particular hard-working neighborhood is blessed with a variety of species planted by forward thinking people in decades past. Species represented include bur oak, red oak, swamp white oak, green ash, Honeylocust, American elm, silver maple, Norway maple, and hackberry among others.

Street trees near UNL East Campus in Lincoln - on a hot summer day.
A shady oasis on a hot summer day!
One species that especially caught my eye during my run is pin oak as there are many large specimens to be found in this neighborhood. Though we rarely recommend pin oak for planting anymore because of its tendency to be chlorotic (yellow) on high pH soils, the reality is that some of the largest and most grand trees found in Lincoln and in other southeast Nebraska communities are the pin oaks. Over the years I’ve heard many visitors to Lincoln comment about its impressive trees. It is often the pin oaks that these people are especially impressed by.

A beautiful, relatively young pin oak.

Pin oak leaves.
Perhaps it’s time once again that we give pin oak the credit it’s due. Though still not appropriate for many sites (especially on newly constructed sites where the original top soil is gone) pin oak can be a good choice where a soil test reveals a loamy soil, rich in organic content and a relatively low pH (below 7). Pin oak grows fast and tall with an upright habit when young. It tolerates both wet soils and drought when established. It has good fall color and provides habitat to a wide-variety of birds, insects and other animals. And it loves the heat and humidity of southeast Nebraska. Thank you pin oak