Fine China

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Before: There was not much hope for the Chinese maple underneath this mess.

It will be just fine. The Chinese maple that I mentioned earlier this morning sustained surprisingly minimal damage when part of a bay tree fell onto it. The situation initially seemed hopeless prior to the removal the heavy debris that was pressing the diminutive Chinese maple downward. Yet, the little tree somehow regained its composure, and is expected to recover.

The little Chinese maple was always rather sparse in the shade of the surrounding forest. Also, it exhibited an asymmetrically sculptural form. That is likely normal for the species within its natural environment, where it lives as an understory tree (within the shade or partial shade of larger forest trees). The distinctive form and open canopy were part of its allure.

As the debris was removed, most of the stems of the Chinese maple sprang back into their original positions. Only two major limbs were fractured and needed to be pruned away. Some of the minor twiggy growth was groomed in the process. The main trunk was somewhat destabilized, but not too detrimentally so.

It probably should be no surprise that the little tree was so resilient to the altercation. It is, after all, an understory tree. Within its natural environment, it likely contends with the same sort of abuse. Chinese forests are likely just as messy as forests here are. Gravity pulls all that mess in the same direction.

The little Chines maple may not look like much now that it has been groomed and pruned to be even more sparse than it originally was, but it should be fine. By this time next year, foliar density should be comparable to what it was prior to the incident. The form will remain sculptural, as it grows away from the shade of the forest, and out over the stream below.

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After: After a bit of grooming, this little Chinese maple is not so badly disfigured.

Timber!

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This is a bit more than just slightly inconvenient. The trail continues forward from here, with another trail up the stairs to the right.

It is that time of year. Warming weather accelerates vascular activity, which makes foliage heavier. If evapotranspiration is inhibited by humidity and a lack of wind, the foliage can get too heavy to be supported by the trees that produce it. All that increasing weight can bring down big limbs or entire trees at the most unexpected times. The process is spontaneous limb failure.

By ‘unexpected’, I mean that it happens when there is no wind. It is startling because broken limbs and fallen trees are typically associated with wind rather than a lack of it. Gentle wind actually accelerates evapotranspiration, which relives affected vegetation of some of its weight and susceptibility to spontaneous limb failure. Aridity helps too, by absorbing more moisture.

Of course, even a gentle breeze at the wrong time can have disastrous results for vegetation that is already about to succumb to spontaneous limb failure. I suspect that is what happened here, since the air was not completely still at the time. It was just a bit warmer than it had been, and slightly more humid than typical. It is too late and pointless to analyze the situation now.

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This is the top of the stairs that are to the right in the picture above.

At about noon on Thursday, someone who works nearby alerted me to the sound a a big tree falling. I was in the same neighborhood, but was driving by with the radio on. The tree is precisely where I was told it would be. No one was nearby when it fell. Damage was originally minimal, with a portion of trail displaced by roots, and a rail on a bridge crushed by the trunk.

By ‘originally’, I mean that this was not the extent of the damage. After barricading the trails and road leading to the site, and leaving, we heard another loud crash from the same location as a bay tree that had been leaning against the already fallen fir tree collapsed in pieces on top of the whole mess. Fortunately, the damage to the bridge, although worse, is not too terribly bad.

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There is more timber here than lumber. The short section of main trunk is severely fractures. The double trunks beyond are not as big as they look.

Vegetation Exploitation

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If a tree falls in a forest, . . . it might get recycled.

Exploitation of the vegetation here involves so much more than collecting seed from old bloom, dividing overgrown perennials, or processing cuttings from pruning scraps. It goes beyond the reassignment of lauristinus, canna, African iris, deodar cedar and perhaps others that I wrote about earlier. Flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs are mundanely obvious assets.

The landscapes and forests here do so much more than beautify and provide shade. When a tree falls in a forest (and makes a sound even if no one is there to hear it), it might get processed into firewood or lumber. Some of the foliage that falls in landscaped areas goes to the compost piles. Even debris that gets removed from here gets recycled as greenwaste somewhere else.

Of course, we can not recycle, reuse, repurpose or otherwise make use of everything that falls out of the forests and landscapes. There is simply too much of it. That is how the ecosystems of the forests recycle naturally. Exotic plants in the landscapes do not know that they are exotic, and try to behave as they would within their respective ecosystems. Nature is innately messy.

Trees that fall across hiking trails merely get cleared from the trails, and left to decompose out in the forests. Even potentially useful firs, pines and redwoods can not be extracted feasibly. Their big trunks might remain where they fell, with only a section cut out where a trail goes through. The forests do not mind. Their ecosystems know how to make use of such biomass too.

This fallen fir tree happened to land squarely on top of a few steps in a trail that is cut into a steep hillside. As you can see, it was not exactly cleared completely from the trail, but instead replaced the steps that it destroyed.

X Marks The Spot

P91102KHorticulture is not all about growing things. If everyone was out planting trees, the World would eventually be overwhelmed with forest. It is sometimes necessary to cut trees down. There are several at work that we have been wanting to cut down for quite a while. Some are structurally deficient enough to eventually become hazardous, which is unacceptable in public spaces.

Even here among some of the oldest trees in the World, nothing last forever. Coast live oak, like that in the picture above, has potential to survive for centuries, but eventually succumbs to decay and disease. If fact, this particular specimen is doing it right now. If not cut down soon, it will eventually fall onto an adjacent building and a parking lot below. Its days are numbered.

Literally, it will be cut down on Monday morning, along with a few other coast live oaks and bay laurels in the neighborhood. The orange ‘X’ on the trunk is so faded from the delay of getting this done, that is it barely discernible. (Actually, the can of spray paint was empty.) The trunk and even the main limbs are so rotten that there will not be much firewood left to cut and split.

Cutting this tree down may seem to be unnatural, but so was pruning it for decades so that it would not fall down. It is impossible to say what situation this tree would be in now without past or present intervention. I am more concerned with how it and other trees interact with their surroundings, and the safety of everyone involved. We can not always let nature do as it pleases.

Forest fires are very natural components to our local ecosystems, but because so many of us live here, significant effort and resources are expended on containment!

Midnight Oil

P91027The electricity is still on here at 8:20 p.m.. I just turned the lights off to get the cool picture above. The outages in this region were scheduled to begin twenty minutes ago, so the electricity could be disconnected here at any moment. I may not finish writing and scheduling this to post later at midnight before that happens. So, if you are not reading this presently, you know why.

Before you waste another second thinking about that, I will tell you now that it makes no sense.

Scheduled electrical outages are now one of the consequences of living in this excellent place. We live with trees. Some of these trees are the biggest in the World. Some are very combustible. Regardless of the diligence of those who prune trees to maintain clearance from utility cables, big trees are likely to drop limbs onto cables, causing sparks that can ignite combustible trees.

The electricity just went out at 8:40 p.m..

As I was saying, we also live with weather. It happens to be excellent weather. It is pleasantly warm through summer, with minimal humidity and an almost constant cooling breeze. When the weather gets a bit too warm, it compensates with lower humidity and increased breeze. Unfortunately, this combination of weather is precisely what accelerates the worst of forest fires.

Scheduled electrical outages are intended to coincide with forecasts of weather conditions that are dangerously conducive to the initiation and perpetuation of forest fires. As inconvenient as they are, such outages are a sensible precaution.

The smoke that made such a colorful sunset earlier is from a fire in nearby forests, on the southern coast of San Mateo County.

Now, I will go to town to see if I can find someplace to get online to schedule this for midnight.

Arborists’ View

P91026KArborists see trees very differently from how most of us see them. They know their trees very intimately, and by botanical name. Arborists know how big particular trees get, both tall and wide, and if they are likely to develop structural deficiency or aggressive roots. They can tell us which are deciduous, which are evergreen, and which are messy with foliage, bloom or fruit.

Some arborists are happy to divulge a bit of history of some trees, whether exotic or native. They might tell us where the exotic trees came from, and why they were imported. Some trees were brought for timber. Some were brought for fuel. Some were imported just because they were pretty. Some naturalized, and now impose on the natural ecosystem. Natives try to adapt.

Since they know the innate characteristics of trees, arborists know what their cultural preferences are. They know that some are understory trees that prefer the company of other bigger trees. Many others are those bigger trees, that want to dominate their respective landscapes. Some want plenty of water. Many of the natives do not want much more than annual rainfall.

An arborist might provide you with way more information than you ever thought you wanted about your seemingly innocuous trees.

Besides all that, arborists are a weird breed that really enjoy their work. Arborists like me simply enjoy diagnosing problems with trees, and prescribing corrective arboricultural procedures. Those who climb trees to execute such procedures are much more involved! Their work is as demanding as extreme sports, and they take it very seriously. They must. It is their profession.

This view of a big box elder, Acer negundo, from above, which I got from the edge of a bridge, might be that of just another day at the office for other arborists.

Can’t See The Tree For The Forest

P90818Big trees get big problems. Part of our job is to tend to these problems before they become dangerous. Many of these problems are somewhat easy to identify. A deteriorating ponderosa pine with browning foliage it difficult to ignore if it is tall enough to be seen above the rest of the forest more than a mile away.

There are a few problems that are not so easy to identify. Some are caused by the weather, without prior warning. Others are hidden in the forests. One might think that those in the forests would not concern us. However, our landscape and facilities are so intricately mixed with the forests.

The shiner in the picture above was where a big broken limb needed to be cut from a big fir tree. It may not look big in the picture, but the limb was probably more than nine inches wide, and long enough to weigh a few hundred pounds. The lower right edge of the shiner is frayed because the limb broke right at the trunk, and was hanging vertically against the trunk.

The yellow arrow in the picture below indicates where the shiner is located. The trunk of the tree is not as tapered as it seems to be in the picture. It only looks like this because it is so tall that the the upper portion is very far from the camera! Although this fir is a wild forest tree, it is only a few feet from the cabin below. The broken limb was dangling directly over the roof!

There was no way to predict that this limb would break. It did not seem to be any more structurally deficient than those that remain. Of course, once broken, it was removed faster than I could get a picture of it.P90818+

Exfoliating Bark

P90720KBecause redwoods live for centuries, their bark gets very thick. They do not shed their bark as they grow. Old giant redwoods in the Sierra Nevada have bark that is a few feet thick and thousands of years old. Their bark is thicker than the trunks of what most of us consider to be large trees! Even much younger coastal redwoods that have regenerated here since clear cut harvesting about a century ago have bark that is a few inches thick.
They like their bark thick. It is the insulation that protects them from forest fires that incinerate other vegetation. Unlike most species here that are designed to burn and then regenerate more vigorously after fire, redwoods prefer to survive fire by being less combustible. As they mature, and their bark gets thicker, they become more resilient to fire. There are only a few species here that survive fire mostly intact, rather than regenerate after it.
Of course, survival is more complicated than mere thick bark. Redwoods, particularly coastal redwoods, also try to exclude other more combustible species from their forests. Also, they tend to shed lower limbs that would be more combustible during a fire, and prioritize higher and therefore less combustible canopies. Redwoods have developed a rather ingenious (but unfortunately ecologically delicate) systems of survival techniques.
Other trees are not so easy to figure out. Many species of Eucalyptus shed lower growth as if they want to be less combustible. They shed copious amounts of foliage and bark to inhibit undergrowth and other combustible vegetation. However, not only are they innately very combustible, but because they shed so much of their bark, they lack insulation from fire. It is as if they expect to burn back to the ground, and then regenerate after a fire.
Regardless of their logic, exfoliating bark of the larger eucalypti can be annoyingly messy. Exfoliating bark of some of the smaller eucalypti can be rather appealing in home gardens. This tree happens to be the same featured last week in ‘Silver‘.P90720K+

Campground II

P90626This is a formerly unplanned sequel to the article ‘Campground‘ from last Sunday. That article described my concern for any of the homeless who might camp on the banks of an adjacent creek, below innately unstable and structurally deficient riparian trees. Just a few minutes after the article posted at midnight, the biggest and most deteriorated box elder tree in the area of concern coincidentally fell! No one was there at the time to be hurt.
The tree that fell was located just a few yards to the right of those in the picture of the previous article. It happened to be the only tree that was inside the fence. Therefore, as it fell inward, it did not damage the fence. The trailer that it landed on is for heavy tractors, so was undamaged. Only the top few timbers of a pile of lumber that it landed on were broken, and only because the lumber was recently milled, and stacked so loosely to dry.
The upper picture at the top shows the fallen tree laying on the trailer and loosely stacked lumber, with its dislodged trunk suspended above the ground. The middle picture here shows the base of the dislodged trunk suspended pitiably above the ground, with no roots remaining attached to the soil.P90626+

The lower picture below shows how efficiently the trunk pulled out of the crater as if there were no roots holding it down. The few roots that were there were so decayed that none stayed attached to the soil. It is amazing that the tree did not fall earlier! When if fell, it sounded just like one might imagine it would, with a loud but quick crash. There was no sound of tearing or crunching roots. Fortunately, there was no one else there to hear it!P90626++

Campground

P90519There happen to be quite a few campgrounds in the region, with one about a quarter of a mile upstream from where this picture was taken, and another less than three miles past that. Both are primarily used by school age children. The vast redwood forests with creeks flowing through are ideal for such campgrounds.
This is a campground too. I know it does not look like it. It is located between a creek and an industrial building, the eave of which is visible in the top right corner of the picture. The herd of dumpsters that is barely visible at the bottom of the picture might include a dozen dumpsters at at time. (I tried to get both the eave and the dumpsters in one picture.) There really are two rows of barbed wire on top of that fence behind the dumpsters.
Nonetheless, it is a campground. You see, individuals who lack adequate shelter occasionally camp on a flat spot next to the creek, right below the big cottonwood tree in the middle of the picture. It is not a big space, so can only accommodate one or maybe two people at a time. No one has been there for quite a while. Yet, on rainy days like today, it is saddening to imagine someone camping there, so close to inaccessible buildings.
Because the area is outside of landscaped areas, I do nothing to make it any more comfortable as a campground. I only cut away the limbs that fall onto the fence.
The trees are a mix of mostly box elders, with a few cottonwoods and willows, and even fewer alders, with one deteriorating old bigleaf maple. They concern me. Box elders, cottonwoods and willows are innately unstable. All but bigleaf maple are innately structurally deficient. Although bigleaf maple should innately be both stable and structurally sound, the particular specimen in this situation is in the process of rotting and collapsing.
I really do not mind if limbs or entire trees fall into the forested riparian zone. If they fall outward, they do not damage the dumpsters. Only the fence needs to be repaired. What worries me are the potential residents of the campground. Part of my work is to inspect trees for health, stability and structural integrity, and if necessary, prescribe arboricultural procedures to make them safe. I just can not do that here.

UPDATE: Just after this article posted at midnight, a very big box elder off to the right of those in the picture fell with a loud but quick crash. It was probably the biggest and most deteriorated of the box elders in this area, and pulled completely out of the ground to reveal that the roots were so decayed, that none stayed attached to the stump. Seriously, you should see the pictures when they get posted next Sunday.