Big 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.
This 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.
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!
There 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.
Redwoods are SO TALL!
How tall are they?
They are so tall that you can see for yourself if you look in this direction . . . from anywhere in North America or Central America.
They are so tall that if you need firewood, I can aim one in your direction as I cut it down.
They are so tall that while they drop foliar debris on the Ford and Chevrolet parked below, they also drop foliar debris on Mercury and Saturn in their respective orbits.
They are so tall that while other trees collect kites and Frisbees, they collect airplanes.
They are so tall that only a few of their seed survive. Most burn up in the atmosphere on their way down.
They are SO BIG too!
How big are they?
They are so big that some have tunnels cut through them so cards don’t run out of gasoline while driving around.
Okay enough of that for now.
Most of the biggest redwoods here were harvested, leaving only stumps to remind us of how big they were. The few trees that were big enough for harvest a century ago, but were not harvested when those around them were, probably exhibited some sort of defect that made their lumber undesirable.
The tree in this picture happens to be one of the few that is big enough now to suggest that it was likely big enough for harvest when those around it were harvested. The trunk is more that six feet wide. Yet, except for the severe lean, no obvious defects were observed. (The vertical edge of the doorway to the left was included in the picture for comparison with the lean of the tree.)
The tree started to lean only recently. If it had taken several years to develop this lean, the top several feet of the trunk would be curved upward, as it would have continued to grow vertically away from gravity while the trunk below it moved. If it moved suddenly but only once several years ago, there would be a kink near the top of the otherwise leaning trunk, from which, subsequent growth would be vertical.
This tree instead leans with a straight trunk from bottom to top, which means that it grew vertically, and then moved into this diagonal position too recently for new vertical growth to develop. Lateral branches are also diagonal, as they maintained their position perpendicular to the trunk. Although redwoods rarely destabilize, this one really seems as if it is about to fall.
Is this destabilization relative to some sort of deficiency that prevented the tree from getting harvested a century ago? I really should investigate.
There are thousands of them, these weird motionless caterpillar like ‘things’, in big herds under all the cottonwood trees. They make a squishy mess in the rain, and stain concrete. They may not look like much from a distance, and are merely ignored as a minor nuisance that must be swept from pavement, but on closer inspection, they really look unworldly, like something from another planet, or a bad Japanese science fiction movie.
They are just male catkins of the native cottonwoods. At least I believe they are. If there are female flowers mixed in, I would not know it. Nor would I know if they really are from another planet. I know that the cottonwoods will later make quite a mess with their cottony fluff that carries their seed away on the wind, so they must do what it takes to generate seed, which generally involves flowers of both genders. I just never look that closely. Their privacy should be respected in such matters, even if they choose to do it out in the open. Those that dropped this . . . whatever it is . . . were doing . . . whatever they were doing . . . right out in the big lawn of Felton Covered Bridge Park!
Why must cottonwood trees bloom so profusely? They must know what they are doing. Maybe they expect most of their tiny seed to get eaten by small seed eating birds. Perhaps all but a few of their seed stay in the same riparian situations from which they came, or blow far enough away to land in other equally hospitable riparian situations. Otherwise, almost all land in situations that are too dry for them to survive long after spring. It is difficult to know what their potentially nefarious motives are.
If there were lawns and fences in this neighborhood, the grass would likely seem to be greener on the other side of the fence. In this situation, the greenhouse probably seemed to be more comfortable than being left out in the storm. This tall Douglas fir tree dropped in to find out. It did not go well. What remains can be seen in the middle of the picture above, just to the right of the fallen fir, and in the close up of the picture below.
Miraculously, the two coastal redwood trees that caught and guided the fir to a direct hit on the greenhouse also prevented it from destroying the associated house. Well, at least the redwood on the left did. There would have been less damage if the fir had fallen farther to the right. Regardless, a deck was crushed, an eave was destroyed, but the rear wall of the home was barely nudged. Not even the windows there were broken!
Falling debris punched a few holes in the roof, but without structural damage. The patio of the big building to the right was littered with debris that was easily removed. After limbs are removed from the damaged house, much of the carcass of the fallen fir will remain on the forest floor. It decays efficiently here.
Incidentally, this fir was about to be removed. It had been identified as too risky for the neighborhood. Although they are not visible in the pictures, there are a few other homes in the neighborhood. The cabin that I stayed in for more than a week is just beyond where the top of the fir landed. The stovepipe that is visible in the background of the second of my ‘Six on Saturday – Cabin Fever’ pictures from January 5 is the same stove pipe that is visible on the roof of the home that was nearly destroyed by the fallen fir. https://tonytomeo.com/2019/01/05/six-on-saturday-cabin-fever/
(The stove pipe circled by the yellow oval just above the center of the picture above is the same stove pipe circled by the yellow oval just right of the middle of the upper margin of the picture below.)
Fire has always been a part of life in most of California. That is why almost all native flora benefits from it, and has developed an efficient system and schedule for not only living with it, but exploiting it.
Within a few years after a fire, the pioneer species are the first to regenerate. They are aggressive, but short lived. Some are annuals. Others are trees that grow fast and then die out as the slower growing but longer lived trees dominate. Some of the longer lived trees might have been there all along, since they have developed ways of surviving fire.
Big valley oaks and coast live oaks that live out in the open away from other forest trees can survive for centuries because the grasses around them burn off fast and relatively harmlessly. Giant redwoods and some pines survive by standing high above the more combustible fuel below. Coastal redwood survives for centuries by being less combustible than other species. Desert fan palms protect their single terminal buds inside their massive non combustible trunks, while their beards of old dead foliage burns hot enough to incinerate competing species. There are too many ingenious ways that plants survive fire and even use it to their advantage to write about; but the point is that they know what they are doing, and they know how to live with fire.
This system of ecology has been disrupted, but not just by people cutting down too many trees and starting too many fires. The problem now is that not enough trees are getting cut down, and fires are unable to burn that which relies on burning.
In this region, pioneer species and an unnatural mix of forest trees moved in where the redwoods were harvested. This makes what had been less combustible redwood forest more combustible than it naturally is. It will take centuries for the redwoods to reclaim their territory and crowd out more of the hardwood trees. Also, because the redwoods regenerate with many trunks from each individual trunk that was harvested, even the redwoods are more crowded and combustible than they would naturally be. While they are still relatively young, their foliar canopies are low and intermingled with the other more combustible trees. It is certainly not possible to cut down enough trees to repair the damage, but protecting too many of the wrong trees and outlawing selective harvest of second growth redwood only promotes combustibility of the local forests.
Other forests, whether formerly harvested or not, experience similar problems. Because they are not burning as frequently as they used to, they are not being regularly purged and restored, but are instead becoming more crowded and combustible than they would naturally be. Diseases and pathogens are proliferating in the geriatric vegetation, and vegetation that succumbs provide more fuel, which also enhances combustibility.
Although there are many (MANY) more fires that are started by human activity now than there ever was naturally, such fires can not burn the vast areas that naturally occurring fires had naturally burned. There are just too many of us living and working here. Forests that are deprived of fire continue to proliferate more combustible biomass. Again, there is no remedy to this. Fires must be controlled and confined as much as possible.
Paradise is gone now. It burned on Thursday. Our region more than two hundred miles to the south is gray with abundant smoke from the Camp Fire that continues to burn there. Two other major fires burn in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, more than three hundred miles to the south of here. Paradise Park just to the south of here was protected from the much smaller Rincon Fire that filled the Valley with harsh smoke for days after it was contained. Sadly, for this region, this is all part of nature.
I do not remember on what days these pictures were taken. The first picture at the top was taken toward the sunrise, just prior to sunrise. The second picture above was taken later after noon, probably on the same day. The two pictures below were taken in the evening, perhaps on the day after.
The response to the brief article that I wrote about the smoke from a small and localized wildfire on Sunday is not easy to dismiss. The original article is at https://tonytomeo.com/2018/11/04/smoke/ . It is about the smoke from the small and localized Rincon Fire, and goes on to discuss how the clear cut harvesting of redwood more then a century ago enhanced the combustibility of the forest. It was shared to Facebook, including the Facebook page of Felton League.
The article did not blame anyone for starting the fire. I read it again just to be certain. I said nothing about arsonists, the homeless, homeless arsonists, or anything of the sort! Blame, in regard to the Rincon Fire, is not relevant to horticulture, forestry, arboriculture or anything that I write about.
We all know that there are mentally ill people who are homeless because they do not function well enough to maintain a domestic lifestyle. Some are potentially dangerous because they can do things, such as start fires, without thinking about it. There are also those who can accidentally start fires as they are just trying to stay warm when the weather gets cold out in the forests where they live.
Do we really believe that blaming and vilifying the homeless or mentally ill helps? Chasing them from their encampments and farther out into the forests, as so many suggest, only increases the innate hazards by relocating them into areas that are more inaccessible and more combustible. If we really are so concerned, we should want such hazards relocated to more localized and accessible situations. The severely mentally ill who can not manage a descent lifestyle simply should not be homeless.
Furthermore, what about the vast majority of fires that are caused by electrical malfunction? Why are we not wanting to outlaw electricity? What about the fires that are caused by sparks from lawn mowers and weed whackers? Shouldn’t such machines be outlawed? What about forest fires that start as house fires? Should we blame those who live in homes? Who do we blame for all those combustible trees that grow wild in the forests?
I intend to resume writing mostly and perhaps nearly exclusively about horticultural topics after today. It is what I am qualified to write about. I apologize for this deviation. If I eventually establish a blog regarding homelessness, I will be sure to share a link to it here.
What a surprise. There was none when I went in to use the computer as the sun came up into a clear blue sky this morning. When I came outside just a few hours later, it was everywhere. It was so thick and so aromatic that it was obviously very close, but it did not smell like it was in the ponderosa pines around Scott’s Valley where I happened to be at the time. Once I got on the road back to Felton, I could see that besides the monochromatic ambient smoke that obscured the surrounding hills, a prominent and much thicker brown cloud of smoke hovered low over the San Lorenzo Valley. The smoke was even thicker in Felton, and obscures the range to the west where Bonny Doon is. As I write this in Felton Covered Bridge Park, ash is falling onto the computer screen.
The fire has apparently been burning since last night in the Pogonip, closer to Santa Cruz, and is now contained. Paradise Park has been evacuated. Highway 9 is closed between here and there. Sirens announce the arrivals and departures of firetrucks as they migrate into town from the south on Highway 9, and back south toward Santa Cruz on Graham Hill Road and Mount Hermon Road, as if even they can not get through on Highway 9. Heavy helicopters can be heard but not seen off to the south. A cumbersome airplane is circling the area.
There is not much of a breeze. It seems as if it has not gotten as warm as predicted for today. The smoke and sirens sets the mood. It is not good, even though we know that the fire is contained.
Fire is part of life here. Clear cut harvesting of redwood more than a century ago allowed more combustible specie to proliferate over the area and among the redwoods as they recover and regenerate. The forest is now more combustible than it has ever been, but can not be allowed to burn with so many of us living here. Without burning, it becomes more combustible.
This sort of weather pattern does not happen very often. Late spring is normally pleasantly warm, and the weather gets progressively warmer through summer, which typically includes a few unpleasantly warm days. It rarely gets too hot here, and when it does, it does not last for more than a few days, and tends to cool off at least somewhat at night. The air is normally arid. Humidity is uncommon in a chaparral climate.
While so many in the Northern Hemisphere were experiencing unseasonable warmth, the weather here was unusually mild. When the weather became warm, it did so suddenly. There was nothing unusual about the warmth. It was well withing the normal range for this time of year. The suddenness of the change was what made it unusual.
Humidity complicated matters. Again there is nothing too strange about humidity. Although rare, it does sometimes happen. The problem was that it happened at the same time that the weather suddenly changed from pleasantly mild to somewhat warm.
This combination of the weather changing so suddenly from mild and arid to warm and humid caused an outbreak of spontaneous limb failure. It was very evident in Felton Covered Bridge Park, where several trees that experienced it could be observed in the same place.
The most recent victim was the biggest old California sycamore in the area. Half of the top of the canopy broke away and got hung up on an adjacent trunk, but started a cascade of other limbs that broke off more major limbs all the way to the ground. A large cavity that contained a very established beehive was exposed. A car parked below was clobbered (but somehow sustained only minimal damage!). The remaining trunks and limbs of the old sycamore are now even more scarred and disfigured than they were before this happened. The biggest gash is about fifteen feet long! What a mess!
Spontaneous limb failure is technically very damaging to the trees who experience it, but not all of them see it that way. Many of the riparian trees that are so inordinately susceptible to it might use it to their advantage. Fractured limbs that remain attached to the original tree while they sag onto the ground can develop roots where they touch the soil, and develop into new trees. These new trees are more stable at first, but eventually develop structural inadequacies like their parents did, and repeat the process. Willows excel at this technique. Cottonwoods and box elders do it too. Sycamore do it only rarely, but sometimes destabilize and fall over so that some of their limbs can grow into new trees as the original trunks decay. It may not be the sort of behavior that we want in our home gardens or parks, but as far as the trees are concerned, it works.