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++

Big Trees Are Bad Houseplants

P81111By ‘big trees’, I don’t mean the various ficus trees that can grow up to the ceiling, and be quite happy inside. I am referring to the shade trees that live out in the yard, or forest trees that live beyond that. They are outside for a reason . . . or actually, several reasons. They are too big to bring inside. They probably would not like the climate inside. No one wants to rake fallen autumn leaves inside. Well, you get the point.
Unfortunately, on rare occasion, big trees that are outside end up partly inside by falling or dropping limbs onto the homes that they provide shade for. Just like trees seem to fall onto certain types of cars more than others ( ), trees seem to fall onto certain types of homes more than others. The difference between the homes that trees seem to dislike and the cars that they seem to dislike, is that there are actually reasons why some types of architecture is more susceptible to falling limbs or trees.
First of all, just as some trees seem to avoid falling on cars, some seem to avoid falling on houses.
Coastal redwoods in landscape situations are remarkably stable. In my entire career, I have inspected only three that have fallen. One had a massive pair of trunks that split apart and fell away from each other. Although they were on the fence line between two closely set urban homes, and there was almost no place for them to fall without destroying one home or another, they did the seemingly impossible. They literally fell onto the property line. One trunk fell out into the street. The other fell back into the backyards of the homes behind. The fence was pressed into the ground. The landscapes were seriously damaged. Gutters were stripped from both adjacent homes. Otherwise, there was NO structural damage to any of the homes. I am still amazed at how minimal the damage was!
The massive coast live oak two doors down from my former home in town was just as talented. It sprawled out over its associated home and the front yards of the two adjacent homes. It was so broad that I would not have believed that it could have fallen down without destroying one of the homes. Yet, it did exactly that . . . as I watched from my dining room. During a windy storm, it fell right toward me, and landed squarely in the front yard next door. It broke a few rafters on the edges of the eaves, and tore the gutters off, but that was the worst of the damage. It somehow found the best spot to fall where it would cause the least amount of damage.
Not all homes are so fortunate.
Victorian homes though, do not seem to be targeted by trees as much as others are. Most are closer to downtown, away from tall or very broad forest trees. Many are on somewhat narrow parcels that can not accommodate disproportionately large trees like the coast live oak in the picture above. Broadly sprawling trees tend to be too low to extend their limbs over the roofs of taller two story Victorian homes. Although taller than most other types of homes, two story Victorian homes do not occupy as much area as other homes, so are not such big targets.
Low profile homes of ranch architecture, or similar types of architecture, are more likely to be damaged by falling limbs or trees. Many happen to be located in suburban or rural areas, closer to bigger and broader forest trees. Their wider parcels can accommodate larger trees. Their roofs are low enough for trees to extend limbs over. Because they tend to be on a single level, they occupy more area, so are larger targets.

Trees Hate Cars

P71028That is a myth. They do not hate all cars. They just hate particular cars.
I did an internship with arborists in the summer of 1988, and have never been able to get away from arboriculture. Even as a nurseryman, I still sometimes work for arborists, and inspect trees that they are concerned with. I have seen many of their subject trees that have fallen onto parked cars, homes and whatever trees fall onto. I have noticed particular patterns.
Trees are more careful with Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, and Datsun or Nissan. I have seen them put considerable effort into avoiding these cars when dropping limbs or falling over. When I was in school in San Luis Obispo, I drove my neighbor’s 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass out from under his Chinese elm that fell over it. The tree held itself up on limbs that landed on the opposite side of the driveway so that the car came out from under it completely unharmed. When I lived in town in Los Gatos, a massive coast live oak two doors down fell harmlessly into the front yard next door. The roots pulled up in front of and behind a Volkswagen GTI that was parked at the curb, and barely tossed an ounce or two of mud onto the hood. A few big olive trees did the same at a large condominium complex in San Jose during a windy storm, leaving nothing more than a bunch of leaves and olives on top of a classic Mercedes Benz sedan and an old Datsun B210. These are certainly not the only examples. This seems to be a common theme for these particular cars.
I can not say the same for Mercury, Plymouth, Jeep, Cadillac, Mazda, Toyota, Lexus, Honda, Subaru, Infinity or Volvo. I have never seen trees damage or avoid damaging them.
Damage to Ford, Dodge, Audi, Isuzu and BMW did not see to be targeted. It was the sort of random damage that one would expect from a tree innocently falling onto parked cars.
Both of the only two cars that I know of that were squashed while being driven were Lincoln Navigators. That is not a good statistic at all. One was hit by a falling Canary Island pine in Fremont. The other was clobbered by a Coast live oak in Saratoga. No one was hurt; but the cars were killed.
I have seen only one Chevrolet damaged by a tree, but it was vicious! It was one of only three coastal redwood trees in a landscape situation that I had ever seen fall, although ‘fall’ does not adequately describe what this tree did. Without enough wind to damage adjacent and notoriously structurally deficient California pepper and Chinese elm trees, this redwood seemed to jump out of the ground to land on top of an Astro Van about twenty feet away! I do not think the tree was targeting it because it was a Chevrolet. The tree obviously hated this specific Astro Van VERY much.
Acura seems to be the second most hated sort of car among trees. They are less common than Honda, but I have never seen a Honda damaged by a tree that it did not run into first. Yet, I have seen at least three Acuras destroyed by a coast live oak, a blue gum eucalyptus and a Monterey pine. That is an inordinate number!
The car that trees seem to hate most is Porsche! They are uncommon cars, and are probably less common than any other car that I have ever seen damaged or destroyed by trees. Yet, I have probably seen more of them destroyed than Acuras, including one that was attacked as blatantly as the Astro Van was attacked by the small redwood. The ONLY blue spruce that I have ever seen fall landed squarely down the middle of a new Cayenne, back when they were the first SUV that Porsche made. The densely foliated canopy enveloped the car so thoroughly that only the middle of the tailgate was visible.
It would be interesting to know if insurance companies have determined if any particular types of cars are more likely to be damaged or destroyed by trees than any other. I would think that if the trends that I have noticed are accurate, that insurance companies would be aware of them as well. I am also curious to know if other arborists have noticed similar trends.P80106

More Spontaneous Limb Failure

P80707KP80707K+(This was copied and modified from the Facebook page of Felton League.)

Warm and humid weather is an uncomfortable change for an otherwise mild summer. It also causes spontaneous limb failure among trees, particular those in riparian areas or irrigated landscapes. What sounded like muffled firecrackers was the (slow but steady) fracturing of another cottonwood limb in Felton Covered Bridge Park. (Another incident of spontaneous limb failure was mentioned a few days ago.) ( This one was over the picnic area adjacent to the playground. The fallen portion of the limb was less than a foot in diameter, although it was slighter wider than a foot wide where the fracture originated. It fell onto the middle of a group of picnic tables, with the fractured proximal end remaining suspended and attached to the originating tree. Because it remained attached and fractured slowly, the limb did not fall with enough inertia to damage the picnic tables. It was removed very efficiently.P80707K++(continued)

Cottonwood, sweetgum, coast live oak, valley oak, Chinese elm, California bay, California sycamore, willow and various eucalypti are particularly susceptible to spontaneous limb failure. The oaks and eucalypti are particularly dangerous. Oak limbs are extremely heavy, and tend to break away cleanly and suddenly rather than fall slowly while still attached. Eucalypti limbs likewise break away cleanly, and then fall from great heights without many lower limbs to slow them down. As they start to fracture, Chinese elm and willow limbs might stay attached to the main trunks or the larger limbs from which they originate, which might slow them down somewhat.

Sadly, spontaneous limb failure does more than damage whatever the falling limbs land on. It can also disfigure the affected trees so severely that they must be removed rather than salvaged.P80707K+++

Spontaneous Limb Failure

P80701It is as scary as it sounds. Well foliated limbs or entire trees really do fall spontaneously during the calmest of warm weather. It never fails to frighten anyone who witnesses it. Those who witness it always express the same difficulty with trying to explain it to those who did not witness it, as if they know that no one will believe them.

Several people heard this cottonwood limb fall onto a bridle path in Felton Covered Bridge Park. It is not a particularly large limb. The diameter about a foot above the flared union is only about seven inches.P80701+

Yet, even this relatively small limb is seriously dangerous when it falls from above, and from such a height.P80701++

A much larger sycamore limb that was almost two feet in diameter fell nearby a few years ago. It was like a full sized tree falling from the sky!

What makes it so frightening is the spontaneity. We expect limbs to break when the wind is blowing. Trees are more likely to fall when the soil is saturated from an abundance of rain. Dynamic weather like wind, rain and snow are expected to be the cause of limb or tree failure. Passive weather like warmth and humidity seem like they should be innocent of causing such damage. Not so.

Warmth accelerates vascular activity, which increases the weight of healthy foliage.

Humidity inhibits evapotranspiration (evaporation from foliar surfaces) that would otherwise decrease the increasing foliar weight.

Breezes that are normally thought of as a cause of limb failure would actually enhance evapotranspiration. Therefore, a lack of any breeze actually increases the potential for spontaneous limb failure.

So, while the weather is warm, humid and still, just when you least expect it, spontaneous limb failure is most likely to happen.

May 2

P80502When I started writing this blog eight months ago, I reserved the right to occasionally write about topics that were irrelevant to horticulture and gardening. I designated the category of ‘elaborations’ for posts that were not from my weekly gardening column; but so far, I have tried to post articles within this category that were at least remotely relevant to horticulture, even if only to discuss a single tree, or merely a single ginkgo leaf that somehow appeared in Felton Covered Bridge Park.

Today is May 2. My post for today is only relevant to horticulture in that it explains the importance of the ‘Memorial Tree’ in Felton Covered Bridge Park.

Steven Michael Ralls passed away a year ago, on May 2, 2017

Jeffrey Dale Scofield passed away two years prior to that, on May 2, 2015

They were two of my most intimate friends. I wrote both obituaries. The obituaries are posted below, and are irrelevant to horticulture.

The small valley oak ‘Memorial Tree’ that was planted in Felton Covered Bridge Park was originally designated as the ‘Scofield Tree’. However, a few more prominent friends of our Community passed away afterward; and the Park could not accommodate more memorial trees. Finally, when we could not find an appropriate situation for a memorial tree for Steven, the ‘Scofield Tree’ was designated simply as the ‘Memorial Tree’. These are a few brief articles about it.

These are two articles about some of our adventures with Steven, and a third about the ginkgo leaf that appeared in Felton Covered Bridge Park on Steven’s birthday last December 13:

Jeffrey Dale Scofield of Felton passed away peacefully from complications associated with cancer on May 2, 2015, in Santa Cruz, only a short distance from where he was born on June 9, 1959. Except for when he traveled for work in other regions, he lived his entire life in the San Lorenzo Valley.

After harvesting timber earlier in his career, Jeffrey Scofield became well known professionally for setting “miles of tiles” and stone. More recently, he harvested firewood. He was a champion of both baseball and arm wrestling.

Mr. Scofield is survived by his sister Valerie of Las Vegas, nephew Rodney of Bethel Island, niece Christa, nephew Charles of Reno, and many lifelong friends of the San Lorenzo Valley. Ashes will be scattered privately.

P80502++Steven Michael Ralls of Felton succumbed to complications associated with a variety of chronic medical conditions, and passed away in Aptos on May 2, 2017, at the age of 46. Steven was born on December 13, 1970 in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and then spent most of his childhood in Norman, Oklahoma. He came with his family to Berkeley, California in 1987, and then lived in Hayward, before settling in Felton in 1999. His recent relocation to Aptos was considered to be only temporary, as he would have preferred to return home to Felton.
Prior to the onset of debilitating medical conditions, Steven had a distinguished career in specialized woodworking and finish carpentry. His work can be found in some of the more luxuriously outfitted homes and offices of the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas. Steven was also remarkably proficient with the restoration of old homes, cabinetry and furniture.
Later in life, Steven devoted more attention to art, particularly drawing and guitar music. His talent with the guitar was exceeded only by his exquisite voice that accompanied it.
Steven Ralls is survived by his son Michael Forrest Ralls of Oakland, California, wife Gayle Schermerhorn of Murphys, California, brother Jonathan Ralls of Hayward, California, sister Tammy Roberts of Wichita, Kansas, sister Brandi Ralls Sullivan of Lakewood, Washington, brother Brent Patty of Saginaw, Texas, mother Virginia Bates of Newalla, Oklahoma, father Michael Ralls of Olathe, Kansas, and many old friends of the San Lorenzo Valley.

A Tree Falls In The Forest

70412thumbThe Great Basin bristlecone pine of the eastern Sierra Nevada can live more than five thousand years. The giant sequoia of the western Sierra Nevada can live more than three thousand years. The familiar coastal redwood from the Coastal Ranges can live more than two thousand years. Besides impressive longevity, one thing that they all have in common is that they all eventually die.

Most trees in home gardens do not live much more than a century. Some oaks can last a long time. Willows, poplars and acacias do not. Trees typically do not live as long in landscape situations as they do naturally in the wild because their life cycles are accelerated by watering and fertilizing, and also because watering promotes rot. Some trees get removed because they grow too big.

While trees are young and growing, they sometimes need help with structural problems. They might need pruning to eliminate limbs that are likely to break away and fall. On rare occasion, trees might need pruning to reduce weight and resistance to wind if stability becomes a concern. Falling limbs or falling trees are very natural in the wild, but can be serious problems around the home.

As trees age, they develop more structural deficiencies, which are increasingly difficult to repair or accommodate. Most big old hardwood trees have some degree of decay within their main trunks, even if no such damage is visible from the outside. Although perfectly natural, this decay eventually compromises structural integrity. Stability is slowly compromised as aging roots decay.

It is true that most trees that fall or drop limbs are more likely to do so while getting thrashed by winter storms. However, there are other factors that can bring down limbs or entire trees. Warming spring weather promotes growth of new foliage, which significantly increases the weight and wind resistance of structurally deficient limbs and destabilized trees. Warmth also accelerates decay. Even after winter storms, there are many other reasons to be aware of the health of trees.