Can’t see the forest for the trees! I admit I am guilty of that hang-up. It is this time of year that I take my backpack sprayer off the shelf, fill it with an aqueous solution of glyphosate herbicide, and go trudging along with only one thing on my mind and that is the extermination of every single invasive exotic woody plant I can find.
Nearly 10 years ago my husband and I decided to take our bottom land out of production and to enroll that 30 acres in the riparian reforestation project of USDA Conservation Reserve Program. We planted rootstock or small saplings of native trees: pecan, walnut, hickory, ash, red oak, swamp white oak, etc. Considering the obstacles that those little trees have had to overcome, it is amazing that any have survived. Terminal buds have been eaten by browsers, bark rubbed away by deer antlers or chewed away by rabbit incisors, leaves devoured by voracious caterpillars, etc. The saplings have been drowned by floods and parched during droughts. Now the trees, those that have made it, vary in height from 4 feet to 15 feet and in diameter of 2 to 10 inches.
One major detriment to the trees’ growth has been competition, especially the struggle against the notorious invasive exotics: twining honeysuckle vines, prolific bush honeysuckle and aggressive autumn olive. I have tried to help. I’ve pulled seedlings, cut sprouts, girdled and sawed trunks. I’ve even unwound vines. I’ve applied various herbicides in various ways at various times of year.
Recently during a quick foray, I saw a tree 15 feet tall that I hadn’t noticed before with white five-petaled flowers in clusters and glossy oval leaves. Just as I had feared, it turned out to be the tree which I had read about in an article titled “Stop the Spread!” It was a callery pear. The article in Missouri Conservationist (March 2011) warns that the ornamental pear tree used in landscaping, commonly referred to as Bradford Pear, Pyrus calleryana, and having originated from China, has begun to spread in the wild and can crowd out native plants. Yet another invasive exotic to draw my attention!
Yesterday I walked through our tree planting but not with my back-pack sprayer; instead, I carried my 8-month-old grandson. We had paused at the edge of the path and I was scanning for the undesirables, as usual, when all of a sudden my grandson made a sound of happy excitement. He was reaching out, touching the rough bark of a young tree. I did the same. It made me smile. I noticed the oak tree’s little wavy-edged, reddish new leaves and showed them to him. We moved on, touching the silky golden-colored bud scales of shellbark hickory and investigating the splotches of grayish-green lichen on the bark of walnut. We reached up high to grasp the lowest limb of a tall ash tree. We shook a leafy maple twig and tried to taste it. We watched tiny bees amongst the white blossoms of a plum. By the creek we peeled a strip of papery bark from a young sycamore and took a ride on a fallen limb of an old birch tree.
I have decided that from now on I’m going to make a point of seeing the forest by seeing the trees.