Tree Tuesday

David Milarch with clones of 3,000-year-old redwoods. Courtesy Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

David Milarch is a man on a mission, and his goals are ambitious. He is trying to save the Ancient Giant Redwoods and, in the process, save the planet.

Years of droughts and shifting temperatures have already driven these evergreen giants out of some coastal zones they once inhabited. The trees can live for as long as 2,000 to 3,000 years, but some scientists think, the way things are going, that they could disappear from California in a fraction of that time.

Milarch spends his days tracking down the heartiest coast redwood specimens he can find, cloning them in his own lab, and then planting them in carefully chosen plots where they can thrive, hopefully for millennia. One site is a new experimental bed in San Francisco’s Presidio, part of the U.S. National Park system. Milarch’s goal is both to strengthen the coast redwood gene pool with clones of the strongest individuals, and to store loads of climate-change-causing carbon—more than 1,000 tons per acre of redwoods, more than any other kind of forest in the world. It’s a complicated mission with a simple philosophy: Save the big trees, and they’ll save us.

Milarch is well qualified for the mission as are his two sons, both of whom assist him with the project and the foundation.

If you strike up a conversation with Milarch, you’ll get his life story inside of 10 minutes—from his motorcycle gang days in Detroit to the revelation that set him on his current path, involving a near-death experience, angels, and a disembodied voice that dictated a plan he wrote down in the wee hours of the morning. When he woke up fully the next day, he says, “There was an eight-page outline on that legal pad. It was the outline for this project.”
The angel who tapped Milarch for this mission seems to have picked the right person—not only is he an able tree-vangelist, but he is a third-generation shade-tree grower. His sons Jake and Jared, both of whom work for Archangel, make up the fourth. So he knows all the secrets of getting balky arborial species to reach their potential by locating the healthiest specimens, clipping and propagating them, and then nurturing delicate new trees.

Jake Milarch of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive packs up saplings that were sent to Oregon for planting. Courtesy Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

It’s a long, complicated process that involves cloning and Milarch manages it all with an eye to the future. The saplings are nurtured with compost and drip-fed water when dry, and in time, Milarch plans to plant underbrush species that will not dominate the young trees. He also plans to selectively thin the trees as they grow, allowing the most dominant to take over.

It isn’t a cure-all for climate change, but it is an important part of the answer.

As University College London earth scientists Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis point out in The Conversation, reforestation is hardly a magic bullet against climate change. It can take centuries, even millennia, to have its effect, and that’s time the climate problem does not have. Some of the land areas earmarked for reforestation in the Science study may end up too hot for forests by the time people get around to planting them. “Reforestation,” Maslin and Lewis write, “should be thought of as one solution to climate change among many.”
Even if champion trees aren’t an answer by themselves, Milarch is determined to see them at least become part of the answer. If there’s anything worth being downright messianic about, he figures, it’s creating eternal groves of thousand-year-old, self-replicating giants that could benefit all humankind. “We have a list of the 100 most important trees to clone. We have our marching orders. We know where we need to go,” Milarch says. “I raise my hand every morning and I say, ‘Use me.’”

I don’t believe in angels, but whatever it was that sent Milarch on his quest, I’m thankful for it. If you’d like to know more about this vital project please visit The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive Website.


Story via: Atlas Obscura


Bonsai for Beginners – Part 5 – Last Bit of Tree Physiology (possibly)

Previous post.

You didnae thunk I was done, didya?

I talked about the influence of apical dominance on tree buds, I talked about types of growth, but I did not talk about tree buds themselves. So let’s do that now.

Not all tree buds are created equal. As written in the last article, in some trees the buds are just small leaf-precursors bunched up together, in some trees they are covered by modified leaves to protect them during winter and in some trees they contain thus hidden precursors to whole twigs. However, there is more, much more, to them than even that.

You have probably noted that most buds form at the base of leaves and needles, but that is not the only place where they form. They can occasionally also form on injuries, from the meristematic tissue, just like roots can in some plants. And while the buds that form at leaf bases, but do not develop because they are inhibited by apical dominance sometimes may lose their ability to grow altogether, but in many trees, they can be re-activated and start growing under the right conditions. In some trees, buds can even form on roots, and that is where suckers come from – and those can be pretty annoying.

As a beginner, you are best off with plants that have at least one of these two properties – either forming meristemic buds on injuries or waking inhibited buds. They are both godsent. Plants without these properties can be grown as bonsai, and indeed are grown as bonsai, but they require often specific approach and advanced techniques.

The reason for this is simple – contrary to what I found to be a popular belief, bonsai do not grow slowly and keep their shape. They do grow slower than they would normally, but this is achieved in part by cutting the roots and by cutting the twigs. When you stop pruning your bonsai, in a few years you get a huge mess (which many people find out when they buy the mass-produced little trees sold as bonsai in supermarkets). And when you plant it in free soil and stop pruning, in a few years you get a normal-sized tree. This means that bonsai get bigger each year, but you once they reach the size you want, you need to keep them near that size for a long time. And that means occasionally having to cut back to older wood, removing twigs and branches and growing new ones in their stead. In some plants, this can only be achieved by grafting.

That is, unfortunately, another strike against coniferous trees, especially pines and spruces. I have seen what seemed like a revived old-tree bud sprout from a spruce trunk, but it is a rare occurrence that I think happens only under very exceptional circumstances. On a pine that cannot happen at all.

That is still not all. There is more to tree buds than that.

Many trees are grown as bonsai not for the beauty of their foliage, but for their blossoms. But trees often require special conditions in order to form blossoming buds. Sometimes it is given by the age of the tree, sometimes by the position of a tree-bud on the twig, sometimes by both and some more like the temperature in winter etc. This issue is quite species-specific and cannot be summed up succinctly.

So for a beginner, the best option is trees that can grow back from older wood and that are not grown for their flowers but for their leaves/needles. That does not mean however that you should avoid other plants altogether, it only means that once you start seeing any success with those, you are no longer a beginner.

Next, I will write where to get your first tree and write a short list of species/genera suitable for beginners. Later on, I will write about each of those in more detail.

Bonsai Tree – Wake up Already Dammit!

Previous post.

The persimmon tree did not change leaves color at all in the fall, which is a bad sign, but eventually, they fell off and did not dry on the plant, which is a good sign. I have stored it together with my citruses and other subtropic plants at 10-15°C, but about a month ago I have re-potted it together with my Ulmus parvifolia bonsai because those both started to grow already due to the abnormally warm winter.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

During that, the plant had very nice and healthy roots. The main root was not overly long and it was not carrot-like at all, which is the worst that can happen. As you can see, it had nice and bushy side-roots on the whole length, an ideal situation. So I have cut off half of the main root and the cut was, again healthy-looking, white and wet. I covered the cut with lots of charcoal and I planted the tree in a wider and shallower pot than it was before

Lastly, I moved it into my room to be able to better control the substrate humidity to avoid root rot. I have expected the tree to wake up in the warmer room and start growing, but so far nothing and it is making me anxious. After all, my Ulmus parvifolia grow like mad despite being in the coldest room in the house.

And today I realized that I need not try and cope with that anxiety alone, so here you have it, now you can be anxious too. Ain’t I grand?

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The terminal bud is still bright green and the top leaf is soft to touch and that is a good sign.

But it does not grow, dammit. Maybe this tree reacts to daytime length before it starts growth?

Bonsai for Beginners – Part 4 – Another Bit of Tree Physiology

Previous part.

This bit is, alas, often not discussed in bonsai literature as much in detail as it should too. Some books mention it in passing, some do not mention it at all. The talk is about types of tree growth. (note – the used terminology is my own, I have long since forgotten the official technical terms and anyway I am too lazy to search for them in foreign language)

There are three basic types that every bonsaist needs to be aware of, and it is vital to know which type each of your plants has because they determine what kind of care they require to get turned into a bonsai and survive the procedure.

1 – Continuous growth.

This does not mean that the plant grows continuously throughout the year, although usually when a plant does grow the whole year, it has this type of growth. But the growth might slow down or stop completely in certain conditions, like drought or cold or insufficient daylength. However, when the growth slows or stops, it does so without any apparent change in the plant’s physiology. No special structures develop, the plant just stops growing and when the conditions get right again, it continues. The “buds” are simply a bundle of small leaves/needles bunched up together.

In temperate regions, typical representatives of this type of growth are some evergreen conifers, like junipers or thujas. It is most typical for many subtropic trees – citruses, olives, and hibiscus. And of course tropical plants and succulents, like a ficus and money tree. This type of growth have mostly evergreens, although there are deciduous plants with it – for example, russian olive (Eleagnus angustifolia) and fig tree (Ficus carica), but they are the exception, not the rule.

2 – Continuous growth with a hibernating stage.

During the season, these plants just grow like the first type, adding leaves to their twigs continuously and growing in length. But when the conditions start to signal the end of the growing season, not only do they stop growing, they create specialized wintering buds. These buds then contain a relatively undifferentiated beginning of the next twig. When the hibernation ends, the buds shed their protective layers (modified leaves) and from them emerge twigs that again start to grow in length and adding leaves as much as they can manage.

This type of growth is typical for deciduous trees in temperate regions, like willows, poplars, maples, hazels and many more. I am not aware of any evergreen with this type, maybe holy (Illex sp.).

3 – Growth in spurts.

Some trees take the hibernation stage to the next level. The wintering buds do not contain just the beginning of a new twig, but a complete one with non-differentiated buds. At the beginning of the growing season these whole twigs emerge from the buds, they stretch in lengths and gain girth, but they do not add any new leaves or buds – the number of those has been determined previous year already.

This is typical for firs, pines, spruces and many other coniferous trees of temperate regions. From the top of my head, I only can remember one deciduous tree with this growth type – beech (Fagus sp.).

For a beginner, types 1 and 2 are the best option. Those are comparatively easy to manage, they mostly heal easily from pruning and the pruning itself can be often done at almost any time of the year or in wide enough window not to need to fuss about it too much.

Type 3 is difficult, and thus alas another point against pines. These types of trees cannot have twigs trimmed just anytime and anywhere, they often require being cut during very specific time otherwise the next year’s buds will form where you do not want them.

The worse in this regard are spruces, whose growth is nearly completely unmanageable. That is why you won’t see many very old spruce bonsai trees. More on that later.

Bonsai for Beginners – Part 3 – Basics of Tree Physiology

Previous part.

Of those many books that I have read about the art of growing bonsai trees, only one goes sufficiently in-depth about this issue. Unfortunately, that one book is probably only available in Czech. I will not go too much into depth here, just the basics for your own research should you wish it.

The distinction between a tree and a bush/shrub is not clear-cut, but there are properties that some plants have that make them definitively shrubs – like roses – or definitively trees – like spruces. A rose, no matter how big and old will be unruly and bushy. Spruce, no matter how small, will be a tree, with a definitive main stem.

The most important factor in this is the absence or presence (and strength) of so-called apical dominance. In plants with strong apical dominance, the main stem produces hormones that regulate and/or inhibit the growth of secondary branches. That is the reason why spruces almost invariably have one upright stem with comparatively thin branches – they have very strong apical dominance like most conifers do. Roses, on the other hand, do not have apical dominance worth speaking of. They continuously sprout new twigs from the base of the stem near the roots. Common hazel is somewhere in between – at the start it has strong apical dominance, but the bigger the main stem gets the smaller inhibiting influence it has, it slows its growth and inevitably suckers start to sprout from the base even when the main stem is perfectly healthy and strong.

Apical dominance applies to roots too. Some plants tend to grow long, thing, non-branching roots, some have bushy ones.

It also changes during each season – in many plants with leaves the hormones are produced by the leaves, thus the more leaves there are on the branch/stem, the more it inhibits those below it. That can be used to your advantage for certain species – more on that when talking about them.

For a beginner, plants with strong apical dominance should be avoided, especially fast-growing ones. Many such plants when cut do not branch out but simply the bud nearest to the cut continues as the main stem. Some might even die. Best are plants with some apical dominance, but not a very strong one. But also not so weak as to tend to sprout suckers each season.

That, unfortunately, means that for a beginner or a small-scale grower, the most iconic of all bonsai trees – pines – are not suitable, as well as most of the coniferous trees overall. They are the most difficult to manage and to form, and some of them are downright snowflakes. Best suited are leafy plants, with moderate growth rate.

I will go into more detail when talking about specific species in due course.

Tree Tuesday

Today’s tree story is about another victim of the cult of Greed. Developers, building artificial islands for luxury resorts, are buying mature coconut trees from farmers, but their removal and relocation has many people worried.

Kaashidhoo is one of the largest of the 1,192 islands that make up the Maldives archipelago, but unlike many other islands, it does not teem with sunbathing Europeans. Its broad dirt roads are often deserted, flanked by pink Maldivian roses, mango-orange impatiens, and papaya and banana plants. The main occupation of the islanders is cultivating coconut and other tropical produce that can be sold in Malé, the Maldivian capital.
But lately, the local economy has been thrown out of balance. Crater-like holes have begun to appear across the island, some filled with dry leaves and others left as barren pits. These bald patches are the places where mature coconut trees used to stand tall. In the last year, Kaashidhoo farmers have sold hundreds of trees to new luxury resorts on nearby artificial islands.

While some locals are grateful for the newfound income—$20 to $100 for each tree—others worry that beach erosion has intensified since the trees started getting uprooted. They see this as a fragile ecosystem threatened by the proliferation of luxury resorts. “It’s a huge issue,” says Ibrahim Naeem, Director General of the Maldives Environmental Protection Agency. “Importing coconut palm trees is prohibited in the Maldives, so they have to rely on residential islands.”

As time has gone on, environmental changes have set in.

Yet as the year went by, and more coconut trees disappeared, Jameel says that many locals grew concerned. Coral islands like Kaashidhoo are highly dynamic, constantly adjusting and dancing to the idiosyncrasies of wind, tides, and relentless waves. “Everyone has observed far more erosion around the beaches. That’s what we end up talking about most of the time,” Jameel says. In response, she joined a non-governmental organization called Young Leaders, to spread awareness about environmental issues on the island.

Also, once these areas are developed, locals are encouraged to stay away, and many of the benefits that they were promised from development have never materialized. Environmental groups are now co-ordinating campaigns to strengthen and enforce the laws, and they’re using the #mvtreegrab. I usually forget to Twitter, but today I will, and I’ll add that hashtag. There are plenty of pretty pictures with the story, so go have a look… if you can stomach another bad news story.

story via: Atlas Obscura

Plum Trees in Bloom

Our Monday flowers from Nightjar are bursting with brilliant raindrops.

Trees here have definitely started to bud. No, wait. I mean, bloom. They started to bloom. This is our plum tree. It’s a little too soon and I’m worried because there are still not that many bees around. We’ll see how it goes. Meanwhile, flowers with raindrops always give me some inspiration, even though macro photography in low light is always a challenge.

©Nightjar, all rights reserved

©Nightjar, all rights reserved

©Nightjar, all rights reserved

©Nightjar, all rights reserved

Tree Tuesday

These photos of grass trees were taken by the friend of a friend who lives in Australia. She tells me,

 While driving through the bushfire zone 12kms from the caravan park, I was delighted to see signs of regrowth…. (grass trees) are already sprouting green in the landscape that was so devastated just 6 weeks ago.

… you can read all about them at They are also a protected species and very expensive to buy from specialist nurseries – I’ve always wanted to have one in my garden! Best of all, grass trees are very resilient and able to survive any bushfire.

©Ozzie, all rights reserved

©Ozzie, all rights reserved

Bonsai for Beginners – Part 2 – Necessary Tools

I hope I will finally be able to do this series justice since I am starting to re-pot my trees this year. Part one was here.

You do not actually need some very sophimasticated or expensive tools to start growing bonsai trees, but even if you only aspire to have one, these are the essentials that you will need. If you have a garden or potted plants, you probably already have some or even most of them.

First – not depicted – flower pot(s). Bonsai are typically grown and shown in beautiful elaborate glazed bowls, proportioned to the tree. But ordinary flowerpot will do in a pinch – important is the plant, not the pot. Some trees can also be grown on a flat stone or a hollowed-out piece of wood etc. Anything that holds the substrate together will work, but if you intend to display the tree anywhere, the pot should be chosen accordingly. An ugly pot detracts from a beautiful plant. If you get your first bonsai tree in the form of one of the mass-produced little ones, you will probably get a passable pot with it. If you start your bonsai from a cutting or a seed, it will take several years before you need something more ornate than an ordinary flower pot. However, from the start you should keep one thing always in mind – for most bonsai styles the roots need enough space to grow to the sides, so wider and shallower pots are better than narrow deep ones.

And now for the tools on the picture, from left to right, top to bottom.

A container for storing all your tools. Whether you have one tree or many, you will usually need more than one tool at one time, so it is good to have them packed in such a way that you can take them all with you when needed, and neatly put them away when not, since they will not have any other use.

A tree balm. Either acrylic or wax/resin-based. You need something to dress cutting wounds. Acrylic-based balms are the best and some sort of ordinary acrylic paint will do too if nothing better is available. Wax/resin-based balms are perfectly OK for most conifers and for big trees, but some deciduous bonsai trees do not respond to them well, it seeps deep into the wood and can kill buds, even branches.

A mesh (plastic, glass) or pottery shards to cover the holes in the pot.

A wire. For holding the mesh over the hole and for forming the tree. Depicted here is thin steel binding wire, PVC coated. Alluminium or copper wires are better but more expensive and harder to get. A string will do in many cases, but it is more difficult to work with.

Root growth stimulator. You will need to cut roots, and in some instances, you will need to encourage the plant to grow new ones.

Charcoal. Best is low-quality charcoal from soft or rotten wood, even better one that was already lit and water-quenched several times. The reason for this is that such charcoal is very brittle and porous and can be easily crushed in fingers to a fine powder and applied to the cutting wounds. It is important for dressing bigger root wounds of all trees – it prevents fungal spores and microbes from entering them. For trees that excrete latex from wounds, it can also be applied to dry the latex quickly and seal the wound on branches and twigs too.

Bamboo BBQ skewers and chopsticks. To tease apart fine roots and comb out old substrate from the root ball when re-potting the plant.

Two pairs of pruning shears. They should be visually different, since one pair you will use for roots only, and one pair will be exclusively for branches. That is not only to prevent dragging spores from the dirt into the branches but mainly because the shears for roots will blunt faster and would tear the branches instead of cutting them neatly.

Pliers. The combination pliers will suffice since they can cut the wire too. But I have dedicated wire cutters as well.

Ordinary shears. You may need to cut leaves or very thin and fine twigs. Pruning shears are too coarse for that kind of job. Some very old shears are fine, and if you are able, grind the bevels to a steep knife-like angle.

A knife. Not only for grafting, that is improbable for a beginner, but it gets used also for cutting f.e. a piece of wood into a temporary spatula to apply tree balm.

A flat brush. To carefully clean the surface of the tree trunk without damaging the bark, to sweep away needles/leaves from exposed roots, and to tidy the surface of the substrate.

A flat hook. Or a very blunt knife or a spike or something similar to soften old hardened soil in the pot, to cut it away from the sides where it often gets stuck and to pry away more difficult root-tangles.

A trowel. Enuff said.

A substrate. Ideal substrate depends on the plant(s) you intend to grow – more on that when I will write about individual species – but most plants will survive in a substrate consisting of equal parts of coarse sand, high-quality topsoil (f.e. collected from molehills) and peat/compost. Bought substrates are OK, but I would recommend to mix them with soil and sand anyway, they contain a tad too much organic material. It is also recommended to heat any substrate, whether bought or self-made, to at least 70°C prior to planting to kill any germs it might contain. For that, you might need a tin pan and a baking oven, or a plastic bowl and a microwave.

If you start growing more trees, your toolbox will expand and no doubt you will buy some of the more beautiful and specialized ones. But all these will fit into a little bag and they are all you need to start. All the tools in the picture are ones that I am consistently using for over a decade by now, some even for several decades. None of them are expensive or difficult to get. Why buy a fancy tool, when an old one does the job just as well?

Tree Tuesday

There is one last grove of California Giant Red Sequoia trees in private hands and like all forests in the Sierra Nevada area, it is at risk of damage from environmental pressures, including a heightened risk of fire. The grove is highly important and contains some of the oldest and largest trees on the planet. Nearly 500 of the trees are over 6 feet in diameter

Now, a California conservation group is beseeching the public to step up and fund the purchase of a huge grove of the towering trees. “It’s an awe-inspiring place,” says Jessica Inwood, Parks Program Manager for the Save the Redwoods League. “It’s the last, largest giant sequoia property left in private ownership.” One sequoia on the property, the Stagg Tree, is believed to be the fifth-largest tree in the world.

Though the sequoias do not burn as frequently as other trees in Californias, the league intends to reduce tree overgrowth in order to mitigate the damage of future fires. “With fire frequency and intensity predicted to increase due to climate change and with significant fuels accumulation in the forest, the ecosystem is vulnerable to severe fire damage,” Inwood says.

The fires are nothing new, but the warm conditions that foster them are becoming more frequent, and the vast fires that result are difficult to combat. “Drought in a warmer climate is a big threat,” says Roger Bales, director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the University of California Merced. “Also high-intensity wildfire, which is more likely with a warmer climate.”

The 530 acres, known as Alder Creek, currently belong to the Rouch Family, and they have signed a purchase agreement to sell the land and the trees to the Save The Redwoods League for $15 million. Now the group needs the public’s help in funding the purchase.

Story via:  Atlas Obscura from September 2019.

I will add as a happy update that thanks to people from around the world, the Save The Redwoods League has met its fundraising goals and Alder Creek is now protected. If you’d like to know more about this non-profit organization and the vital work they do, they can be found here.



Jack’s Walk

What do you see? ©voyager, all rights reserved

Sometimes Jack and I amuse ourselves by playing a game called “Tree See.” We invented the game, and the rules are simple. You look around the forest until you find an image hidden in the branches or on a fallen log and then you point and ask the other person what they see.  If you both see the same thing, the point goes to the person who found the sculpture. If you both see something different, the point goes to the second person who was asked for their opinion. It’s a silly game, really, but it helps pass the time, especially on a winter’s walk when there isn’t much to look at. Jack is better at the game than I am. I think it’s because he’s lower to the ground, but today Jack tells me that it’s because I’m a slow-witted human who lacks imagination. Ouch, Bubba, that stings.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      ,

Tree Tuesday

Minnesota was logging country in the late 1800s, and as a result, most of the state’s old-growth trees were cut down. At present, only 2% of trees in Minnesota’s forests are considered old-growth, but there is an extraordinary place known as The Lost 40, where the elderly giants survive en masse. It’s an area of 144 acres of pure old-growth forest, and its survival until now is due to a mapping error.

In 1882, a surveying and mapping error made loggers believe that the entire section of the forest was underwater, so they passed through it. This area, which is actually located in the Chippewa National Forest, was therefore never logged, and the trees that were growing then continue to grow now.
The tradition of leaving the Lost 40 untouched has remained, and the forest section is still thriving as a result. There is nowhere else in the Midwest like the Lost 40, since most of the trees in other forests are much younger than this swath of centenarians growing in the Midwest.



Story via: Atlas Obscura, where you can find more photos and a small map.