Creating Legacy: Propagation as Preservation
There’s been lots of chatter over recent years about the preservation of trees, their importance to the community both ecologically and culturally, and their significance to our “sense of place.” But many of our local towns, cities, and counties do not have a defined tree preservation program.
However, that is beginning to change. There are some jurisdictions that provide tree ordinances protecting trees during construction, mitigate for trees that are removed, and some that provide recommended tree lists for public spaces such as street trees.
Many of these new ordinances rely on reactive measures for the demolition or removal of certain trees, due to new home construction or renovation, commercial activity, or new development in general. Of course, the definition of these specific trees is part of the ordinance as well. Sometimes a tree is defined as a Legacy Tree or Heritage Tree based on its historical or cultural significance, its size, or due to the perception that it is irreplaceable.
What is not taken into account, though, is that these trees may be lost by means other than human activity. For example, a tree could come down during an extreme weather event such as a lightning strike, high winds, flooding, or even an extended drought. Along the coastal areas, saltwater intrusion could be the death knell for some trees as many trees lack the tolerance for saltwater. In other cases, insect infestation or disease can wipe out entire stands of trees of the same species—we need look no further than to the American Elm and American Chestnut for examples.
And we must not forget that trees are living things with a life cycle. Yes, some trees can live to be hundreds of years old, but they all will die in the end. Old age is indeed another way for our wonderful trees to be lost.
However, we can start thinking another way about these Legacy Trees and preserving them for future generations. I often talk about designing and planning for the garden or public spaces, and how they will look next year, in five years, or in 10 or 20 years down the road. That’s because as garden designers and landscape architects, we must consider how the plants will mature and fill their spaces. Remember, the right tree for the right spot also includes considering how big they will eventually get—not just the conditions in which they are planted.
This is where propagation as preservation comes into play. The definition of legacy or heritage draws upon the lineage or history of the item being defined as such. This is true for a tree too. Perhaps it’s a very large tree and therefore it can be assumed that it tolerated a multitude of conditions over the years and includes healthy genes to combat disease or insects. Or maybe it’s a tree that was present during historically important times and played witness to culturally significant events. What happens when these trees die of old age, get broken in half by lightning, or flooded during a hurricane and cannot recover? They are lost forever…or are they?
What if we plan for their future? What if we truly recognize them as Legacy Trees and establish their heritage throughout our public spaces? We could literally propagate them through their seeds, take cuttings from their young stems, even graft parts of them to other root stock of the same species. This would involve considerable planning, maintenance, and vigilance to succeed. But if it’s one thing I have noticed while living here the past 20 years, it’s that our communities and neighborhoods are filled with exceptional volunteers and people who care for the places they call home.
Whether we are native Delawareans or have relocated here from all reaches of the country, we take pride in our towns, villages, and communities throughout the state. And what better way to pass on the legacy of our trees than to preserve them through propagation?
We need to educate and incentivize our neighbors to create additional canopy from these Legacy Trees. For example, if we were to lose a mature oak for whatever reason, we would probably lose about 2,000 square feet of canopy. However, if we were to propagate 25 trees from its acorns and plant them in other areas, in 50 years they would equal 50,000 square feet of canopy…that’s over one acre of new canopy of oaks. That’s what I call a legacy!
Be well, and let’s garden together. ▼
Eric W. Wahl is Landscape Architect at Pennoni Associates, and President of the Delaware Native Plant Society.
Photo:Andrew Shelley on Unsplash