Read All About It!

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  The love of books. As promised, here are the first five books to know about, read, teach your co-horts and fellow naturalists about, and to treat yourself and others to for the upcoming holidays. 


  1. A Sand County Almanac – Aldo Leopold. A naturalist’s classic.
  2. Seeing Trees – Nancy R. Hugo and Richard Llewellyn. Photographic and written essays of the annual life of trees.
  3. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants – Michael Dirr.  Must have for reference and priceless observations and perspectives.
  4. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt and the Discovery of the New World – Andrea Wulf.
  5. The Forest Trees of Ohio – Joseph F. Illick, in cooperation with Edmund Secrest.


  The others can wait for future alerts, but for now, here are some observations on The Forest Trees of Ohio, the one book you almost certainly cannot buy, but just maybe can find online or at specialty bookstores – or as I did – via interlibrary loan.  It is a simple but radiant gem.

  I was chatting recently with David Wiesenberg of the Wooster Book Company, drinking Rising Star coffee from Cleveland by way of the Southern Hemisphere and eating the wonderful Scottish pastries of Templeton’s Scottish Bakery and Coffee Shop in downtown Woo.  Quite an international experience, really.  But then we got to talking about something of more local reference, Edmund Secrest, the first state forester of Ohio, shown below from a picture grabbed from Google images. He was once director of what is now OSU’s Agricultural Research and Development Center, a plantsman who arrived in 1908, surveyed the fields and treeless areas, and voila, among much else – Secrest Arboretum.


Edmund Secrest


  In 1920 Edmund Secrest also helped orchestrate the planting of hundreds of thousands of trees in America’s first urban reforestation program at Mt. Airy Forest in Cincinnati. So, as we almost all do these days, and despite David’s mild technophobia when it comes to anything not bookly, I googled Edmund. We found something that was worthy of David’s curiosity: mention of a book involving Edmund Secrest. Thanks to Clevnet and interlibrary loan and the wondrous Orrville Library, within two days “Forest Trees of Ohio” was in my hands.


  This “Forest Trees of Ohio” by Joseph S. Illick, “in cooperation with Edmund Secrest” was written in 1927 for use by the “Schools of Ohio”.  It teaches us some charming perspectives. To begin is a reminder for all time to girls and boys of all ages, an almost hundred-year old guide to preventing nature deficit disorder:   


  “To know trees is to love them and protect them. In teaching boys and girls about trees we will place in their possession an unafraid attitude towards the out-of-doors…Fortunate are the boys and girls who can tell the names of trees, know the quality of their fruit, the fragrance of their flowers, the form of their leaves, the flavor of the twigs, the color of the bark, and the properties of their wood.”


Children and the Umbrealla Magnolia Grove at Secrest Arboretum


  Among the tree profiles in the book is one of wistful sadness. For American chestnut (Castanea dentata) there is: “The deadly chestnut blight is destroying it rapidly.  No remedy is known to control this disease.” Alas, this came to pass, and American chestnuts are largely absent from our woods, though not quite, as the American Chestnut Foundation would remind us. Resistance, in the form of hybridization with non-native Castanea and the use of more blight resistant survivors continues. Though it will not likely bring chestnuts back to their former reign in Eastern hardwood forests, there will be at least the ghost of chestnuts for present and future generations.


American chestnut project


American chestnut foliage


  Of American elm (Ulmus americana), here is a paean to another major woodland and urban tree: “As a forest tree, American Elm stands in the front rank.  Its wide range, good wood, rapid growth and adaptation to a wide range of soils, suggest good care and protections for this tree… Of all trees planted in North America the American Elm, also known as the White Elm and the Water Elm is probably the best known and most admired.  For beauty, grace and stateliness this tree has few, if any, superiors.  It is planted widely as a shade and ornamental tree.”


American elm buds



  Of course, we know how that, mostly, ended, Dutch elm disease and elm yellows, and all that. Although, in this case truly there are major developments in recent years. Hybrid elms (American elms crossed with Chinese elms, Ulmus parvifolia) and selected American elms are legion today, in some cases replacing many of the roles of – North American ashes.


  Which brings us to ashes, the genus Fraxinus: From the book: “The White Ash is the most beautiful and useful of the native Ashes.  It stands among the most important forest trees…The Green Ash helped change the treeless prairies into a land of shaded roads, protected homesteads, and beautifully bordered streams.”


  Well, we are undergoing another of these bitter seasons for a tree of such major forest relevance back in 1927 and until the last decade here in Ohio with emerald ash borer arriving with devastating effect.    


Ashes in Ohio killed by emerald ash borer


  One last tree from the subtitled “Field Guide to Common Trees of Ohio”, and that is ailanthus (Ailanthus altissima). “The Ailanthus, also called Tree of Heaven, Chinese Sumac, and Paradise Tree came to this country from China about 150 years ago…The Ailanthus has been planted in all parts of Ohio. In many places it has escaped cultivation and now forms dense thickets.” 


Ailanthus finiding its niche


  Indeed, this developing problem came to pass.  As you can see above, it always seems to find a niche.  “The Tree That Grows in Brooklyn” is now a problem invasive in our forests with management plans underway now for some years. Oh, alright once last tree, to finish on a brighter note.


  For our native River Birch (Betula nigra) the verdict: “It is of inestimable value as a protector of river and stream banks, and is well adapted for ornamental planting.”  River birch has become steadily more popular as a landscape and cityscape tree since 1927, especially with cultivars with intense cinnamon bark, such as ‘Heritage and ‘Dura-Heat’. 


River birch in all its beauty


  So, advice to all us boys and girls: “List the trees you have met on your hikes, about the camp or along the roadside…To know 25 trees means that you are acquainted with about one-third of all the common trees of Ohio…Today is the best time to begin your tree record.”