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Moment of Nature - June 28, 2013

Meet the neighbors

Posted: June 26, 2013 4:12 p.m.
Updated: June 28, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Summertime is traditionally a time of outdoor fun and fellowship. Its unofficial beginning is marked by Memorial Day weekend with the recognition of and thanks to those who have served our country. This is quickly followed by congratulations and celebrations of high school and college graduations. Now that the weather has warmed up and it’s here to stay, everyone is out and about with landscape improvements, backyard barbeques, block parties, boating at the lake or just hanging out on the front porch. Through it all we have opportunities to visit with family, friends and especially neighbors who perhaps we have not seen much since last summer.

For the past three years, some different kind of neighbors have been moving into town, settling down and establishing roots in our fair city. These of course are not people, but trees. After compiling the planting lists and tallying the various trees that now call Camden home, it’s time to introduce you to some of our leafy additions.

Before I do though, allow me to share what we knew we had before the new arrivals. The public tree inventory performed in 2008 gathered information on approximately 6,400 existing park and street trees and 300 available planting spaces. From the inventory, we learned that the top five tree genera in terms of numbers of trees are oak (Quercus) at 34 percent, pine (Pinus) at 14 percent, crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) at 9 percent, dogwood (Cornus) at 7 percent and sweetgum (Liquidambar) at 5 percent. In addition to these, 33 other genera and 65 different species were identified.

Overall, this is a good distribution and not too many of any one genus or species except for the oaks. Out of the 6,400 trees tallied in 2008, 2,770 of them were various types of oaks. This quantity has been reduced slightly since then, but the proportions are still too high. During the past five years, we have lost or had to remove more than 250 trees throughout our street rights-of-way and parks, many of them oaks but not all. Don’t get me wrong, I love oak trees and have no intention of deliberately weeding them out. Instead, I am intentionally infusing the tree pallet with a broader array of species to compliment the current canopy and, in the process, to develop a city-wide arboretum.

As mentioned last month, tree species diversity is important for a variety of reasons. Of main concern for me is to make sure that the canopy is sustainable in the (hopefully unlikely) event of a catastrophic insect pest or disease outbreak which targets a specific genus. Therefore, as your urban forester, I’m striving to abide by what we call the 10-20-30 rule of management. That is, to design and balance public tree distribution so that our overall tree population includes no more than 10 percent of any one species, 20 percent of any one genus and 30 percent of any one family. To that end, when I visit SC tree nurseries each year in preparation for planting, I first and foremost look for trees that have good pest resistance, high quality form and vigor and have either visual interest or specific ecological importance. I am also mindful not to choose too many trees that may have fruit or leaves which may be considered undesirable. Before leaving the nursery though, I always ask what they’re growing that is out-of-the ordinary or not on the published inventory list. Inevitably, I find a new or under-utilized tree species that finds its way here to town. As a result, we’ve added seven new genera and ten new species over the past three planting seasons.

Some of those trees include the following, each having their own special interest: Japanese stewartia: small-maturing tree with Camellia-like flowers which bloom in June (perhaps a nice substitute for crape myrtle?); Persian parrotia: medium-maturing shade tree with spectacular fall color (beats the pants off of maples!); Downy serviceberry: native small-maturing tree with delicate white flowers in spring and purple berries in early summer; Chinese pistache: medium to large maturing tree with showy fall color (not the pistachio nut tree); Goldenraintree: medium-maturing tree with delicate yellow flowers in June and seed pods that look like Chinese lanterns in the fall (how cool is that!?); Chinese evergreen oak: a unique medium-maturing tree with dark, glossy evergreen leaves (perhaps a good alternative to live oak); Washington hawthorn: small-maturing tree with delicate spring flowers and red winter berries (great food source for migrating robins and cedar waxwing birds); Japanese snowbell: small-maturing tree with abundant white flowers in spring and velvety white berries in summer (very impressed by this little jewel so far); Oklahoma redbud: small-maturing tree with spectacular lavender spring flowers (more abundant flowering than our native eastern redbud); Canadian red chokecherry: small-maturing tree that leafs out in the spring with bright green leaves that turn to eggplant purple by mid-summer (I call this the abracadabra tree as it’s been fascinating to watch the leaves change color); and Japanese persimmon: small-maturing tree which produces tangerine colored and sized fruit in the fall (looking forward to tasting this fruit when the trees get big enough to produce, if the deer don’t beat me to it).

As you may notice from this list, most of these tree names include different countries. Many trees that grow in other parts of the world also do well here in South Carolina. In fact, foreign or commonly called exotic trees, have been planted here in Camden for decades such as the Deodar cedar (Himalayas), Yoshino cherry (Japan) and Kousa dogwood (eastern Asia) to name a few. Some plant purists might prefer only native trees, which I concede are vitally important to retain for cultural significance, their ecological role and climate adaptability; it’s also important to diversify the gene-pool with trees that may already have a natural tolerance of or resistance to exotic insect pests or diseases. Keep in mind the trees above have been planted sparingly and certainly are not the only ones around town.

All-in-all, during the past three years, the city has planted a total of 206 trees of which 195 have survived. The Camden Tree Foundation has added to that by planting more than 60 trees in the Bull Street area and a few other places around town. We still have a ways to go to fill in vacant spaces and replace trees as they are removed or fall down, but I think we’re well on our way to ensuring a diverse and sustainable community forest. The next time you have an opportunity to visit a tree nursery or garden center, be sure to ask about any unusual trees they may have. You may be pleasantly surprised to come home with something special! For a listing of your new neighbors, please visit our city website at www.cityofcamdensc.com.

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