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Underutilized Trees for Urban Use: American Smoketree

A young specimen and adjacent mature one can be found on the Hofstra University campus on Long Island. Photo by Michelle Sutton
A young single-stem specimen and adjacent mature multi-stem one can be found on the Hofstra University campus on Long Island. Photo by Michelle Sutton

During her 2014 New York ReLeaf Conference plenary talk, Urban Horticulture Institute Director Nina Bassuk lifted up some underutilized trees for urban use. One of them, American smoketree (Cotinus obovatus) was growing just outside the conference room doors on the Hofstra University campus, where a mature specimen stood protectively behind a newly planted youngster. American smoketree is native to the U.S. South and Midwest.

Naturally and by training, American smoketree has a more tree-like habit than European smoketree (C. coggygria), and it matures up to 30 feet (9 m) tall and 20-30 feet (6 to 9 m) wide—twice as big as C. coggygria. It is hardy to zone 4 or 5, depending on which reference you consult. It is deer resistant and tolerant of drought and poor soils but doesn’t like to have wet feet for prolonged periods. Missouri Botanical Garden voted it one of its “Tried and Trouble-Free” tree species.

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Underutilized Trees for Urban Use: Maclura ‘White Shield’

As part of her plenary talk at the 2014 ReLeaf Conference at Hofstra, Urban Horticulture Institute Director Nina Bassuk held up some underutilized trees that have worked well for her in Ithaca’s urban environs. Among them was ‘White Shield’ Osage orange (Maclura pomifera). In future posts we’ll cover others she recommended, like American smoketree (Cotinus obovatus).

'White Shield' foliage by Nina Bassuk
‘White Shield’ foliage by Nina Bassuk

‘White Shield’ Osage Orange 
‘White Shield’ is the most readily available cultivar of Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) on the market. Although Osage orange is native to Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas, it grows readily beyond its native range. Because of the thorny nature of its juvenile (non-fruiting) stems, it was used as a natural fence for keeping in livestock. By hedging the tree, the juvenile, thorny form is perpetuated. In Ithaca, there is a remnant of such a hedge right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

Maclura fruit
Osage orange fruit is gorgeous, but impractical for urban use. Fortunately, ‘White Shield’ is fruitless. Photo Courtesy Cornell Woody Plants Database

Osage orange is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers form on separate trees. This is important because the fruits on female trees are enormous, about 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter. They are a conglomerate of beautiful green seeds and fruit that hangs on the tree until ripe in early fall. They then fall to the ground and could cause injuries and property damage, not to mention the mess. I’ve heard it reported that the fruits repel cockroaches and were sold in urban greenmarkets as a natural insecticide.

Luckily, male (fruitless) cultivars like ‘White Shield’ are readily available. ‘White Shield’ is an exceptionally fast-growing form once established. Branches are distinctly upright with glossy green leaves. Another especially beautiful cultivar is ‘Wichita’, selected by the late John Pair. Both of these selections originate from Oklahoma.

The habit of a young ‘White Shield’ Osage orange in Ithaca by Nina Bassuk
The habit of a young ‘White Shield’ Osage orange in Ithaca by Nina Bassuk

Osage orange has a lot going for it as a tough urban tree. Once established, it tolerates very droughty, windy, and hot sites. It can handle a wide range of pH, including highly alkaline soils, and is purported to be tolerant of wet conditions as well. It can also tolerate salt spray. It has no serious pests, and transplants easily. It matures at 20 to 40 feet (6 to 12 m) tall and similar spread.

It is considered hardy to Zone 4a; however, we have occasionally noticed some twig dieback perhaps due to failure to harden off sufficiently before winter in our zone 5. It readily grows out of the dieback during the following summer. Fruitless cultivars of Maclura pomifera like ‘White Shield’ are definitely worth a look. —Nina Bassuk, Director of the Cornell Urban Horticulture Institute

 

 

Nina Bassuk, Part II: Behind the Scenes in the Bassuk-Trowbridge Landscape

Nina Bassuk and Peter Trowbridge, rear center, participate in landscape installation along with students in their "Creating the Urban Eden" class.
Nina Bassuk and Peter Trowbridge, rear center, participate in landscape installation along with students in their “Creating the Urban Eden” class.

In this second blog post about Nina Bassuk, we learn about her extensive home landscape. She is also an accomplished flutist who graduated in 1969 from the Music and Arts High School (now known as the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts) in her native NYC. Nina says that recently she reunited with some members of her high school class to play chamber music at the art exhibit of some other former classmates. She is also accomplished on the piano.

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For NY Communities with New UF Programs: Quick Start Grant Apps Due Dec 2, 2014

Shantung maple (Acer truncatum) on Canisius College campus in Buffalo. Photo by Michelle Sutton
Shantung maple (Acer truncatum) on Canisius College campus in Buffalo. Photo by Michelle Sutton

QUICK START GRANTS! 

“The New York State Urban Forestry Council has taken another major step forward in its mission to support the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Urban and Community Forestry Program. As one of the most active councils in the United States, we are very excited about administering a grant program that is designed to help New York State communities celebrate Arbor Day and make efforts toward attaining Tree City USA status.” —Andy Hillman, President, NYSUFC

The NYS Urban Forestry Council is pleased to announce available funding for projects in small communities (population up to 65,000) to have an Arbor Day event and begin a community forestry program. This funding is provided by the USDA Forest Service and the New York State DEC Urban Forestry Program.

Grants of up to $1,000 will be awarded to communities or non-profits that work in partnership with municipalities to celebrate Arbor Day 2015 and form a shade tree committee within the municipality.

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NYS DEC Cost Share Grants & The Fayetteville Example

Trees in Fayetteville's Beard Park were pruned as part of the Village's successful grant. Photo by Kristen Pechacek
Trees in Fayetteville’s Beard Park were pruned as part of the Village’s successful grant. Photo by Kristen Pechacek

About the NYS DEC Cost Share Grant Program

NYS DEC is committed to providing support and assistance to communities in comprehensive planning, management, and education to create healthy urban and community forests and to enhance the quality of life for urban residents through its Cost Share Grant program.

The availability of the next round of funds will be announced in late spring 2015, and the due date for applications provided at that time. At least $900,000 in grants will be available to municipalities, public benefit corporations, public authorities, school districts and not-for-profit organizations that have a public ownership interest in the property or are acting on behalf of a public property owner.

Communities may request from $2,500 to $50,000, depending on municipal population. Funds are made available from the Environmental Protection Fund and will be managed and allocated by DEC.

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Nina Bassuk Part I: The Early Days of Our Council

RELEAF 252Previously we featured super dynamo Council cofounder Nancy Wolf. Continuing in that series, we talk here with another beloved Council cofounder and current board member, Cornell Urban Horticulture Director Nina Bassuk, who prefers to go by “Nina.” We asked her about her recollections about the early days of the Council. In a subsequent post, we’ll get some updates about things going on in the life and garden of Nina and her husband, the landscape architect Peter Trowbridge.

Nina, a native of NYC, received her bachelor’s degree in Horticulture at Cornell and then went on to receive her Ph.D. from the University of London while carrying out her research at the East Malling Research Station in Kent, England. Her current work in Cornell’s Urban Horticulture Institute focuses on the physiological problems of plants grown in urban environments, including plant selections, site modification and transplanting technology.

Nina is the coauthor with her husband of Trees in the Urban Landscape, a book for arborists, city foresters, landscape architects, and horticulturists on establishing trees in disturbed and urban landscapes. Nina is on the technical advisory committee of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) and helped to develop the Student Weekend Arborist Team (SWAT) to inventory public trees in small communities. She is a recipient of the Scott Medal for Horticulture and an ever-popular speaker at the ReLeaf Conference.

Nina Bassuk on the Council’s Origins: “The impetus for the creation of the Council—which was then known as the NYS Urban and Community Forestry Council—was the fact that federal grants were coming from the US Forest Service to the states for the first time for urban forestry related projects. Each state had a different way of handling the grant funds; for instance, in Pennsylvania the money went through Cooperative Extension, while in New York the money went through DEC.

One of the requirements of the federal grants was to have an advisory group advising the DEC, who would in turn handle grants to municipalities, on urban forestry matters. The state foresters had to learn about urban forestry in a hurry! Some of them embraced the new urban forestry aspect of their positions, while others didn’t.

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Reflections on the Sept 21 Climate Change March

This essay comes to us from NYC Parks Forester Bill Schmidt. Bill is a Certified Arborist who coordinates urban forestry for the Greening Western Queens project. 

NYC Forester Bill Schmidt
NYC Forester Bill Schmidt

Last Sunday, September 21, 2014, I joined over 300,000 of my fellow human beings in Manhattan for the largest climate change march in history. I was delightfully overwhelmed by the incredible turnout and the diversity of the participants.

There were young people, senior citizens, middle-aged Gen Xers like myself, faith-based organizations (I was marching next to a lovely group of elderly nuns), Native and African American groups, and organizations representing a variety of issues not directly related climate change who were marching out of solidarity.

It was a truly inspiring experience. During the march, I thought about what climate change meant to me as a forester, a father, and a global citizen. When I returned to the office Monday morning, a colleague suggested that I should encapsulate these thoughts about the march and share them with others in my field. So, here is my attempt to express how I felt in eight paragraphs or less.

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To Fire You Up About Collaboration: The 3M Urban Wetlands Restoration Project in Columbia, MO

buttonbush f.r
The 3M Flat Branch-Hinkson Creek Wetlands on reclaimed/restored land in the city of Columbia, Missouri. Foreground: buttonbush and cattails; background: mixed bottomland hardwood species. Photo by Brett O’Brien

“Collaboration” and “Partnership” can be empty buzz words or they can be impressive manifestations of passion, hard work, and HEAPS of patience. In his article, “Collaborative Effort in Columbia, MO Spearheads the Renewal of a Former Sewage Plant Site into Wetlands Habitat,” Columbia Park Natural Resources Supervisor Brett O’Brien tells an exceptional tale of collaboration, with abundant pics. The article starts on page 28 of the Sept/Oct 2014 edition of City TREES, the magazine of the Society of Municipal Arborists.

How did Columbia go from this:

3M siteto this?

spring 2014and from this:

3M_Wetlands_Pumphouse (5)to this?

IMG_3780
Photos Courtesy Columbia Parks and Recreation

This is a must-read for all urban foresters and their allies, even those with no connection to urban wetlands restoration, because the collaborative aspect speaks to us all.

 

UF Must-Read: TD Bank’s Report on the Value of Toronto’s Urban Forest

 

Torontos-Urban-Forest2-600x254
photo as seen on sweetandloveable.com

One of the summer’s most widely circulated urban forestry-related stories was about the TD Bank Group’s evaluation of the economic value of Toronto’s urban forest. TD Bank Group, which acts as a think tank as well as an advisory group of economists and has a full-time environmental economist on staff, is chaired by Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Craig Alexander.

In a great interview with Alexander on the Alliance for Community Trees (ACTrees) website, he said that his group found that for every dollar of maintenance, the trees are returning between $1.35 and $3.20 (a 220% return) in benefits. Alexander says, “It’s a good investment. We aren’t including things we can’t measure like the intangibles of being able to go to a park and enjoy the trees. This is a low ball number because you can’t measure everything.”

TD Bank Group Chief Economist Craig Alexander
TD Bank Group Chief Economist Craig Alexander

It’s thrilling for City of Toronto urban foresters and indeed urban foresters everywhere to get this kind of affirmation from economists from the second largest bank in Canada (eighth largest bank in the U.S.). In their capacity as a policy think tank, Alexander said his group of economists does research on the environment and that this is the first of their reports on “natural capital.” He says, “Economics measures GDP, but there is a lot that doesn’t get measured, including the value of the environment.”

In the ACTrees article, Alexander says, “The challenge we have on public policy and environmental issues is at the end of the day, you have to have a dollars and sense argument on your investment. This kind of data also really helps politicians and government officials to make decisions. Everyone is facing fiscal constraints… we need to economically appreciate what trees do. In the aggregate the numbers are really impressive.” This is something urban foresters have known for a long time, but coming from TB Bank’s Chief Economist, it will greatly add to this awareness among the populace.

You can read the full TD Bank Group report here.
You can read a great profile of Toronto’s urban forestry program here, starting on p 10 in the July/Aug 2011 issue of City Trees.

Screenshot 2014-09-11 11.19.37

 

Vinnie Drzewucki on Tackling the Public’s Dendrophobia, the Fear of Trees

CCE Nassau County Horticulture Educator Vinnie Drzewucki
CCE Nassau County Horticulture Educator Vinnie Drzewucki

At the 2014 ReLeaf Conference in July at Hofstra University, CCE Nassau County Horticulture Educator Vinnie Drzewucki (pron. “Sha-VOOT-ski”) gave an engaging talk on “Breaking the Fear of Trees: How to Help the Public Overcome their Dendrophobia.” He graciously shares the highlights of his talk here on the blog. Thanks, Vinnie!

Fear of Trees title page

Breaking the Fear of Trees, by Vinnie Drzewucki
For most of you reading this blog, being afraid of trees is probably just about the strangest thing you’ve ever heard of. Lately, though, I meet many citizens who are afraid of trees.

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