Each year, members
of the Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA) vote for the SMA Urban Tree of the
Year. Praise for this year’s winner, American hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana),
came from fans in states as far-flung as Wisconsin, New York, Virginia, and Texas.
Here, we hear from
the Council’s Dr. Nina Bassuk at Cornell and from her colleague, Dr. Eric
Wiseman at Virginia Tech. You can see the full list of SMA Urban Trees of the
Year going back to the program’s inception in 1996 here.
“For plants to thrive in stormwater retention areas, they need to be able to tolerate both dry and periodically saturated soils,” says UHI Director Nina Bassuk, professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science. “These can be tough sites with high pH and salt levels, so it’s important to choose the right plants for the job.”
In addition to profiling more than 35 shrubs—including their hardiness, sun and soil requirements, potential pest issues, and deer resistance—the guide also details site assessment and design considerations for stormwater retention structures. Descriptions also include cultivar information and ecological impacts, such as attractiveness to pollinators. Download the guide here.
Our Council blog was viewed more than 14,000 times in 2015! Here are the top five posts:
Sumana Serchan: Get to Know Her! Sumana Serchan is an urban forester with NYC Parks and Recreation. Sumana has a master’s degree in Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources/Conservation from the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (University of Vermont). She grew up in Kathmandu City, Nepal.
Transplanting and a Deeper Look at “Fall Hazards” NYC Director of Street Tree Planting Matt Stephens and Taking Root Editor Michelle Sutton coauthored this story questioning commonly held beliefs about “fall hazards,” mostly as it applies to B&B trees, but they also discuss the interaction of the fall season with other production methods, like bare root. Nina Bassuk helped craft the section called “The Five Branches of Transplanting Success,” which should be of interest to anyone planting trees.
A New Method for Streamlining Tree Selection in NYCCouncil President and NYC Parks Senior Forester David Moore shares how the City streamlined its system for making tree species selections for 25,000 street tree plantings a year using an ingenious categorization of “biotopes.” A municipality of any size can use this article to think strategically about their tree selection process.
by NYC Parks Director of Street Tree Planting Matthew Stephens and Taking Root Editor Michelle Sutton
We coauthored this story questioning commonly held beliefs about “fall hazards,” mostly as it applies to B&B trees, but we also discuss the interaction of the fall season with other production methods, like bare root. The section, “The Five Branches of Transplanting Success,” should be of interest to anyone planting trees, period! With the help of Nina Bassuk and others, we tried to break down the complex interactions at work with transplanting. This article originally ran in Arbor Age (Fall 2015).
The nursery industry is reluctant to dig certain species of trees in the fall, yet the “fall hazards” lists can vary significantly among nurseries. Also varying is the experience of nursery customers, including city foresters who plant hundreds or thousands of trees each year. In addition to digging season, there are other interacting factors at play in the fall planting picture.
A More Nuanced Look
Cornell Urban Horticulture Institute Director and street tree expert Dr. Nina Bassuk says, “Those fall hazards lists are generalizations. Typically the trees that appear on those lists are trees that are more difficult to transplant, period. In spring they don’t become easy to transplant; they’re just observed to be easier in the spring than in the fall.”
Tree Pittsburgh Director of Urban Forestry Matthew Erb has overseen the planting of more than 25,000 trees (mostly B&B) since 2008. “I’m sure if you look hard enough, you will find nearly every species on someone’s fall hazard list,” he says.
In early August, at the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Annual International Conference and Trade Show in Orlando, Florida, three of our New York urban forest luminaries won prestigious awards.
Cornell Urban Horticulture Institute Director Nina Bassuk received the Alex L. Shigo Award for Excellence in Arboricultural Education. Urban Forestry LLC Principal Chris Luley received the R.W. Harris Author’s Citation. USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station Project Leader and Research Forester David Nowak received the L. C. Chadwick Award for Arboricultural Research. In the past, Nina also received the Research award and David also received the Author’s award.
What follows are the videos that ISA produced for each recipient. We can take pride in the accomplishments of these New York-based professionals who, among their many good works, have contributed immensely to the efforts and mission of the NYS Urban Forestry Council.
Looking for a template as you craft or revise your community’s urban forest master plan (UFMP)? Ithaca once again leads the way. The newly revised document includes a master plan, tree inventory data, and arboricultural guidelines.
To borrow from the Pittsburgh UFMP, “An Urban Forest Master Plan is a road map, providing detailed information, recommendations, and resources needed to effectively and proactively manage and grow a city’s tree canopy. More importantly it provides a shared vision for the future of the urban forest to inspire and engage stakeholders in the care and protection of trees.”
Ithaca Shade Tree Advisory Committee Chair Nina Bassuk says, “Ithaca’s newly revised UFMP has components that many municipalities might be interested in, including specs for soil, soil volume, and nursery stock. It also has our tree care guidelines for site selection, tree selection, tree protection during construction, tree removal, and even our solar panel policy.” There are meticulously rendered tree planting details for varied circumstances including planting with CU-Structural Soil.
Nina says, “I would also like to point folks to our Community Forestry website, where resources include several management plans and ordinances that might be of interest, and advice on creating master plans.”
The Frederick Law Olmsted award recognizes an outstanding individual with a lifelong commitment to tree planting and conservation at a state or regional level. Further, it honors someone who: shows outstanding personal commitment over their career or lifetime for the betterment of the environment, mobilizes people in tree planting and care, makes unique or extraordinary contributions and commitment with regards to tree planting, landscape, conservation, education, or research, and serves as a role model and mentor to others.
The Council is so very pleased to announce that Nina received the Frederick Law Olmsted Award for 2015. Here is a video the Arbor Day Foundation made about Nina’s work that shows why she was the perfect candidate:
It was challenging to summarize Nina’s accomplishments in the three pages indicated by the award nomination guidelines. Here are some highlights:
Thanks to Dr. Bassuk’s research and extension efforts in bare root transplanting technology, tens of thousands of trees have been planted in New York and the greater Northeast that would otherwise not have been. In 2014 alone, 8800 bare root trees were purchased by 93 municipalities across 11 states from Schichtel’s Nursery in Western NY.
Dr. Bassuk has been the City of Ithaca Shade Tree Advisory Committee Chair since 1985, and she served on the Ithaca Parks Commission from 1991-2003. She served as the President of the NYS Urban Forestry Council from 1990-2001 and thereafter as a Board Member.
Like me, you may have a dog-eared, well-worn copy of the Urban Horticulture Institute’s (UHI) Recommended Urban Trees: Site Assessment and Tree Selection for Stress Tolerance. Another fantastic resource for urban foresters and UF volunteers that has just been updated is the Cornell Woody Plants Database.
Nina Bassuk says, “What makes the site unique is its focus on matching woody plants to site conditions, a feature sometimes lacking on other plant selection sites and a consideration that is sometimes lost in the design and plant selection process.” With its extensive image collection and cultural information, the site is also very useful for woody plant ID and study.
Each entry includes ultimate size and shape, USDA Hardiness Zone, light requirement, salt tolerance, moisture tolerance range, insect and disease considerations, and key ornamental features. Impressively, each entry has Nina voicing a short audio lesson that reinforces ornamental and ID features. Nina says this is a work in progress, as she is re-recording some of the entries for better audio quality.
There is a Course Plant Walk section, which you can use to find a series of plant walks through the beautiful Cornell campus based on different criteria like species (e.g., oaks, maples, and rosaceous and flowering trees) or tolerances (e.g., dry site and wet site trees); click on Maps to see the walk route.
The database was originally the outgrowth of the year-long joint Horticulture/Landscape Architecture (LA) course, “Creating the Urban Eden,” taught by UHI Director Nina Bassuk and Dept of LA Chair Peter Trowbridge.
The site had modest beginnings as an “online textbook” circa 2000. The first version consisted of a FileMaker Pro database running on the Cornell network from a Mac under a desk in the main offices of the Department of Landscape Architecture. Since then, the site has grown significantly more sophisticated with three major revisions that added additional features and functionality. The most recent upgrade was supported by a SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grant in 2013.
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’ 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.
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.
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
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.