Thursday, August 14, 2014

Emulating Isaac

A man doesn't plant a tree for himself.  He plants it for posterity.  Alexander Smith  

Isaac Werner planted many trees on his homestead and timber claim, using cuttings, seeds, and plants bought from growers.  (See "Isaac Plants Cottonwood Trees," 12-2-2011 in the blog archives.) He also sold some of the small trees he had grown.  This summer I emulated Isaac by transplanting some volunteer seedlings that had grown where they were not wanted.

My transplanted redbud tree
For two seasons I had watched small silver maples growing in my vegetable garden, hiding alongside veggies that I did not want to disturb by digging up the little trees.  There were also two volunteer maples and a redbud tree in an ivy bed next to the house.  Because they were a foot or two tall, my husband suggested that he should probably be the one to dig them up. At that time, neither of us knew that maples are surface feeders with shallow roots.  Redbuds, however, are a different matter.

My husband forgot his offer to dig up the seedlings, and the following spring, I decided I would dig them up myself and find a place to transplant them.  The maples were surprisingly easy, but I had no idea when I began digging that redbud roots are so deep.  The little volunteer was only about 16" tall, but its root was longer than my arm, more like a pig tail than a typical root. I was determined not to cut the main root, and I stubbornly dug for most of the morning.  After a break to eat lunch while water soaked into the hard soil at the bottom of the hole I had dug, I returned to dig some more in the muddy bottom of the hole until I finally reached the end of the root!  In the photograph above, notice that the root begins at about elbow height and the end lays out slightly on the ground by my foot.

A red bud branch covered with seed pods
I know that redbuds thrive in the shade of taller trees, yet I foolishly planted my little tree in a place shaded during the morning but in the hot afternoon sun.  Its leaves turned brown and became as crisp as potato chips before falling off, leaving nothing but naked branches.  

Much to the amusement of my husband and his friends, I refused to give up on the naked redbud, continuing to water it.  I trusted in the long root to save the tree, but after many days of seeing what appeared to be a dead tree, I was about ready to concede defeat.  Just in time, I spotted a tiny speck of green--too small to be identified as a sprouting leaf, but worth continuing to water for a few more days.  Eventually I could determine that it was a leaf, and soon a few more green specks appeared.  It was then that I clipped a white towel to the west side of the wire cage around the little tree, providing it with afternoon shade.  It rewarded me with more leaves.

The row of silver maples in their new cages
I am told that it is uncommon for the seeds from a redbud tree in a cultivated landscape to root naturally, but apparently one little seed found a perfect spot in the moist shade of our ivy bed on the north side of the house.  I have never paid much attention to the redbud seed pods, but they are forming now, and I think I may try planting some of them.  I will choose the planting location more carefully, providing the shade of taller trees to protect the seedlings from the hot afternoon sun, and maybe I can grow more redbuds to join the brave little transplant that I planted in the sun.

Isaac could not have been more proud of his sprouting cottonwood cuttings than I am of my little redbud tree and the five transplanted silver maples.  Because deer rubbed the cottonwoods my husband transplanted last year to death, we put tomato cages with mesh around the little trees to protect them, and this week my husband made proper cages for the growing maples.  My little redbud is still in its tomato cage, but we think all six of the transplanted trees are thriving and will mature along with the new bald cypress trees we bought from the nursery.

Bald Cypress with Hedge Apple tree row
My great grandmother and her son, my grandfather Beck, planted cottonwoods and hedge apples; my parents planted elms.  Their trees are aging, and even the self-seeded elms growing all around the farm are getting old.  We have enjoyed the shade of trees planted two generations ago, so now my husband and I are planting trees for others to enjoy after we are gone.

As long as people plant trees, there is hope for the future in their hearts.  As Albert Schweitzer believed:  Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore.  There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.  


The Blog Fodder said...

People who plant gardens and trees believe in the future. I am glad you do!

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

It's the present that disappoints me sometimes...but Isaac has taught me that history does repeat itself...both the good and the bad. I just keep hoping we can learn from history and avoid more of the bad than we sometimes seem to do.

Talya Tate Boerner said...

I love this post. Trees provide so much inspiration and hope. Your property looks lovely. Isaac would be proud.