Friday, April 03, 2015

Blue ash

All photos Morton Arboretum, Lisle, Illinois, USA. April 3, 2015.
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We were in Chicago for a week. Most of it was spent downtown, wandering among buildings and public art, but we devoted one day to the Morton Arboretum.

This was my third arboretum, having visited two in rural Manitoba in the summer of 2013. And while I was impressed with the Skinner Arboretum at the time, it was a large-ish garden compared to the Morton Arboretum, which is both enormous—"its 1,700 acres hold more than 222,000 live plants representing nearly 4,300 taxa from around the world"—and a tourist destination.

Which is quite the accomplishment for a tree museum...

Apparently, it was founded in 1922 by Joy Morton, whose father "Julius Sterling Morton (1832–1902), was the Secretary of Agriculture to President Cleveland and founder of the original Arbor Day" Also, the family motto was "Plant trees."

My family motto is "Take full advantage of any and all free liquor" or maybe "I dare you." (Actually, to be completely precise, the Gordon family motto is "Bydand" or "Remaining.")

It felt good to plunge into the trees, even knowing that the the section of Korean trees or the honeysuckles and viburnums were more akin to exhibits than patches of forest. I wondered what the local birds & insects thought of the strange trees. Had they managed, over the years, to make meals out of seeds and nuts they'd never seen before and weren't adapted for?

The last patch we visited was the plants indigenous to northern Illinois, the volunteer at the desk circling that patch of trees on our map.

It was the most startling of all because the woods were largely razed and burning. And the volunteer hadn't said a thing, maybe because that's what northern Illinois woods look like these days...

There were downed trees everywhere, both fresh and a couple of seasons old. Sawdust and freshly-cut logs and stumps. And there were all-too-familiar orange dots on more than half of the trees that were left.

And, on top of all of that, the underbrush had been freshly burned, so: burnt leaves on the ground & charcoal-ed shrubs.

At first, I thought maybe that Morton horticulturalists were clearing the forest so that they could put in something more exotic. And sighed angrily at the freshly-cut logs while scouting the older ones for mushrooms.

But then we saw a sign, quietly notifying us that the Emerald Ash Borer was in these woods.

Once I reflected on what I'd seen—all the cut trees, how whoever had cut the trees had debarked a log near a trailhead, revealing the galleries of insect activity—I understood.

So: my third arboretum, but my first infested forest.

And I was glad, walking those logged and blasted woods, that the EAB has not yet made it to Winnipeg. We've had enough trouble dealing with Dutch Elm Disease and Black Knot. But experts say it's coming...

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