Sunday, November 29, 2015

Growing my own Forest

All through the late summer and fall I've been collecting seeds: quaking aspen, sugar maple, hickory nuts, then red, white and scarlet oak acorns, and white pine and eastern hemlock samaras.

This began in the wonder of seeing my trees do things I'd long awaited.  But as little heaps of seeds began accumulating, they began to whisper: "plant me."  Before long I was trying in my mind to imagine planting a little forest.  A forest on less than half an acre.  Most of which is lawn.  In a city.  And of course the forest couldn't be allowed to shade my tiny vegetable patch.

So, of course, I've optimistically put aside enough seeds to plant a good acre of dense native forest.

I didn't collect every kind of seed, not quite--I did in fact have my reasons.  First, a tree needed to be one uncommon in my yard.  Hence the need for quaking aspen, red oak, scarlet oak, and especially white pine and--maybejustmaybe--tamarack.  (Tamarack is really in disguise here: a card-carrying member of the great boreal forest that rings the planet in the far north, that is pretending to be a landscape planting at the local VA hospital.)  A few species I had, but either these were too few or too old; so I collected white oak and black oak to replace the few aging trees on the property, and eastern hemlock to join my five-foot teenager.

Some trees have particular charms.  White pine makes a nice shelter for birds in the winter snows and wind.  White oak bears a rather sweet nut that squirrels love, and aren't bad snacks for people, either.  Quaking aspen is very animated in the slightest breeze, and, like white pine, grows quickly enough that I might live to see it attain adult stature.  Eastern hemlock is a slow-grower that, though common locally, eventually grows to a tree of dignity.  It, too, is shelter for birds.  Sugar maple makes the cut even though it is fairly common in the neighborhood: a hardwood of wild northern forests, the source of maple syrup and sugar, and the flame-colored foliage of fall all add up to a need to have one in my yard.

L-R top: Larch (Larix laricina) cone with a few tiny samaras, 
black oak (Quercus velutina) with small and large nuts, red oak (Q. rubra); 
middle: white pine (Pinus strobus), scarlet oak (Q. coccinea), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides); bottom: white ash (Fraxinus americana) samaras, pignut hickory (Carya glabra) nuts, sugar maple (Acer saccharum) samaras.  

I might need a gray birch and a tuliptree from my parents yard just because.  And if I come upon pin oak acorns next year, I might try to squeeze one in. 
Next is to treat the seed so as to insure the best germination rate.  This treatment is known as "cold stratification."  This is a fancy term for doing what comes naturally: burying the seeds in moist sand in a place that will get cold enough to break seed dormancy, in due course triggering spring germination. 

Then I need to think about getting a bigger yard.  The little patch of woods at the back of our lot abuts the similar patches of three neighbors.  (I'll bet they won't even notice an extra tree or two.)

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