Slow & Steady

Slow & Steady

     This past summer, standing in a field of deciduous trees in Pennsylvania, my friend John Stella and I had a conversation that was subjective, yet enlightening. Speaking about different trees and the parasitic problems which can arise on certain ones at times, our discussion quickly turned to those trees seldom plagued by such problems. As our discussion continued we realized that many of the trees we were speaking about, seldom affected, also grow slowly. Could it be that there is a correlation between trees which grow slowly and their resistance to insect and fungal problems?

     The first tree which came to both our minds was Ginkgo or Maidenhair tree, Ginkgo biloba. Those of you who read my columns regularly know that this is my favorite tree. A prehistoric beauty, this tree has remained unchanged for the past 150 million years. Unique fan-shaped leaves are perhaps the most widely recognized, even among school children and their leaf collections. After an awkward looking adolescent period, Ginkgo become handsome, full specimen trees capable of withstanding even the harshest conditions. Their sensational, brilliant yellow fall color and resistance to just about everything has always made it a perennial favorite for me.

     Amur Maackia, Maackia amurensis, was the second tree we talked about. A lesser known tree in residential and municipal settings, Maackia is a solid candidate for almost any garden. Leaves that have five to seven leaflets, muted, white pea-like flowers appearing on six inch racemes and shiny amber-colored bark all contribute to this standout for “those in the know.” A well contained tree, maturing to twenty to thirty feet with a rounded canopy, Maackia is another tree with very few issues.

     Persian Parrotia, Parrotia persica was next on our short list and this tree can be frustrating for me. Gorgeous exfoliating bark and crisp green summer foliage should be enough to consider this for your garden. Additionally, tiny maroon flowers will greet you on a late winter day and the anticipation of outstanding fall color can frustrate even the most patient gardener. Yellow, orange, apricot and burgundy hues have all been academically described, however in the nine years we have had ours, only once has this been realized. Nonetheless, we do appreciate the reddish purple leaves as they unfold in the spring and this trees “bulletproof” resistance to disease and insect.

     Japanese Stewartia, Stewartia pseudocamellia was the next ornamental to come to mind. This quintessential, deciduous beauty really does have it all. Known for having a pyramidal shape in its youth, given time, Stewartia opens up, presenting a beautiful, rounded canopy. Its leaves emerge a bronzy-purple with solid green summer color. However, Stewartia’s fall color can have reliable orange, red and bronze markings. Summer flowers, opening in July, are white and cup-shaped, complete with orange anthers. Brownish capsules, five-valved fruit, follow the flowers, but let’s face it, gardeners alike all wait for the mature bark of Stewartia to help showcase their garden. In my opinion, Stewartia pseudocamellia has by far the nicest markings of any of the Stewartia types. Exfoliating patterns have orange, gray and reddish-brown markings and have always reminded me of the “saddles” on a boa constrictor. Bark, leaves, fruit, fall color and a long lived specimen, this tree does it all.

     Finally, we come to the stately genus… Fagus. Beech trees have long been revered, not only by the gardening community but by any novice who stumbles upon their imposing mature size. And whether we’re speaking about American Beech, Fagus grandiflora or European Beech, Fagus sylvatica, their growth rate is slow to medium at best. Both make outstanding shade tree candidates and remind me of a famous tree quote; A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.” D. Elton Trueblood… American author.

     While all the foregoing trees are slow in habit, sturdy in structure and resistant to many parasitic problems, they are not impervious to all natural threats. That said, all will make wonderful candidates in the right garden setting, offering decades of enjoyment to those who plan ahead. Future discussions and studies may find that there is a link between those trees that pace themselves and the problems that could lie ahead. Incidentally, “it is known that trees that grow more slowly have harder wood and are able to withstand heavier winds” Stephen Schuckman, First Mountain Arboriculture and consulting forester.