Going green

Agriculture.com Staff 04/12/2007 @ 9:20am

I lost a friend the other day. The grand old hackberry tree west of my house had to be cut down. I made the decision one morning when I saw a raccoon the size of a German shepherd climb the trunk and disappear down into the tree.

If you aren't familiar with the hackberry, it is a rapidly growing, rugged tree that withstands heat, drought, wind, and alkaline soils. The trunk has a corky appearance, and the wood is extremely hard. It is quite disease-resistant. My hackberry was about 100 years old and more than 80 feet tall.

The hackberry tree is one of the most ecofriendly trees in the U.S., says horticulturist Ron Smith, North Dakota State University. Wildlife relish the raisin/plum flavor of its fruit. The branching system invites nesting birds and attracts butterflies to its nectar-rich foliage.

"Think twice before cutting these trees down," says Smith. "They are good for the ecosystem."

OK, I thought twice. Three times. But it had to be done; the huge tree was right next to the house, and the trunk was splitting.

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling pressure to be ecofriendly. With high gas prices, never-ending wars in oil-producing countries, and evidence of global warming (even though this winter was cold and snowy), there is no sidestepping the need for environmental action.

I'm willing to pitch in. I even bought a hybrid car. My dad thinks this is terribly liberal of me, but it was actually my teenage son who pressured me to buy it. Warren was right; it is a great little car. I have never driven anything so quiet and relaxing. Spending half as much on gasoline compared to my minivan is a good feeling, too.

As for hacking down my hackberry, I made up for it forty-fold, by planting dozens of new trees and shrubs along the east side of my farm. Granted, my motivation was selfish; I wanted to block the view of a new industrial park being built next door. My young trees don't hide all the construction, but they do a better job than the alfalfa field.

Instead of planting the requisite boring row of evergreens, I mixed in crab apples, dogwood, pin oaks, and autumn blaze maples to the pine and fir trees.

My favorite tree of the landscaping project is a bur oak (shown left). This craggy tree was valued by the pioneers because it could withstand extreme drought and even prairie fires. Its large acorns are food for wildlife. You've probably seen bur oaks in the middle of hilly pastures with their huge branches spread wide. They are magnificent trees.

My young bur oak is about 8 feet tall and ugly in a cute kind of way. The root ball was huge, so I have a good feeling this tree will be here long after the industrial park is gone and my great-grandchildren are walking this green earth.

Until then, I'm going to enjoy my new trees and stop worrying about global warming and gas prices. I'm doing my part.

I lost a friend the other day. The grand old hackberry tree west of my house had to be cut down. I made the decision one morning when I saw a raccoon the size of a German shepherd climb the trunk and disappear down into the tree.

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