Those Unlucky Trees

Those of you who are regular readers know that I was puzzled recently when the New York Times chose to devote an article to the unlucky coincidence of fatalities caused by trees. I thought it was a city thing until I read a letter from our former Chief Medical Examiner who remarked in a letter to the editor that “trees fall and kill people in cars.”

Apparently all the folks who pay good money to come to our part of the country to see our trees turn pretty colors are neither worried about this or they’re willing to take that somewhat miniscule risk (as are we here in New England who live under the most heavily forested landscape in history).

So this is the sort of article we start to get this time of year, every year, regardless of weather (and whether summer has been hot or cool, wet or arid): “Oh the weather’s been dreadful this summer; how will it attract the fall foliage?!”

For this year’s take, see this article that appeared–no joke–the day after Labor Day–in our local paper.

The following day, there was this similar story on our local CBS affiliate.

When summer is over in our part of the country, autumn becomes a huge business. Just thinking about autumn becomes a huge business!

And sure enough, as in prior years, each story sought to assure us that this year’s wet/dry/hot/cold summer was not going to affect the fall colors. To say otherwise might be like saying that there was going to be no summer or something!

Why I am calling the trees unlucky (on this Friday the 13th) however, is because after 2 years of a cycle I am calling “drought and deluge” they appear to be experiencing some extreme stress that has nothing to do with whether New England will see lovely fall colors. As I walk and drive around, I am seeing countless dead limbs and even whole dead trunks–witness my “Wordless Wednesday” post just two days ago! (For those who missed it, just scroll down–there’s no need for a hyper-link).

After the drought summer of 2011, we had 2 mini-hurricanes in a row: Irene in August followed 10 days or so later by tropical storm Lee which was on no one’s radar but which brought a substantial amount or rain to my part of the country–more rain even than Irene.

We then went back into drought and remained there, with the exception of “snow-mageddon” in October of 2011, which irreparably damaged numerous trees and mauled many others. Other than that, 2012 was pretty much a drought year for us, right through Hurricane Sandy, which was windy, but relatively dry (as hurricanes go)

We didn’t really recover from the moisture deficit until that whopping 3-4 foot snowfall of February, 2013. But that of course brought its own issues, not the least of which was heavy, wet snow which compacted things and lingered.

I lost a 20 year old ‘PeeGee’ hydrangea which, although hardy well beyond my zone 5/6 area (it’s a zone 3 plant) probably couldn’t stand the weight of the snow on its roots. It snapped off at the base in late spring. And it surely hadn’t rotted away in the past 2 drought years!

Since then, the cycle of “drought and deluge” has continued. We had one of the wettest Junes on records, followed by a very hot and dry July. Then we tied the record for one day rainfall on August 9–and then didn’t have significant rain again until the end of the month. Plants really can’t cope well with that, especially established deciduous trees.

So perhaps the inquiry ought not to be “How’s the fall color going to be?” but rather “If this keeps up, will there be fall color at all?”

2 thoughts on “Those Unlucky Trees

  1. Laurrie September 13, 2013 / 9:13 am

    Interesting observations in this post and the last about the dying trees. I too have had a sort of general thought that drought and deluge can’t be good for any plant, and we seem to be in a cycle of it. On a larger scale of years the southeast went through devastating drought starting five years ago, now has been flooded and deluged all season. What can survive that over time?

  2. gardendaze September 13, 2013 / 9:36 am

    Thanks as always for reading and commenting.

    So true of course that either cycle by itself, drought in particular, cannot be good for plants. And deluge, or flooding, would tend to lead to root compaction I think, and plant death–think of over-watering with house plants, just on a larger scale.

    So my thought is that logically what’s happening cannot be good for any living thing.

    I wonder if native plants would be any more suited to it? I would tend to doubt it, unless there is a habitat where this is “natural.”

    I think we’ll wind up discovering what’s suited by terms of what survives. We can think of this as just another step in plant evolution, I guess.


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