A dying Christmas tree plantation comes back to life
Nature’s restorative power in our “back forty”
Note: A reader (Claudia Raskin, my wife) liked the comment on our Christmas tree pines that appears in the previous post. She said it deserved to be a post unto itself. I am taking her up on it.
About 20 years ago, Claudia and I bought a small farm in southern Maryland. It came with a Christmas tree plantation – 4 acres of Virginia and white pines four or five feet high planted densely along very straight lines. Early on, we sold the trees for the holidays; we developed a clientele who liked to pick their own trees in the country and sip hot spiced cider with us; a nice time. We try to be ecologically friendly and never used chemicals. Some of our customers dug out the trees, balled up the roots in burlap, and planted them following the holidays.
Unfortunately, this endeavor required us to trim the trees with machetes every June – an arduous, sap-covered task. We gave up after 5 years. Our excuse, the trees were getting too tall to sell.
Now the trees, some 30 feet tall are dead or dying. The needles turn reddish brown and fall followed by the branches and eventually the whole tree. The pines here have a number of nemeses including scale Insects, spruce mites, bark beetles, borers, pine shoot beetles and fungal rusts and blights. Air pollution weakens the resistance of the pines.
But thanks to nature’s ability to grow and restore, ecological recovery is well underway. Seedlings and saplings of oaks, tulips poplars, maples, hollies and sweet gum trees abound. The mosses, of many colors and textures cushion my footsteps. And a variety of ferns enjoy the moister spots, Virginia creeper (and poison ivy) in the margin between shade and sunlight. Downed pine logs and branches are everywhere, loaded with a great many beetles, wiggly things, lichens, fungi and microbes all making a good living by chewing up and digesting the wealth of organic matter contained in the “dead” wood; the scents of mushroom and sycamore fill the air along my path. Owls, hawks and an elusive red fox patrol the place for squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits. And once in a while I surprise a turkey. I am overjoyed to see nature’s vibrant restoration.
By the way, if you want a truly green Christmas tree (not one that’s been sprayed with paint and pesticide) go to a local pick your own tree farm — get your tree live and plant it on New Years Day as a symbol of rebirth.