It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s wood

Log pile

When the Czarina and I moved into our current residence, one of the draws was a pair of gigantic silverleaf maples shading the back yard. Part of the draw at first was that they were as old as the house, and had been planted by the original owners shortly after they moved in. Of course, that’s before I discovered the regular problems with silverleaf maples in Dallas’s climate, particularly involving fungal infections.

Log pile closeup

The first tree was already rather infected, and last year’s drought finished the job. The second one, closer to the house, appeared fine at the beginning of spring. It was after our wave of tornadoes in April, though, that its problems became evident. First, large branches came down repeatedly over the week, and then others started dying. When about half of the tree was dead, we realized that we had no real option, and either the tree came down via professional arborists or it was going to come down atop the house.

That’s the biggest problem with silverleaf maples today throughout Dallas and surrounding environs. According to several nursery people I’ve talked to, they were very popular in new subdivisions throughout the early Seventies, because they grew in quickly and they also grew lush. Within a few years, they were giving much-needed shade to houses during the summer, and they didn’t drop nuts like oaks or pecans. Sadly, much like our indigenous cottonwood trees, that fast growth usually leads to early death, and most of the silverleafs planted in our neighborhood have either come down in the past few years or been pruned to stumps with feeble water sprouts growing out of what little live wood remains.

Log interior

This isn’t to say that everyone hates older silverleaf maples. Smaller hollows make great woodpecker nests, and larger ones make excellent homes for opossums and treerats. Our various indigenous wood ants nest in dying branches, and termites just adore dead roots. The stump of the first silverleaf is slowly decaying and collapsing in on itself, and it’s made quite the habitat for worms, Texas ground skinks (Scincella lateralis), and slime molds.

If I’d had the time, with a big show that weekend, I would have rented a big wood chipper to turn the whole beast into mulch. That just wasn’t going to happen this week, so it went to the curb so the city could do it for me. As much as I knew I was going to miss this tree, I also knew, judging by the extent of the fungal rot, that one really good storm would have brought it down atop my office and the kitchen, and that wasn’t going to work.

To give an idea of how bad this was, the previous pictures show the hollows in the cut logs, but they don’t give an idea of the consistency. You know things are bad when you reach into a log and pull out punk wood the texture and consistency of the insides of a fresh jack-o-lantern. There was a lot of that slimy punk wood inside that tree, and it was even more impressive when you consider that we haven’t had any appreciable rainfall in the area for well over a month.

Log interior contents
As sad as it was to see it go, this just means that it’s time to plant anew. We already have two live oak saplings left by the original owners, and I’m moving one of those to the front to (eventually) shade the Czarina’s office during the summer. That leaves a big spot in the back that needs a good shade tree with a distinctive look. So…what do you think? Ginkgo, Texas persimmon, or loquat?

6 responses to “It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s wood

  1. Is that a true silver maple (acer) or one of those poplars that get called silverleaf maples? If the poplar, then it’s not just Texas where they have problems- no matter where they are, they will eventually rot and fall apart. Not to worry though, as the stump and roots will continue to sprout for years to come.

    As for a replacement, I’d say no on the ginkgo unless you can get one you know is male!

  2. Definitely the loquat…imo not enough people chose these trees for their home landscapes! I love fall/winter flowering trees and ones with distinct 3 season interest….go for it!!

  3. Do you have jacarandas in Texas? Great shade trees, let light in to the space in winter and the spring blooms are fantastic

  4. My pleaseure. I’m sure the Czarina would appreciate the colour is spring. They grew pretty fast under the right conditions. Which is why they are planted as street trees all over Sydney.