Tag Archives: silverleaf maple

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?

Autumn serendipity

In the house, it may be spring cleaning, but the best time to clean out the greenhouse from stem to stern is in autumn. Well, it is in Texas, where we’re still seeing temperatures considered “balmy” in higher latitudes. It’s warm enough that I can clear out all of the tropical plants, check for spots that need to be clipped, and set them outside for a few hours , but it’s also cool enough that the usual pests are at a minimum. After this year’s horrible mosquito season, I enjoy any day where the smell of citronella tiki torch oil doesn’t get into my pores.

This sudden stripdown and rebuild was particularly important, as the greenhouse was underneath an aging and rapidly dying silverleaf maple, Silverleaf maples were a rather popular addition to many North Texas suburbs forty years ago, where they promised rapid growth and extensive shade. Well, both are true, but they also live about as long as our indigenous cottonwoods, and anybody in the area knows that you never want to encourage cottonwoods in your back yard. This silverleaf offered plenty of shade for the first two years we were here, but it was obvious that it was having problems after last year’s drought, where its companion planting didn’t make it. The tornadoes in April only compounded matters, and it’s now become a wreck. The tree’s heartwood is now nothing but punk wood and fungus, the dead branches produce a never-ending fall of sawdust from boring beetles, and the live ones threaten to fall if you look at them cross-eyed. I regret not being able to leave it alone, but either it comes down, or it takes the whole adjoining house with it, and possibly a neighbor’s house as well. Sic transit gloria.

In order for the tree to come down, the greenhouse had to come down and relocate, and that’s where the joy came in. Last summer, I learned exactly why nobody ever uses citrus wood when examining my Buddha’s Hand citron: one of the branches that died during the 2011 freeze had sprouted a single water shoot before it expired, and now the rather larger branch was hanging onto its roots by a sliver of tissue and a handful of dry rot. Pull out the rooting hormone, starter trays, and lots of rich potting mix, and start setting cuttings. Surprisingly, more cuttings survived than died, and if the state department of agriculture gives a full approval that these are disease-free, they might be up for sale within the state of Texas next year. Of course, that’s also dependent upon what sort of winter we have this year, so I’m not saying anything else.

No, the real surprise was getting ready to pitch a flat of presumably dead seeds and seeing a flash of green. Last spring, I purchased a set of seeds for Roridula gorgonias, a singular carnivorous plant from South Africa. Both species of Roridula look like gigantic sundews, but they can’t absorb nutrients directly from the insects and other animals they capture. Instead, in their native biomes, they depend upon a symbiotic relationship with an indigenous ambush bug, where the bug feeds on the prey, it defecates on the leaves, and the plant absorbs nitrogen and phosphorus from the feces via special channels in its leaves. I’d had suspicions that established plants would do very well in the Dallas area, but the problem was getting established plants. Repeated attempts with seeds, both in standard peat mixes for carnivores and in peat mixes exposed to smoke, did no good, and I was about ready to give up.

It turns out that I was just a bit premature. This latest batch hadn’t sprouted at all over the spring or summer, but it finally started germinating in November. The trick, apparently, is both to expose the seeds to high heat (daytime highs above 40 degrees C) and to let the soil mix dry out for a week. The seedlings, obviously, can’t handle complete dryness, but they apparently need much drier conditions than in a standard germination flat to get established. I’ll try some experiments this winter, but between this and the sudden cold front we had two weeks ago, something set off the little monsters.

In the meantime, I understand all too well why Chinese panda breeders refuse to name a baby panda until its eyes open, because the mortality rate among infant giant pandas is so high. Hence, no pictures until we get the first full set of true leaves. That may happen before we know it, but you won’t know if the seedlings suddenly succumb to fungus. If they take off, though…