How to tell what is wrong with my Oak

I wouldn’t be me if I went a summer without talking oak wilt…..

If you look back or have been following me- you realize I talk a lot about oak trees and oak wilt.  Well that is because it is important-enough said!  I was asked to write a “How to” article for a newsletter here in Minnesota.  I was given many suggestions that were good, but not up to Kylee quality.  There were ideas like how to bud cap, hot to prune, how to develop a sugar-bush….while all good topics, it just didn’t get that fire going in my mind.  So after careful consideration, I decided let’s talk OAKS!  I decided the article was very informational, so I am going to just paste it here for some good light reading 😉  This is applicable to the Midwest region.

Standing tall with branches reaching out wide and high in the sky stands a strong oak tree in the landscape. Like most things in life there comes a time where this oak no longer looks healthy, and in Minnesota we have a few things that affect our oaks besides old age.

In Minnesota we have a number of different oak species: taxonomically we split them into the red oak family and the white oak family. Red oaks are bristle-tipped leaves and white oaks lack bristle-tips and are rounded. There are many pests and diseases that produce similar symptoms in oaks, so how do we determine what is happening to our oaks?

The first disease to show in the growing season is anthracnose. Anthracnose affects both read and white oaks as well as other tree species. It is caused by a group of fungal pathogens that all cause similar leaf symptoms. Anthracnose occurs when there is a very wet spring. Oaks with anthracnose will have leaves that develop brown spots and blotches, and many times these brown blotches greatly distort leaf shape. Oaks with anthracnose will usually display the most severe symptoms at the bottom and inner parts of the tree canopy. The fungal pathogen will over-winter on leaves and twigs. This disease is not typically the cause of death of oaks, but depending on the percent defoliation and stress caused, other problems such as twolined chestnut borer and Armillaria root disease may attack the trees.

Bur oak blight (BOB) is very similar to anthracnose in that it is caused by a fungal leaf pathogen and symptoms start in the lower and inner canopy. It differ from anthracnose in that it only infects bur oaks, symptoms first appear in mid-summer rather than spring, and it seemingly is causing significant stress amongst some bur oaks in certain parts of the state. Leaf symptoms on BOB-infected bur oaks are first visible as brown flecking along leaf veins, typically seen in July. Later in the summer, abundant leaf drop can occur, starting in the inner canopy, as well as leaves that develop wedge-shaped brown areas. Some dead leaves persist in the canopy throughout the winter, and these serve as the infection source in the following spring. Many citizens mistakenly cut down their bur oaks that had severe BOB because they think they will die: bur oaks with BOB typically re-leaf the following spring, and they look healthy until mid-summer, when BOB symptoms start to develop. Bur oaks can tolerate many consecutive years of moderate BOB before they become susceptible to other problems.

Oak wilt is a xylem blocking fungal disease that shows signs and symptoms throughout the growing season. Oak wilt starts to show symptoms of browning wilting leaves at the top of the crown and moves down the tree from the outside in. Oak wilt affects both red and white oaks. It will kill a red oak in about one month, a bur oak in 1-7 years, and a white oak in 1-20 yeas. Another indicator of oak wilt is the discolored streaking of the sapwood by the fungus. This can be seen by slicing away the bark on an actively wilting branch. Streaking is more readily seen on white and bur oaks than on red oaks. Come spring, if red oaks are not leafing out, examine the tree for subtle cracks in the bark and peel back the bark to reveal any spore pad/ spore mats that the oak wilt fungus sometimes produces. Bur oaks rarely form spore pads, and white oaks do not form them. In order to really determine oak wilt, lab tests of branches are needed, unless a pressure pad is located. Oak wilt is creeping northward in Minnesota and is a highly preventable, yet devastating disease. Please contact your local DNR forest health specialist if you see oak wilt symptoms in northern Minnesota.

Finally, there are other stress-related problems that occur to oaks. When any tree, including oaks, becomes stressed by weather or defoliating diseases/insects it weakens the trees, sometimes allowing for opportunistic fungi or insects to invade. Twolined chestnut borer and Armillaria root disease are examples of these opportunistic pests. Twolined chestnut borer tunnels in the cambium and outer sapwood, eventually cutting off nutrients and water flow through the tree. Armillaria also kills cambium and outer sapwood. When twolined chestnut borer infests an oak, leaves develop a red-brown scorched look from mid – late summer on the top half, or so, of the tree. Twolined chestnut borer typically kill a stressed oak in 1-3 years. The beetle creates small D- shaped holes in the trunk of the tree. When Armillaria is infecting an oak’s root system, leaves in the outer canopy may be stunted and yellow, and branches die back. Over the course of several years, Armillaria root infection will kill a stressed oak. These stressed-related problems are not treatable, but increasing tree vigor with careful harvesting and removal of poor trees can minimize these problems. Harvesting in stressed oak stands should only occur after at least two consecutive growing seasons with near-normal precipitation and no defoliation.

All these insect and diseases are unique in their own ways but have a common target of oak trees and cause somewhat similar symptoms. With a few key distinctions you can narrow down the search! The U.S.F.S. publication How to Recognize Common Diseases of Oaks may help you in diagnosing what is wrong with your oak: http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/howtos/HowToRecognizeCommonDiseasesOaks.pdf.

Leaf drop and branch death from top-down is typically oak wilt, Armillaria, or twolined chestnut borer; leaf death from the bottom up in the spring is typically anthracnose; and leaf death from the bottom-up in bur oaks in later summer is typically bur oak blight!

Oak anthracnose _UMN
Oak Anthracnose (UMN.edu)
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oak wilt leaves (MNDNR)
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Crack from pressure pad forming under the bark (MNDNR)
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Bur Oak Blight Leaf (BOB) (MNDNR)

 

 

 

 

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The 753 Mile Journey into Fire

“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way”

A dear friend gifted me a frame with this quote on it as I was leaving Michigan and beginning my 753 mile journey  back to Minnesota. While I did not look back, I will never forget the memories and accomplishments I had while being in Michigan and the friends I made along the way.  From the exciting adventures with my landowners (you know who you are!), all the crazy phone calls and the many laughs among colleagues and friends Michigan will be in my heart.

While letting landowners, colleagues, and friends know that I would be leaving they question did arise if I would continue to blog.  Well my friends, the definite answer now is YES! This post is just a basic update and then we will get back to the “good stuff”… TREES!

It has been over two months now at my new position and so far so good- a bit crazy at first.  I arrived and by the end of my first week I was out on a fire! A WILDLAND FIRE!!! Fire season should have been over by the time I started mid-May but things were so dry with the lack of rain it extended on and on and on!  That first weekend I was here, I was given fire gear, a radio, and reminded that I was on call to have phone near me.  Saturday afternoon, I see my co-workers name come up on my phone and my heart starts racing, it was time to face my first wildland fire.  Racing down the highway, looked at my co-worker in the truck next to me and said “Fun Fact: Fire is one of my biggest fears, but let’s do this”! Shaking in my boots as we pull up, I see the smoke, the fire creeping along the field, firefighters on the ground and a helicopter in the air I thought to myself what did I get myself into? I used to just hug trees and now I am going to fight fire, WHAT?!  We went to asses the situation, where it started, how it started and rate of spread. Once we had that information, I was handed a bladder bag (backpack with a spray nozzle full of water) and proceeded to march through a cattail slough.  Hip deep in muddy water surrounded by cattails and other tall grasses I struggled to get myself to higher ground!

When I got back to my place that evening, my body and clothes were black from the ash, my legs tired from the weight of the pack and hiking, and was blowing black snot (yes gross but so true) and I thought to myself, why?  Why am I fighting fire?  After much thought, I compiled my best answer for this, Mother nature- trees.  I do it to protect our natural resources.  Fire is a good tool for management- but that is when it controlled and not threatening anything (people, structures, critical habitats).  Fire can help fight invasive species, promotes regeneration of native plants and shrubs.

Anyways, all ended well- I managed to make it through first fire and was sent to the fire academy the following week and am officially certified to fight fire.

More updates to come…and good information of course!!

“Always look forward- Condensed advice from trees –> Be Strong, Be Solid

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Side view of fire- from outside the hardwood forested area into field

MAEAP…MAEAP

 

Every-time I use the acronym MAEAP…I think of the roadrunner cartoon “MAEAP MAEAP”!

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has had a Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program- MAEAP program in place for many years to honor farmers who are environmentally friendly; recently in the past year they have added a forestry component.  Forest, Wetland & Habitat- geared towards farmers and private landowners who have one, two, or all three of these components on their property.  Many farmers have woodlots and can add it to their list of verified components.  Farmers and landowners go through risk assessments at their own pace and when they meet all the high risk (erosion, chemicals, ect.) they can become verified.  It is a voluntary program, and is confidential. I was given permission by my landowner to talk about it.  Being a forester under the MDARD umbrella, we took on the forestry part, while the MAEAP technicians focused on the agriculture parts.

When first learning of this new program, I immediately knew who fit the bill for it.  To be apart of it, you really have to be “one” with your land and active on it, and willing to keep up with it.

Norm, young at heart, has been following the words and wisdom of Aldo Leopold.  When he was younger he read Aldo Leopold’s, Sand County Almanac and was inspired and it has never left him. He spent two weeks in Baraboo, Wisconsin at the family shack, learning the ways and Aldo’s legacy. When I first met Norm, back shortly after I started here, he was just looking for direction to update his management plan.  I figured it would be another typical walk through the woods, chatting about deer management, and a quick referral.  To my surprise, I was wrong! We sat down that first day and he showed me the plans he had written for the last 20 years, his records of his control for invasive species (Autumn olive) and other activities he had done.  He has records for putting his property into a conservation easement and the real kicker is his mission statement.  While reading his mission statement, again inspired by Leopold, I was brought to tears. It is not often I meet someone with the same values as I. I was humbled and overwhelmed by what he had written YEARS ago. A holistic approach for sustainability of all parts of the land. I collected myself and we took a tour of the property….

As we toured the property, Norm pointed out the some 60,000 trees he planted- most by hand and some by machinery. He took an old abandoned farm and turned it into a nature paradise. He put up signs with species and dates, not only for him to remember the date but for his grand kids when they inherit the property. He has his hardwoods stands marked by color for easier tree ID for them as well.  Norm is an organic farmer with fruit trees and bees and provides ample habitat with 10 wood duck houses, buffer zones along his wetlands and has even restored his section of the Cedar River back to a blue ribbon stream for great trout fishing! That first tour, I left feeling a sense of calm and happiness.

Now, trying to get a hold of Norm is not always the easiest- because he spends 7 days a week out at the property managing it, so either I have to drop by or wait for a call- but the wait is always worth it! Because, I was so inspired by Norm, I knew I had to take everyone and anyone out there whenever I could. He was always ready to share his story with anyone who would listen.  I took a group out there to verify his property with MAEAP, and just recently took a group of landowners out there for a field tour on managing your woodlot. EVERY SINGLE PERSON, left there thanking him and thanking me for allowing them to experience such beauty.

He has even been Conservationist of the Year and Tree Farmer of the year! Norms.jpg

The Big Debate

Don’t judge a tree by it’s bark.

Winter months can be difficult when trying to identify trees, many of us rely on leaves to figure out the species.  When you get really good you can tell by the bark, buds and branching.  I will be the first to admit, and I have been doing this for some time, I am not always 100% confident.  Relying on bark alone in the dormant periods of deciduous trees can be deceiving; depending on their site conditions they can sometimes have varying bark.  Aspen on a nutrient rich site can be a bit different than an aspen on a wet or poor site.

I was out on a site visit hoping not to freeze or get stuck in the snow!! I know this landowner well so it was an enjoyable game of who can stump who the most! We would find trees that didn’t look like their typical format and quiz each other.  Seeing how it was his property and he was very knowledgeable of trees he did most the quizzing.

A couple hours into our stroll we came across this grey, smooth, hard bark of a tree…I said hey what’s this (thinking I know exactly what it is) he hadn’t a clue so I said ironwood.  Immediately, he disagreed and began to correct me! We then came across his idea of and ironwood tree  in had to laugh not actually knowing get the species he was pointing out! Mine being smooth tight grey bark and his light brown shaggy bark, one of us was terribly wrong!  We analyzed both put trees up and down, taking photos, noting the catkins on the one, the branching…all bets are on!!! We finished out stroll, hugging trees of beauty and made it back to truck.  This was not over, after carefully looking our trees up in the several books in my car we discovered we were both correct!! What?!  Both trees part of the birch family are considered ironwood- American Hornbeam with smooth bark and Easter Hophornbeam with the shaggy bark!

 

Wonders of the TREES

Ever walk through the forest and see something, stop, and go hmm?

Yesterday I was out on a 120 forested property with a landowner.  We were just cruising along, when we stopped and both looked up and went hmm.

Often when I go to properties with a lot of acreage to cover the landowners drive me around on 4-wheelers or gators so we can cover all ground and see EVERYTHING! So here we are vroom vrooming along when we had to hit the breaks.  Up above us was unlike something I have never seen before.  The tree branch was literally curling around making a doughnut shape! I thought perfect placement for a bird or squirrel nest.  Now, I have seen a lot of trees that grow around things, like a sign or nail or something like that. Trees have incredible strength to grow around inanimate objects in order to survive.  I have also seen trees that grow slanted to try and catch as much sunlight as they can, but never in all my days of hugging trees have I seen one curl around like this.  It is quite odd to me actually; what in the world  this tree branch thinking to grow like this?!

All Natural Curl Tree

To my next wonder of trees…the other day I was sent an article about trees and communication.  Whether or not trees communicate in ways underground through their root systems.  Now part of me is like yeah okay makes sense what she is saying and part of me is thinking no, competition and Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest”.  Survival of the fittest is not saying the strongest always survives. It is often misinterpreted or maybe I am the one who misinterprets it but I believe it means the ones willing to change or adapt and the ones that are “smarter” are the  ones who survive. I am no expert on this!  So when I was listening to this forester talk about the communication with trees I obviously got to thinking about her theory.  When I was at this site visit he had a lot of regeneration. BABY TREES!!!! EEEE!!! Anyways, so I looked around at these baby trees and her theory did not sit right with me..if a “mom” tree is supposed to reach out and provide for the baby trees by giving nutrients then why are there a bunch of baby spruce trees growing under oaks? Does the “mom” not have to be the same species of tree?  Are the mature oaks providing for these white spruce trees?  Now I know, seeds travel by all sorts of ways but it was just a thought I had.  I like the concept of trees working together to survive…but I also believe in competition and space with trees all the trees are out to get the amount of sun they need, water, nutrients–why would it compromise its livelihood for a baby tree that may not make it? Her theory is valid and she has much more experience and knowledge then me, but I love the passion others have about trees and learning new things…its all a learning curve for the constant change and new discoveries people uncover!

It is all just so crazy to me, but I love the constant wonder…

Baby Balsam Fir Tree
Baby Balsam Fir Tree
White Cedar
White Cedar Horizon line 🙂