The Value of Christmas Trees

"...there is no reason why the joy associated with the Christmas evergreen may not be a means of arousing in the minds of children an appreciation of the beauty and usefulness of trees; and keen appreciation of the beauty and usefulness of trees is a long stop toward the will to plant and care for them (Arthur Sowder, US Forest Service, 1949)."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trip to the Roan

Roan Mountain is one of my favorite places. I hadn't been on the mountain for three years, so thought I would travel up there last week to see how the trees are looking.

The Roan has changed tremendously through the years. I have a bit of information about it in my history of the NC Christmas tree industry at: Chapter 2: Why Fraser Fir? This chapter goes into a lot of the natural history if Fraser fir if your interested. As far as Roan Mountain is concerned, logging had stopped by 1937 and by 1941 the US government had purchased the property. Wikipedia has a pretty interesting summary of Roan Mountain as well. Jennifer Bauer Laughlin also wrote a good book on the Roan in 1999 called "Roan Mountain: A Passage of Time."

Balsam woolly adelgid was first detected on the Roan in 1962. Trees were protected in 1963 to establish a source of seed for the fledgling Fraser fir Christmas tree industry in North Carolina. The following is an excerpt from Chapter 5: Early Days: the 1960s.

Spraying trees on the Roan in 1964.
From a forest service brochure dated 1964.
"A 25-acre seed production area was established by the US Forest Service and NC Division of Forestry (Johnson, 1980).  “Three hundred trees were marked and subsequently included in the protection zone” (Johnson, 1980, p. 16).  Those who worked on the project included Dwight Brenneman, Nursery Superintendent of the Edwards State Forest Nursery in Morganton, Bob Kellison who had been hired that year as a forestry faculty member, John Gilliam, Leonard Hampton and others presumably with the Forest Service. Trees had been thinned in the fall of 1963 to increase cone set, but the shallow rooted habit of the Frasers made them prone to blowing over (Green, 1965).

Trees were originally sprayed November of 1963 with BHC, a precursor to Lindane, and more trees sprayed along the 2 ¼ mile Balsam Road in the summer of 1964 (Green 1965). Treating these areas with insecticides and other areas in natural stands cost an estimated $100 per acre (Claridge, 1963). “Spraying was discontinued in the seed production area in 1974 after many trees had been lost to windthrow” (Johnson, 1980, p. 17). "

Roan Mountain had been the industry's most important seed source for many years. In recent years, research conducted at NCSU has determined that Roan Mountain trees were genetically inferior to other seed sources.

People line up to pull seedlings from Roan Mountain in 1978.
Collecting seed from Roan Mountain in 1997.
The Roan Mountain seedling pull has been discontinued due to lack of interest.

In 2008 when I went up to the Roan to view the rhododendron's blooming, I was struck with how healthy the trees looked on the road back to toll house. Sadly, this year most of those trees were dead. The following video highlights the regeneration of the Frasers, and the larger trees which have finally succumb to the balsam woolly adelgid and other stresses.

Young trees are naturally less susceptible to BWA because they produce juvibione, an insect growth regulator. This is different from hemlock woolly adelgid which attacks all ages of eastern hemlocks. Read more about juvabione on Wikipedia!

So what kinds of pests did we find on the Roan last week? We found balsam woolly adelgid, rosette bud mites, and balsam twig aphid damage. We also found some strange needle problems which I haven't seen before. We didn't see any elongate hemlock scale.

Rosette bud on the Roan.
Twig aphid damage on the Roan

Unidentified needle damage on the Roan.
We also didn't see many Fraser fir cones. There were red spruce cones developing. This seems odd because it's been a rather big year for cones in growers' fields. Guess it has to do with the heat and dry weather last year in June at lower elevations. I'll try to find some weather archives from the top of the mountain. At least I got some photos of red spruce cones. I didn't have any.

Red spruce cones
I also got to see the Gray's lilies starting to bloom. Always a pleasure to visit the natural stands of Fraser fir.

Gray's lily
The crew that went up on Roan Mountain included Brad Edwards, Jeff Vance, Jerry Moody and  my daughter Emma.

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