Recent ice storm separates the men trees from the boys
Posted: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 8:01 pm
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
If ever there were a litmus test as to the relative viability and constitution of various species of trees, the lamented ice storm of late January is it. Areas to the north of Paris took it on the chin, while to the city’s south there was little damage. Virtually three-fourths of Kentucky was cast into darkness for weeks on end and it will be years before evidence of the damage from the ice is erased.
We just finished in this corner a few weeks of discourse on long-lived trees for posterity. What a coincidence that the ice storm coincided with those writings. The thousands — nay millions — of trees that were reduced to rubble offer stark evidence of the kinds of trees not to plant.
Your author had occasion to visit the western Kentucky area four days following D-day. A church group was chain-sawing in the Mayfield vicinity to try to make at least a minuscule dent in some of the devastation.
It was interesting to observe what trees suffered the most damage. There were pines, of course. Their numerous needles gather ice at an alarming rate, and a large pine can hold — temporarily — literally tons of ice before it is stripped of branches.
Of deciduous trees the most notorious offender, by far, was the red maple. Some homesites visited by the chain saw crew were virtual monocultures of red maples. It was a pitiful sight. A red maple of, say, 18 inches in diameter would be reduced to two or three stems with shards spearing upward, no side branches remaining. They would all be piled in a circle under the bole of the tree, broken off from the trunk.
One site had probably 30 red maples on the lot. Not a one was worth salvaging, and downed branches were five or six feet deep over the entire property. The crew did what they could, getting the front yard at least passable. This resulted in three or four huge piles of brush perhaps 10 feet high and 30 feet in diameter.
Most of the woodland in Graves County is similar to ours, that is, largely oaks and hickories. Many are post oaks. These proved to be the toughest of the lot. Virtually no post oaks had more than minimal damage. No large branches on them were broken.
Ditto white oaks. They’re tough as nails, too, and we saw little damage on them. Red oaks, on the other hand, had a lot of damage. Willow oaks, native and also widely planted, showed more damage than any other oaks. Some of them were beyond redemption.
Hickories suffered little broken wood damage but, oddly enough, several were up by the roots, despite having deep tap roots.
While those tap roots are great insurance against wind damage, ground that is sodden with water and ice largely mitigates the holding power of the tap roots and weighed-down top hamper can cause the roots to be pulled from the ground like a tooth from an old horse.
Weeping willows were smashed to pieces. Several formerly picturesque ones near ponds were piles of rubble.
The notorious Bradford pear, also, lived up to its reputation. They were left mostly as 6-foot boles standing starkly naked with a huge circle of smashed branches on the ground around them.
One manor house on a hill far away had an allee of Bradfords along each side of a long drive. Every single one answered that description. Do not — not, not, not — plant a Bradford pear.
Granted, ice storms aren’t the only tests for a tree’s suitability. However, even though such storms of the severity of this one come only perhaps twice in a lifetime, who wants to lose a 30-year-old tree, or a 100-year-old one for that matter?
In 1994 a similar storm passed through here, but that time it was south of the Kentucky line that suffered the damage. I remember working for a year or more cleaning up damage on our lot. This time, we dodged the bullet that got those to our north. Our sympathy is with them.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 2.24.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path