Green Scene: Trouble in the back seat

SUBMITTED PHOTO A red maple tree drops its leaves on Thanksgiving Day in Richmond, Virginia.

Red maples are native to every state along the East Coast, from Florida to Maine and beyond. Although their leaves are green throughout the growing season, their flowers, seeds, stems and fall color are red, and this explains the name.

"Fall color" means they also drop their leaves. When this fact is combined with the southern reach of their native range, there are two ironic surprises.

First, a person could become a "leaf-bird" and try to flee the chore of raking leaves by heading south as far as Orlando. This would only result in delaying the leaf-raking chore until the Christmas holidays, because red maple leaves begin falling around Christmas in Orlando.

Second, the southern reach of red maples also means that palm trees and red maples can grow in the same lawn, so before going to a New Year's bowl game, you could be raking leaves under a palm tree.

The photo shows a red maple dropping its leaves on Thanksgiving Day in Richmond, Virginia. Having lost the privacy its leaves provided, the structural flaws of the tree become obvious. First, look at the codominant trunks: Structurally, from three feet up, this tree is really two trees growing in each other's space. Second, look at the one branch growing from one trunk horizontally across the other. This tree is condemned to a lifelong backseat car ride with its ornery sibling.

These two problems will not be solved by parental counsel at a rest stop. There is a good chance the awkward road trip will end in one of two tragedies. First, a perfectly directed storm wind may take half of the tree down, endangering its health and permanently ruining its shape. Second, if the storm doesn't come soon enough, that horizontal sister's arm will rub a hole in the brother's side, inviting decay and weakness. Even if the brother closes the arm in his own woody flesh, the wound and weakness will remain, and a different wind could break the brother's trunk above that point.

At this point, corrective measures can avert disaster. An arborist can permanently attach the trunks by stringing a cable high in the branches. The arborist can add stability to the weak joint by inserting a brace – a threaded rod – through the weak junction. When the cable is added, the arborist should also perform a structural pruning for the entire tree. And this means that the sister's meddling, wounding arm must be removed.

But an ounce of prevention means that this tree should never have been purchased in the first place. The codominant stems were obvious early in the tree's development. And, early in the tree's life-span, the brother could have been removed from the backseat, allowing the sister to safely stretch and thrive. And no psychologist-orthodontist would need to add wires

or braces.

Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit's municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at


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