By Sarah Schrock
This is the first of a periodic series of columns about the trees of Twisp.
Walking through Twisp, you will notice some diverse and interesting inhabitants. Hailing from foreign lands, they are frequently considered aliens. Despite calling Twisp home for many years, these local residents are often treated unkindly because they tend to be overly aggressive, overbearing and, well, better than the native population at a few things. They are especially good at moving in and pushing out the meeker natives. Oh, and they can also be somewhat good looking.
The Tree of Heaven, Alianthus altissima, is a rapid-growing, smooth-barked tree that, when left to its own devices, becomes a weedy nuisance. Originally from China, the Tree of Heaven is problematic to control, it has an unappealing odor, and it spreads rapidly through suckering.
There is a grove of this tree sprouting up on the corner of Johnson Street and Second Avenue in town. I watch it each spring as it begins its race to the sun, fanning out, reaching upward, and occupying every inch of ground, outcompeting everything else. It does this by sending out a toxic substance in the soil, so nothing else can grow in its proximity. Not very neighborly to fellow shrubs and plants, but hey, if your sole purpose is to clone yourself, you don’t need neighbors.
The grove is frequently cut back by the property owners, but each year it sends up an army of suckering shoots and grows wild. The growth rate is quite impressive, and I wonder if this tree, with its tenacious drive to succeed, could maybe pass some of its vigor and drive along to my corn and tomatoes that I fear won’t be knee high by the Fourth of July.
Besides its foul-smelling flowers, the tree is quite attractive with its striking white bark, large dark green compound leaves, and arching branches. Its graceful form and large blossoms were once the fancy of English gardeners who brought it to America in the late 1700s. But as is the way of many garden fads, it escaped the fence and, voila, it became a noxious weed. It is not a new story — the majority of our noxious weeds are escapees that have fallen from grace with gardeners at some point.
Another fugitive tree plaguing town is the Siberian elm, Ulmus pumila. Originating from the outer fringes of the Gobi desert, it is well-accustomed to harsh environments, where it thrives. Therefore, you can find Siberian elm throughout town in empty lots, alleys, along roadways, riverbanks and any spot where it might get unnoticed and neglected.
During this time of neglect, it is deep-rooting itself, gaining the foothold it needs to erupt in height in the subsequent growing season. It is easily identified by its stiff, shiny, serrated (jagged) leaves with prominent veins and a narrow tip. Like the Tree of Heaven, the Siberian elm is difficult to control because it is a prolific seed producer, wind-dispersed, and can self-pollinate. Although it won’t sucker, if you lop it off at the base of its trunk, it will coppice (re-sprout). So, unfortunately, to rid your yard of it, you have to get the root out, which can be 3 feet deep, or poison it.
If you are interested in learning more about the trees in Twisp, stay tuned to my column because this is the first part to a series about the trees of Twisp. Additionally, you might be interested to know that there is a local Tree Board, and they are looking for new energy in the form of people.
The Tree Board assumes a stewardship role for public trees in Twisp, such as those planted in the park or street trees along public roads. Twisp is a Tree City USA, a designation by the Arbor Day Foundation. To be recognized as a Tree City, a tally of volunteer hours put towards planting and tending the urban forest is required. Dwight Filer is the head of the Tree Board and can be reached at 997-0522 for more information.