American trees had a rough year in 2011, multiple news reports reveal. Each report of tree die-offs is concerning, but taken as a group are alarming.
Drought is the biggest culprit, accounting for hundreds of millions of tree deaths, but disease is claiming its share, as well:
Texas’ 2011 drought
Texas’ current record drought claimed as many as half a billion trees with a 5-inch or higher caliper in 2011, a preliminary report from the Texas Forest Service claims. If that figure holds when the official report is released, that is 10 percent of the state’s total tree population. A recent tornado in Austin, Texas, uprooted several trees, the local ABC affiliate reports. Arborists discovered that these trees had “bone dry root systems,” making the experts worry that worse drought-related tree deaths still lie ahead.
Sudden Aspen Decline
Aspens have been dying at an alarming rate in Colorado, Denver’s local ABC affiliate reports, and its cause has chilling implications for the trees that survive the Texas drought. Researchers from Stanford University and the University of Utah have found that dying aspens have compromised vascular systems they speculate can be attributed to the 2000 to 2004 drought. The affected aspens suffered from embolisms, blockages of the vascular system that distributes water throughout the tree. These aspens had 70 percent blockage from embolisms, compared to the normal rate of 17 percent found in healthy trees.
Oak Wilt In Texas
As if the drought were not enough, oak wilt has been killing off live oaks and red oaks in Central Texas, a San Antonio paper reports. Red Oaks die quickly from the fungal infestation. Live Oaks die more slowly, but the effect of the disaster is even more devastating since the trees’ roots are connected with nearby live oaks. Arborists must consider any target tree within 100 feet of the infected tree infested, so all live and red oaks within about 150 to 200 feet must be removed as well.
Bark Beetle Infestations in New Mexico
Drought-stressed trees in New Mexico are being targeted by bark beetles, which are killing thousands of acres of trees, news station KRQE reports. Ponderosa pines, Douglas fir and white fir trees are the main species being infested, Dan Ware of the New Mexico Forestry Division told the station.
Pine Wilt And Pine Blight In Kansas
Kansas pine trees are being attacked by pine wilt and pine blight, the Hillsboro-Star Journal reports. Most of these trees are landscape plantings, since pines are not native to the state. The deaths primarily threaten property values, since they more easily blow over during storms.
Worldwide, Giant Trees Dying At Faster Rate Than Others
A study out of Australia reveals that giant trees are dying off rapidly, the British paper The Guardian reports. The long-living giants like sequoia have survived extremes for centuries, but fragmentation of forests, more severe droughts and new pests are having a devastating effect.
How Retailers Can Respond
Locally, these stories are capturing consumer attention, and retailers should be prepared to answer questions. “There is little we can do about trees in nature,” says Donna Buchanan, who owns Buchanan Native Plants in Houston. “But the homeowner can follow a few guidelines and ensure healthy trees in the landscape. Proper tree choice and placement, planting properly and watering adequately – which is possible even in restriction times.”
Retailers should notice the varieties that did not suffer/die and supply a list of those trees to consumers choose from,” she says.