Non-native trees: Placerville trees have a history

By November 12, 2010

Columnist Mug Shot, Elizabeth Caffrey Mountain Democrat Photo by Shelly Thorene

Soon after coming to Placerville from Tahoe this month, I noticed something strange about many of the trees in the village and also on Apple Hill: They did not belong. They were eastern trees. Someone told me the gold miners had brought the seeds, either deliberately or inadvertently on their belongings. Somehow that didn’t sound like something the miners would stop to collect on their race to the gold fields. And it wasn’t. Marilyn Ferguson of the Placerville Museum told me it was women settlers who brought the trees, starting about 1870. After that, she said, the seed companies advertised here and sold many trees in the area.

Walking along Broadway with Kit Veerkamp, master gardener with the Cooperative Extension Service, I noticed a magnolia tree growing on a bank near the old brewery ruins. A relative of this tree, big-leaved magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), has the largest leaves of any in temperate North America. It is now rarely seen growing even in its native setting in the southeastern states. Our magnolia will have beautiful flowers come spring.

My idea is to involve you the readers in a tree column in this paper. Let us know what you have in your yard and what you see along the road or in the woods. I will welcome your questions and your answers. Ronald M. Lanner of Placerville, retired from the faculty of Utah State University and now an emeritus visiting scientist at the Institute of Forest Genetics, has generously offered to advise on technical matters. He is particularly interested in the fact that these nonnative trees are doing fine. He observed that the coast redwood, which normally requires fog for its moisture, is doing well without it. How do the redwoods here pull water up to the needles at their tops? On the recent 100-degree days, when many of us wilted, they didn’t. According to the fossil record, redwoods were once much more widely distributed. A once and future tree?

I have seen a giant redwood on Coloma Street between Bee Street and Spring Street and several at Boa Vista Orchards up on Carson Road. I wondered if they would ever grow out of their own logs (cloning) when they fell, as they do along the coast. Ron Lanner says we could perhaps learn what to expect from a warmer and drier climate by studying the response of the redwood to its new home. The plot thickens.

Please let me hear from you about the trees you know or want to know.

Elizabeth Caffrey has worked at many things: surveying, dairying, monitoring Appalachian Trail use, fish enumerating (Atlantic salmon), and American chestnut restoration in the Southern Appalachians.

Elizabeth Caffrey

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