Fast moving and not overly technical, the tale of "Witness Tree" takes us down the path of bio-geographic research, particularly as it pertains to trees. Long-lived as they are, today's trees are likely to encounter unprecedented conditions as they age. The story takes place at Harvard Forest in Petersham, MA, one of the most studied forests in the world. Much of the institution's historical research is at the center of today's inquiries into climate futures and, of course, the future of the world's vegetation. Researchers from multiple disciplines bring their specialties there, including some top-level canopy research by highly skilled tree-climbers.
The soft paws of pussy willow, a small native tree, go hand in hand with late February in the southern New England town where I live. But apparently we'll have to stick to town and city streets to find Salix discolor (its other name), because in a number of places, they are considered almost gone from the wild landscape.
They are not alone. For more examples, think balsam fir (Abies balsamea), eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), inkberry (Ilex glabra), fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), sweet gum tree, (Liquidambar styraciflua).
With plenty of winter and two hurricanes behind us in southern New England, our trees are much the worse for wear. Here are some thoughts on how to manage storm-ravaged trees in the coming months from my recent article in the New London Day/Zip06.