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  • Writer's pictureTom Cavan

The Tree of Forgiveness

If it weren't for the people... Earth would be an engineers paradise.

-Kurt Vonnegut

And if it were not for the trees there would be no earth as we know it. Much awareness has come to light with so much being revealed about climate change and the continuing destruction of the forests and depletion of one of the most valuable resources we humans are decimating at an accelerated rate which is not sustainable. Trees are the tallest long-lived organisms ever to grow on earth. Trees, unfortunately, cannot dodge the saws of economic greed and many of these old giants have disappeared and can only be replaced by time. I have watched many documentaries on the subject read many books and the more I digest the more I realize just how little I know and so much more to learn. One documentary filmed the natural regeneration at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and amazingly, nature has within 30 years not only returned but is flourishing with wildlife where no human life could exist!! Trees forgiving catastrophic human intervention, truly amazing and to see the wildlings return brings enormous hope of remediation for our planet. According to the UN environment program it has evolved into the 3rd largest nature reserve in Europe!

People need trees, trees need caring people. Let's fight the good fight, let's plant trees and provide proper care through sustainable soil amendments, knowledgable species selections for every site possible, and please stop butchering the inherent life force of natural selection. Where ever possible let nature inhabit without intervention and let the planet heal itself. This photograph by Patric Nolan called "The tree of forgiveness" shows a mature tree central to a young forest... and yet another example of Suzanne Semards "Mother Tree" forgiveness through regeneration.

I have mentioned many times the good literature and discoveries of Dr. Shigo who headed the US Forestry Dept. for 40 years, his findings opened my mind to many things which I believed to be true were not so, too much of what I was taught both in higher education and our very own industry to which we need to re-think our understanding of trees, their inherent ability to survive and how we can assist and nurture for the future. Time for a change and hopefully not too late.

Maybe I am more tuned in than most but as I wander this earth I am so very disappointed in what I see as standard practices in horticulture both professionals and hobbyists lack the true understanding primarily in soil amendments, location, species selections, and pruning of trees of all genus.

As I have stated in previous pruning lessons, the most important part of a woody plant is its apical dominance which is the part closest to the energy source the sun. So not only has this tree had its most crucial segments removed the person responsible also left 2"-6" stumpy wood segments to deteriorate and create a home for insects and disease. It's like opening up a free drive-thru restaurant for Emerald Ash Borer. Another crime of the century!

When trees are improperly pruned dead wood is left, when wounds are left unattended the results are deadly.

Improper pruning during the infancy stage of this tree left too many narrow crotched branches accumulated too close on the trunk and bark inclusions develop holding moisture and allowing anaerobic microbes to rot from within. So after many years of growth, the missteps during the juvenile years come back to destroy another ancestor. At the bottom right, the 1st branch to die was properly cut and the tree formed a perfect callused donut as the tree inherently compartmentalized the wound in an attempt to survive. However, the multi-crotched branching left unattended allowed for water to collect, freeze and thaw creating damage to the core of the tree.

Here is a case where an injury occurred, left unattended the tree callused and is trying to protect itself. For whatever reason (I suspect ice damage to the vertical branch, whereas the horizontal survived) the main trunk was removed but a large stumpy portion was cut flat and left to rot. The remaining branches are unattended and out of balance which will most definitely hinder any chance of a future for this woody soldier. Woody plants are compartmental and have the ability to contain wounds and survive. This tree will now send its energy to the remaining branch tips and grow in a direction that will certainly involve the hiring of another criminal with a chainsaw and no horticultural morals.


Remove deadwood and inside crossing branches...that's it!! Everything else is from human intervention and or cosmetic sculpting(high maintenance)

If a tree needs reconstructive pruning for balanced future growth

Prune 2-4 weeks after the flowering date. (exception fruit trees)

Prune trees that bleed in the fall as they drop their leaves: i.e.Maple (Acer sp.), Birch (Betula sp.), Mountain Ash (Sorbus sp.), Walnut (Juglans sp.). Always prune according to a plant's natural cycle whenever possible, never interfere with its reproductive period ie. flowering stage.

If a tree has a branch ripped off and /or a physical injury, cut an eyelet shape running vertically around the wound with a sharp knife just deep enough so bark that is still intact, scrap and clean all loose wood so it will not collect water. Allow to dry and callus naturally. NO pruning paint, that is detrimental make-up that traps moisture and promotes non-beneficial microbial activity and rot.

If the tree is bleeding use a small hand torch and carefully cauterize the wound. Insects and diseases don't like forest fires!

Photo sketch from Dr. Shigo publications

If at any time you don't feel confident seek out the answers/solutions from experienced horticulturalists / arbourists and ask these basic questions.

In the meantime listen to John Prine's album The Tree of Forgiveness, it was his 18th and last album recorded before covid19 robbed him of his golden years. R.I.P

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