By Adam Thatcher, former Director of Operations and Sustainability
Discover this world for yourself with our new digital guide
In the journey of trying to save an ash tree, I came to realize how each tree contributes to the beauty of the landscape and the sustainability of our ecosystem.
One of our ash trees had become infected with the invasive insect called the Emerald Ash Beetle (EAB), a green iridescent insect from Asia that has infested the ash tree population across North America. It’s actually the larva that inflicts the most damage as it feeds on the phloem of the tree, destroying the tree’s vascular system that transports water and nutrients. When the adult EAB emerges in the spring it forages on leaves and they repeat the same process of laying eggs in ash trees.
EAB was first identified in North America around 2002. Since then, this invasive insect has ravaged woodlands, parks, and suburban and urban landscapes. The economic impact of lost trees is estimated to be more than $280 billion, according to American Forests.
In March, we met with our licensed arborist who informed us that our ash tree was infected with the invasive EAB that has decimated the ash tree population across the Midwest and that was now prevalent along the East Coast. Some of the most iconic trees at Grace Farms are ash trees and we didn’t want them ravaged by this tiny, invasive insect. This time of year, the leaves of the ash tree morph into a canopy of yellow and purple leaves, but when under attack the thick colorful canopy of healthy leaves on top are missing. It could take years, however, before the infestation is noticed.
Our arborist informed us that there are preventative measures that can be taken to help protect the trees. In order to properly prepare to treat our ash trees, we needed to complete an inventory of all the ash trees on the property. The possibility of losing additional trees led to the development of a comprehensive tree management program. Our President and Founder, Sharon Prince, didn’t want to lose any trees, which resulted in taking preventive measures to protect our trees and ecosystem.
Identifying all species on our 80 acres could also inform us of other potential damaging insects and viruses. We decided to subscribe to a program call Tree Plotter designed by a company called Plan-It Geo, LLC., which records data associated with each tree.
Next, we had to physically count, identify, and take measurements for each tree. Amelia Boyd, who had interned at Grace Farms in 2018 through New Canaan High School, returned to Grace Farms after her freshman year at Vassar College to take on the task. Amelia wrote this about her experience:
“I began this project on May 22, 2019, and since then I’ve inventoried 2,075 trees and identified over 50 species of trees on site. Before beginning this endeavor, I had a basic knowledge of tree species. While I knew the difference between a maple and an oak, I didn’t know how to decipher between red cedar and white cedar or what a Kentucky coffee tree even looked like. Before mapping, I researched all types of trees, learning the basics about leaf patterns and lobe shapes and trying to find little tricks like how to distinguish an ash tree from a hickory. I created a study guide [by using] different apps and referencing the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Trees found in the Grace Farms Library.
Since 2013, Grace Farms Foundation has planted nearly 700 trees in addition to the 1,300 trees already on-site before construction began. Because of the diverse topography and habitats at Grace Farms, it’s no wonder why we identified so many different tree species, both native and non-native to the northeast. The most common tree species at Grace Farms is the red maple. This native tree species is the most common forest tree in Connecticut, according to the Connecticut Tree Protective Association. Of the top ten most common trees at Grace Farms, all are native to Connecticut.”
Our Tree Inventory Will Help Keep Trees Healthy
Amelia, along with other seasonal staff, helped us complete the inventory this August. The importance of their work will help keep our trees healthy. Our certified arborists will then use this program to develop semi-annual reports of our trees, recording their health and identifying any necessary maintenance work. These reports will also serve as benchmarks so we can proactively identify environmental factors that could be a potential danger to the well-being of our trees.
Since completing this inventory, we now have access to valuable information that will enable us to quantify the value of our trees. The program provides a module that helps provide the estimated environmental benefits of our trees. For example, we estimate that the 2,095 trees sequester more than 650,000 lbs. of carbon a year. These estimates are calculated by the tree’s species and diameter.
Through our report, we identified more than 60 ash trees on the property and committed to protecting 57 of these trees by injecting them with an insecticide administered through the tree’s root system. This treatment will be applied once every two years for at least the next 16 years. A small number of the ash trees were in such a dire state of decline they could not be saved.
Although it was disheartening to lose any despite our efforts to save them, this project led to the development of a digital tree identification guide. Of our 2,095 trees we identified, we’ve earmarked 150 trees so visitors could learn and experience the world of trees while walking around the River building or on our walking trails.
Visitors will be able to scan the below QR code with their smartphone’s camera to access the Digital Tree Identification Guide.
QR Code to Our Trees
Open the camera on your phone and hover over this code and a digital map will open, displaying the aerial view of the River building and landscape. Tap any one of the colored dots on your mobile screen and it will provide the tree name, benefits, as well as the preferred growing habitat.
Learning more about trees has gone beyond appreciating their beauty. Their numerous benefits are essential to sustaining our ecosystem.