Tree-ing a wetland

Aspens' columnar form and fall gold complement the spreading shape and deep red of another wetland native, the black gum (Nyssa sylvatica). These grow by the water at the University of Wisconsin's arboretum prairie area in Madison.

Aspens' columnar form and fall gold complement the spreading shape and deep red of another wetland native, the black gum (Nyssa sylvatica). These grow by the water at the University of Wisconsin's arboretum prairie area in Madison.

I'm concerned about the number of orchards near me that are being lost to residential development. My son's property backs onto a two- to three acre area that is wetland. All that's there is grass and cat-tail. I've been "thicketing" the edges of his property but I've always wondered if it wouldn't be a good idea to do a "Johnny Appleseed" number in the wetland. - J.J. -

 

Good for you, J.J., and for all of us! So many people are so disconnected from the green world that they don't even notice that an orchard has been bulldozed, let alone consider the consequences of the loss or try to help correct them.

However, if there are no trees in that wetland now, it may be that Nature isn't ready for them. You might plant some wetland tree species around the margin, then wait. If the site is suitable, seeds from those trees will sprout and take hold within the wet area. In time, you might have enough new trees there to make up for the loss of an orchard.

If those you plant are native to the area, they will not simply take the place of the lost fruit trees in terms of impact on air quality but may provide food and shelter to more types of birds, small mammals and beneficial insects than the orchard ever could.

Look on the Internet for native plant producers' associations to procure small native trees. (The Michigan Native Plant Producers at http://www.mnppa.org/ is one of the regional associations of native growers; member nurseries are listed on the website.) Black willow (Salix nigra), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), hazel alder (Alnus rugosa) and larch (Larix laricina) might be right for a sunny Midwest wetland. In time, their seedlings can colonize a wet area.

Larch (Larix laricina) is a native to sunny wetlands throughout Canada, the Great Lakes States and New England. The larch's shape, branching and texture are similar to spruce.

Larch (Larix laricina) is a native to sunny wetlands throughout Canada, the Great Lakes States and New England. The larch's shape, branching and texture are similar to spruce.

It may be mistaken for that evergreen after a casual glance. However, larch is deciduous and no spruce can match its wonderful fall color.

It may be mistaken for that evergreen after a casual glance. However, larch is deciduous and no spruce can match its wonderful fall color.

Below: Occasionally someone will see a stand of larch in winter and exclaim, "Oh! A bunch of spruces died!"

The larch's buds reverse that impression. They are tiny beauties, turning the tree suddenly, softly green in spring.

Next: Willows can be viewed as fast growing, continually shedding trash trees but if you see those characteristics from another angle you realize how much these trees have to offer animals and how well equipped they are to rebound from continual browsing. Willows such as this black willow are native throughout eastern North America and are important to many birds and animals that eat buds, from grouse to grosbeak, deer, beaver and moose.

Members of clan Populus (cottonwood/poplars and aspens) are of high value to many animals, masters of soil stabilization and aurally delightful as well, their large thick leaves rustling in the slightest breeze. Some people object to cottonwood seed "snow" and so nurseries offer seedless male varieties. Since an all-male population could not seed itself around your wetland, plant the less offensive aspens.