Natural Selection – Rick Milsom

by | Aug 23, 2015 | Featured Slider, Features, Opinion

As our thoughts turn to species selection and planting, Rick Milsom says researching why a particular tree is right for a particular site is both interesting and rewarding

Attending another excellent conference laid on by Barcham Trees got me thinking. All of the speakers were excellent but two in particular grabbed my attention. Henrik Sjoman and Nina Bassuk really share my interests and at the end of the presentation Henrik encouraged us all to become tree geeks.

For those of you not lucky enough to have been there, they spoke about how certain tree species are suited to particular sites, usually because the sites are similar to the trees’ natural habitat. Obvious isn’t it?

I oversimplify, but it really is the answer. It’s simple, but it may take a bit more research than reading a nursery catalogue to really learn about your planned planting choice.

Consult some of the great texts such as Krussmann if you can. The good thing about these books is that you also tend to learn about lots of other species and cultivars. Delve a bit deeper and fi nd out why they can cope with these conditions. Do you know why mangroves can deal with salt, for example?

You can even look at basics such as why some trees are evergreen. Why do some trees have hirsute leaves? Why are conifers generally shaped like a cone? How do some trees survive really cold conditions? Why do some trees only live for a few years and some for hundreds? And so on.

The idea of planting trees suited to the site is borne out by my own experience of an Acer collection we have developed in one of our parks. The North American species of Acer that inhabits riversides prone to drying and flooding does much better in Essex than the species that grows as an understory in mountain forests in China and Japan. How obvious is that?

When we look at the attributes these more successful trees have that make them suitable, does it point to others we could use? Should we avoid their opposites? The reason I write this is that the time is coming for arboricultural officers to think about species selection and planting. It involves a degree of consultation and ploughing through plans of underground services – a real time consumer. There are hidden costs that may not be obvious to our customers so we need to think carefully about our investment. We are, after all, investing money for a return. We want our trees to deliver a service, whether it be aesthetic, amenity, providing shade, reducing wind speed or any of the other benefits we know trees give.

Rick Milsom

If we look a bit deeper and understand the basics we can really start to improve our product, whether as arboricultural officers or when advising private clients. Looking for this extra information can greatly increase your all-round knowledge of trees as well.

I will continue impulse buying occasionally as sometimes little gems appear and I can’t resist something like Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp Asplenifolius, even if it is in my own garden.

Starting out as an apprentice, Rick has worked in horticulture and arboriculture for 30 years, and is currently an arboricultural officer at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council.

To subscribe for your monthly copy of Pro Arb, contact Laura Harris on 01903 777580