Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Selling acorns and chestnuts on-line

Four pictures and a few comments:

Acorns 18 POUNDS Fresh Red Oak Acorns deer sqiirells chipmonks food & Craftwork

This ad would be more effective if "squirrels" and "chipmunks" were spelled in the conventional way.

The seller did a fantastic job including some pictures of  leaves and acorns with a scale.  Some sellers will include a coin to provide scale. 

On-line sellers are generally pretty weak identifying species, so including these two items is a good move, even if the leaf on the right looks atypical.

Another thing this seller did well was to include an address.  "Schulenburg, Texas" tells me far more than "USA"

I hope everybody's fall is going well.  A low of 10 Fahrenheit predicted for tonight.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Eye Candy

Image by Michael Nave.  Photo posted ==>HERE<===

Michael Nave is a chestnut grower in California.  He posts on on The Chestnut Forum.  He is very generous with his knowledge.

Grams per nut -to- Nuts per pound

Some people think in terms of grams per nut, or grams per sample of three nuts (the typical number of nuts in a chestnut burr).  Other people are more comfortable thinking in terms of nuts per pound. 

The table shown above is a way to switch between grams/nut sample to nuts per pound.  For example, the three nut sample in the top photo weighs 122 grams.  If that is representative of all nuts in the population than one would expect between 10 and 12 nuts to the pound.

Quercus robur or petraea?

For a long time I was under the delusion that there was only one species of temperate, Western European oak:  Quercus robur.

I was wrong.

Quercus robur is the oak of the deep, rich soils and protected coves of Western Europe...the cozy Western Europe of Thomas Hardy.  Quecus petraea is the oak of the shallow soil, of windy exposed knobs and of stony, acidic soil.  That would be the western Europe of the Bronte sisters and the Hounds of Baskerville.

===>This essay<=== explains how to determine if an oak specimen is Q. robur, Q. petraea or a nominal hybrid between the two.

Six specimens collected form my property. Roughly sorted, more robur like on bottom-right corner, more petraea like in upper-left corner.
Bottom right specimen: Petiole and auricles suggest pure Q. robur

Top-middle specimen, longish (9% of leaf length) petiole and lack of auricles suggests that this specimen is not pure Q. robur.
The reason I  hedge my bets and say "...not pure Q. robur" is that these specimens were from seeds collected  in Michigan and potential pollen parents also include Q. alba, Q. bicolor, Q. macrocarpa and Q. muhlenburgii as well as Q. petraea from the originating source in Europe.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Asian Chestnut Gall Wasp

As I planned for next year's planting and grafting season I found myself reminded of the Asian Chestnut Gall Wasp.

I live in Michigan and it is illegal to import chestnut trees or scionwood from states known to harbor Asian Chestnut Gall Wasps.

Light green is the natural range of the American Chestnut before the Chestnut blight showed up.
A list of states with documented populations of ACGW include:
  • Georgia, 
  • Alabama, 
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Maryland
  • Pennsylvania
  • Maryland
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
  • Ohio
  • Connecticu
  • Ontario, Canada 



The first line of defense is to not import it.  If in doubt, don't.

The second line of defense is sanitation. If it looks like it has galls, cut and burn the infected material.  Call your extension agent if you are in a state that is not documented as a ACGW positive state for positive identification.

The third line of defense is a cluster of parasitic wasps: Torymus sinensis, T. tubicola, Megastigmus

Native parasitic wasps are being identified as well.  These native species have not been effective in suppressing populations because they are not synchronized with peak ACGW vulnerability.  This situation is similar to what is seen with the Emerald Ash Borer.  Given time it is likely that a genetic shift will occur so native species can exploit this bonanza of potential hosts. 

One thing that growers can do is to plant prime nectar sources in or near their trees to hit the end-of-May to middle-of-July time window so the parasitic wasps can maximize their time spent hunting the target, ACGW.  More research needs to be done to identify prime nectar sources. Potential plants include Mints, common white clover, sweet alyssum, Aegopodium podagraria,  and possibly Eupatorium perfoliatum if you can find an early blooming race.  These nectar plants are suggestions.

Composites (Dandelion?) and Umbelliferae are highly regarded nectar sources but they may be more difficult to integrate them into your orchard management plan as easily as white clover and sweet alyssum.  Beekeepers tell me that common garden raspberries and rhubarb attract vast swarms of native insects.  The rhubarb is a bit early for our purposes but the raspberries fall within the early part of the sweet spot.  No information is available regarding best cultivars although one would expect more berries to be correlated with more blossoms.

To reiterate, there may be relatively few native parasitic wasps that have populations peaks that coincide with when the ACGW is most vulnerable.  Literature suggests that optimum feeding of parasitic wasps can increase their life span by a factor of three-to-five times.  That increases the breeding efficiency of those races/species of wasps life cycles that do align with the ACGW, will hasten the speed of the genetic shift that will result in synchronization with the ACGW and by slowing down parasitic wasp mortality will increase the number of parasitic wasps per unit of land during periods of peak ACGW vulnerability.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Internal Kernel Breakdown (Chestnuts)

A news release from Michigan State University:

We have recently found that a type of kernel rot, not associated with a mold or insect, is found in about 30% of the nuts from ‘Colossal’ trees when those trees are pollinized by Chinese chestnut....we strongly suggest keep Chinese cultivars from pollinizing ‘Colossal’.  At this time we are not sure if this affliction will show up in all European/Japanese hybrids and if all Chinese chestnuts cause it.  To be safe we suggest keeping European/Japanese hybrid and Korean (Japanese) cultivars 500 to 1000 feet away from sources of Chinese chestnut.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Synchronized Bearing

Many species of fruit and nut trees tend to "alternate" bearing.  A more precise term is "synchronized" bearing because the years of heavy bearing are not always on a two year cycles.

Not all individuals in a give species show synchronized bearing traits.  That tells us that there must be some significant selection advantage to synchronized bearing in those species where most individuals do exhibit sychronized bearing.

Environmental factors that contribute to synchronized bearing

Specimens that have fully exploited the nutrients in their root zone tend to be more strongly synchronized.  The specimen will set an enormous crop.  The maturing crop sucks an enormous amount of both carbohydrates and nitrogen (protein) out of the tree.  The summer buds "decide" to take the vegetative form based on the dearth of resources needed to ripen next years crop.  Depending on the site and climate it may take several years before the tree "triggers" another mammoth crop.

Commercial fruit growers have bills to pay every year.  They overcome "alternate" bearing tendencies by managing the crop load.  They also manage fertility and soil moisture to ensure moderate annual shoot extension and a high-but-balanced level of Nitrogen and carbohydrates.

The cycle is often synchronized by a synchronizing event like a late freeze or a serious drought.

But WHY?

What advantage might a species gain by having most individuals having one (or several) years of no seed production followed by a bumper crop?  Specimens of synchronized bearing and annual bearing tendencies both exist within a given species.    Under conditions that strongly favor annual bearing one would expect synchronized bearing individuals to be rare.  There must be compelling reasons that favor individuals with synchronize bearing characteristics.

The leading theory for synchronized bearing is predator avoidance.  Trees cannot flee weevils.  They are rooted to the ground.  The effect of several years of not bearing is to starve out those insects that would otherwise come to an equlibrium with the food base if the trees were to bear annually.  The greatly diminished  population of pests cannot find and infest all of the nuts, or fruit, of those infrequent, massive crops.

Some pests can infest many different species.  The different species sharing a give habitat often follow their own synchronized schedule.  So how does the "predator avoidance" theory mesh with the messiness of multiple species?

They mesh rather elegantly, actually.  Each plant species typically has a different time window of maximum vulnerability.  A peak crop of a plant species with a late window will drag the timing of (i.e., genetically shift) the pest to peak later in the season.  Consequently, the peak pest pressure will miss the window of maximum vulnerability for earlier species.  In a similar way a peak crop of a very early species will shift the peak pest pressure to earlier in the season thereby clearing the way for later species.

Is there any evidence?

There is anecdotal evidence that some of the selections most notable for annual bearing (McDaniel's burenglish oak) also appear to be one of the most susceptible to weevils. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Quercus shumardii?

Hello all:

I did not get this job because I am a wizard at Oaks and Chestnuts.  Rather.  I got this job because I had a little extra time and volunteered.

I want to tap the collective expertise out there on the internet.

This specimen is outside the normal range of Q. shumardii.

Specimen collected from "red speck" in northwest Ingham County, Michigan.  Base map from HERE.
Specimen from bottomland hardwoods.  Fellow trees include Burr Oak, Beech, Red Maple and Cottonwood.  Specimen first gained attention due to its persistent acorns.

Lobations not as deep as classic Q. shumardii.  This is a big leaf for a mature tree.  Photo taken on 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper.
Tufts of fuzz in crotch between mid-rib and veins is not typical of Northern Red Oak.

Another shot but closer to the tip.
This tree has a boat load of acorns on it so it was pollinated by something.  I took photos of acorns but failed to have a memory card in the camera 8-(.

I need your help.  What do you guys think?  Q. shumardii?  Atypical Q. rubra?  Q. rubra with introgression of some Q. shumardii genes?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Legacy Trees (Burr Oak)

One of the appeals of planting oak trees is that there is a very real possibility that a tree you plant could still be giving pleasure to people two or even three hundred years from now.

Some genus are more suited for "legacy trees" than others.  Oak are a great choice because they are long lived trees, can grow to impressive size and offer benefits beyond simply producing shade.

I am not an unbiased observer.  I think that Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is one of the finest species within the genus...at least in the Northeast United States.  Here are my reasons:

Legacy trees must be able to fend for themselves.  There is no guarantee that all of the property owners over the next three hundred years will be "tree huggers"  Burr Oak are probably the most fire resistant tree in the Northeast United States.  Burr Oak are the oak trees of the tall grass prairie Oak Savannahs. Those savannahs were maintained by regular burns that killed off the Box Elder, Red Maple and other invading species.

If you suspect that your planting may be exposed to "burns", then it makes sense to select seedlings with "corky" 2nd year bark.  Cull the rest or give them to friends.

The more I look at individual oak trees the harder it gets for me to pigeon hole them into a species.  This tree has characteristics of both Swamp White Oak (Q. bicolor) and Burr Oak.  Growing in a sedge marsh with cattails, sedge and willow.  Growing beside Canfield Rd, Eaton County, Michigan.

Burr Oak in a flood plain beside Nye Hwy.  Other side of road is willow, cottonwood, elderberry and Reed Canary grass.  Understory here is primarily Giant Ragweed.

Burr Oak are moderately-to-highly tolerant of flooding.  My personal belief is that different land races of Burr Oak have varying degrees of tolerance to flooding.  Flooding depletes the soil of oxygen.  Paving and compaction have a similar effect.

Young Burr Oak showing persistent "whiskers".  Beside Gunnell Rd, Eaton County, Michigan
Older Burr Oak showing persistent "whiskers".  5 Point Hwy, Eaton County, Michigan.

Burr Oak have an abundance of small, persistent side branches.  These small branches lower the value of the tree for lumber and make it much more difficult to split for firewood.  Those kinds of "blemishes" reduce the likelihood that the tree will be "poached" because of its lesser value or because it is simply more work to burn.

There is much genetic diversity within the species.  It ranges from Maine to Montana, Alabama (nice specimen next to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn) and southern Texas to Manitoba.

The abundance small, persistent side branches also make the tree more likely to survive a lightening strike.  The tree may be killed down one side or may be killed to within 15 feet of the ground, but those persistent side branches means that the tree will recover.  In addition to the persistent side branches, the heart wood is quite rot resistant which allows the tree to heal over the injuries. Rot resistant wood also makes hollow Burr Oak a rarity...helping them resist wind storms even in their dottage.

I know I am fixating on a "Legacy tree's" need to shrug off insults and adversity.  A good primer for the kinds of challenges that "Legacy trees" must endure can be gleaned by studying The Endicott Pear, one of this nation's best documented trees.

Most Burr Oak have a classic, forest tree form.  Many "Champion" trees are grotesque, warped trees that scored well.  Many, many Burr Oak look like the McBaine Oak, a former National Champion.

The downside

Many Burr Oak retain their leaves into the winter which makes them more vulnerable to ice damage.  This trait is most pronounced when the tree is juvenile and abates, somewhat, as the tree matures.

Of the oaks in the White Oak group, Burr Oak is reputed to be the most susceptible to Oak Wilt.  It is still more resistant than any of the species in the Red Oak group.

Many Burr Oak produce exceptional amounts of acorns.  This is a great thing if you are interested in oak as a food crop or if you want to feed wildlife.  The downside is that the energy that could be going into growing height and girth...outcompeting its neighbors is diverted into producing acorns.  How many of you have stumbled across an ancient apple orchard overgrown by elm, ash, wild cherry and Red Oak?  The weight of the fruit bends the branches down.  The apples simply cannot grow tall enough to fend for themselves if the orchard is left unattended for even thirty years.  Some Burr Oak selections also seem to be vulnerable to having their branches dragged down by bumper crops.

Bottom Line

If you are planting trees to establish a legacy you could do far worse than to plant a grove of Burr Oak (Q. macrocarpa) or its hybrids.  You can improve the odds of the trees you planted surviving many hundreds of years if you select seeds from waterlogged sites, grow them for three years and select for corky bark (a desirable trait).  Selecting for earliest winter leaf fall within the seedling population will decrease vulnerability to ice damage and is somewhat correlated with greater winter hardiness.  Rogue out all seedlings that show leaf diseases like powdery mildew.

Choose a site with suitable fertility.  Inter-plant the Burr Oak with other, non-oak species to achieve a total plant density of about 400-to-500 trees per acre (about 10'-by-10' or 3m-by-3m spacing).  The goal is to reduce the density of trees that are vulnerable to Oak Wilt.  A reasonable starting point is to start with 25% of the trees (100 per Burr Oak per acre) as Burr Oak with a mind to ending up with a final population of 20-to-30 Burr Oak per acre.

One source proposes some of the following species as "pioneer" species.  These might be good plants to use as some of the "non-oak species" because they will self extinguish and some of them will add nitrogen, attract wildlife or have other advantages.
  • Alder (fixes nitrogen)
  • Birch (live hard, die young, leave a good looking corpse)
  • Apples and Crabapples
  • Pears
  • Mulberry
  • Chokecherry
  • Sumac
  • Locust (Black Locust fixes nitrogen and is good firewood and fence posts)
  • Willow. Many species available.  S. alba, S. fragilis and S. matsudana become large trees.  S. nigra and S. amygdaloides tend to be somewhat smaller. Most other willow species are shrubby...to 20 feet tall.
  • Box Elder (or the more ornamental Asian equivalents A. ginnala, A. buergerianum)
  • Tree dogwoods (C. florida, C. mas, C. kousa)
  • Aspen
  • Yaupon

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


My brother Phil loves filberts.  Go figure.

At one time we had about 20 bushes on my dad's property.  All but two succumbed to the Eastern Filbert Blight.  One has symptoms and is barely hanging on.  The other is growing well after the variety that was grafted on top perished.  Phil remembered the day when he could fill a bucket by stripping the nuts from two bushes.  He asked me what it would take to bring back the filberts. This essay is my answer to Phil.

Roger Miller of Eaton Rapids, Michigan is very sour on filberts.  At one time he had 165 very productive bushes.  He is down to six.  Once again, devastated by the Eastern Filbert Blight. In the case of Roger's planting, he now has the nucleus of a planting from parents of proven, EFB resistant parents.  It is hard to tell if he has the stomach to start over.  But he has the parents....if he does.

This paper is a good overview of the current state of hazelnuts for the Eastern United States.

The National Arbor Day foundation is a member of the Hazelnut Consortium.  They offer hybrid hazelnuts in both small quantities and in bulk quantities.  After shopping around, NADF has pretty good prices.

They are a bit coy in stating the provenance of their mother trees, but do say that they originally came from Minnesota.  Minnesota is where Phil Rutter is breeding and selecting filberts.  So it is a reasonable guess that much of the National Arbor Day foundation stock came from Badgersett.

Hazelnuts or filberts are one more food producing plant that is available to us.  Unlike the oak, which is typically a tall tree, or the chestnut, which tends to be an orchard type tree, the hazelnut is either a short tree or a multistem bush.  In permaculture type plantings, it wants to be an edge species or a tuck-in-a-corner species.

Please be mindful that if you are not planting proven clones then you are using mass selection.  Plant them thick and cull them ruthlessly.  If you are a "proven clone" kind of guy, then Burnt Ridge seems to have a pretty good selection and competitive prices.

Some of us like to keep one foot on the dock even as we plant the other in the canoe.  We buy a boat load of seedlings (as lottery tickets) and one or two proven varieties (as insurance policies).  I confess to being in this population. 

Nurseries that are mentioned are mentioned for comparison purposes only.

Good growing to you all.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Chinese Prodigal Son

There was a rich man who owned much fertile farmland.  He had one son.  The son loved the City.  The son spent his time gambling, drinking, and enjoying the life of the young, idle rich.

One day the rich man died.  The young man appointed several caretakers for the farm and continued his life as before.

Revenues from the property declined.  The young man was forced to economize.  He did not like that.

So the young man made a trip to a distant mountain known to harbor a very wise man.  The wise man told the young man that the problem was the deficiency of the very best fertilizer.  The wise man gave the young man a wooden box with a very small hole in the bottom.  "This box is full of the very best fertilizer.  It must be shaken over the entire property in the light of the rising sun.  But be aware that although the fertilizer is potent, it must be applied frequently.  This fertilizer is of greater value than gold, so never let it out of your possession.  Finally, this box must never be opened as the power of this fertilizer can kill instantly."

The young man was anxious to increase his income so he could return to the City.  He traveled back to the farm, dismissed the caretakers and started the fertilization program the very next morning.  History does not tell us what he saw as he walked about the fields and shook the box.  Perhaps he noticed that the tenants and caretakers were not arriving at the fields until mid-morning.  Perhaps he noticed that the drainage ditches had fallen into disrepair and the flooded fields were not ready for the planting.  Perhaps he saw plantings that were choked with weeds.  Regardless, the young man was observant and realized that no fertilizer, no matter how potent, would work if the fields were not planted.

Many years passed and the young man prospered greatly.  The man never returned to the City, there was always too much to do.  Then, one day, he lay on his deathbed.  He called to his most able assistant and told him to bring the box and an ax.  Then he dismissed the assistant.

They found the man the next morning.  He was dead.  The box had been smashed open.  Inside the box were a few grains of sand and a script that read, "The best fertilizer is the sound of the master's footsteps"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Managing Oak Savannas in Dane County, Wisconsin

Another submission found by Lucias Machias.

The Pleasant Valley Conservancy State Natural Area Oak Savanna.

Many posts in this blog.  Just a few pictures and quotes as teasers.

Dealing with burn scars in prairie and savanna restoration

This is the time of year when restorationists are cutting lots of brush. Often, the brush piles get fairly large, and when they are burned big sterile patches are created. How to revegetate these scars?

Here is a suggestion that came to me from an experienced contractor.

As soon as the fire is cold, use a powerful backpack leaf blower to remove all  the ashes. The goal is to make the ground completely bare.

Then hand plant each scar with a good prairie or savanna seed mix. Be sure to include several grasses as well as a dozen or so forb species. Use a high seeding rate (~50 seeds per square foot).

However, even without planting, these scars should come back, since  soil does not transfer heat well, and only the top cm or so of the burn scar will be sterile. The important thing is to get rid of the ashes.

And from oaksavvanas.org

Prescribed fires play several important roles.

• Removes oak leaves and litter, opening up the soil so that plants can grow faster. This also permits planted seeds to reach the soil.
• Helps perpetuate fire-dependent species.
• Helps in control of harmful insects or diseases.
• Improves wildlife habitat.
• Enhances the appearance of the site and increases the scenic values.
• Helps improve access to the savanna, making it easier to walk the property and survey the ecosystem.
• Top-kills woody vegetation, shrubs and small trees, but does not kill the oaks. Top-killing does not eliminate the undesirable woody plants, but sets them back.
• Kills invasive conifers such as red cedar.
• Top-kills brambles.
• Consumes downed brush and branches, making it possible for fires to carry better.
• Hazardous fuel reduction.
• Recycles nutrients from the litter into the soil.

Fire is one of the most cost-effective ways of maintaining a restored savanna, but should always be used as part of an integrated management system. Fire should never be used by itself. Also, fire is not a substitute for brush removal. In fact, it is undesirable and counterproductive to burn an unrestored savanna, because fire does not eradicate brush. Burns should only be conducted after the initial major restoration work has been completed.

Equipment for prescribed burns
Suppression equipment
  • Pumping system
  • Tanks
  • Pumps
  • Hoses
  • Nozzles
  • Backpack tanks
  • Handtools
  • Swatters
  • Rakes
Ignition equipment
  • Drip torch
  • Propane torch not recommended
  • Rake
Mobility equipment
  • Trucks
  • ATVs
  • Utility vehicles   And command-control equipment....Example: radios
Prescribed burns should not be carried out without adequate equipment for the job.

And a nice PDF that discusses controlled burns to manage Oak Savannas.

Another hat-tip to Lucias.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Blight Resistant American Chestnuts

Submitted by Lucas Machia.

Link to story

For over 22 years, Maynard and Bill Powell, co-directors of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry's American Chestnut Research and Restoration Center, have attempted to engineer American chestnut trees with resistance to a specific blight that has left the species almost completely extinct by the start of the 20th century. One group of trees, all clones of a cell referred to as "Darling 4," show strong resistance to the fungus.
The Darling 4 is one of 17 different genetically engineered cells that include a gene from wheat known as oxalate oxidase. While the gene does not kill the fungus, it does protect the tree from damage, Maynard said.
“Oxalate oxidase doesn’t harm the [fungus], but it will starve it,” explained Maynard. “It deactivates the acid that kills the plant, forcing the fungus to go back to being a bark parasite on the surface of the bark.”
The ultimate goal of the Research and Restoration Center is to plant thousands of fully blight-resistant trees in American forests across the country that will slowly repopulate the forests.  Powell estimates it will take about 100 years from the time the first tree is planted outside of a research station to the time the forests are fully repopulated.
 “It’s unrealistic to think we can plant enough trees to restore the ecosystem to how it used to be without letting them multiply on their own,” said Powell.  “Instead, we can plant them in memorable places in order to recreate what the scene looked like in the past, such as during the Civil War.”

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Eye Candy and Composing Symphonies with a Shovel

This post is most a redirect to another webpage.

Some Habitat Improvement Pictures (Pennsylvania)

I was once told that musicians are the most gifted at managing very large projects and programming very large computer programs.  Musicians think in terms of the simultaneous development of themes over time.  They know that percussion and wood winds, brass and strings must all develop the theme in a harmonious way.  Not section of the orchestra can be put on hold.  It simply does not work.

The author of this post goes by the handle "rrroae".  He has my deepest admiration.  rrroae is a sophisticated guy.  He does not carpet bomb a plot of ground with one "super plant" and walk away.  Nope.  That would be like an orchestra of tubas, or kettle drums.  He thinks things through, used what was already in place.

He composed symphonies with a shovel. 

He also takes great photos and writes well.

"On the edges, we planted Dolgo Crabs, hazelnut, Allegheny Chinkapin and some Saul oaks."
"...by the pond, we've planted various oaks to include Sawtooth, Dwarf Chinkapin, Red oak and a couple varieties of Okois hybrids."
"The Dwarf Chinkapin seedlings from Superior trees were around $1 per seedling and have grown very well."
""Clearcut leaving oaks to reseed and also planted various crab seedlings."
"Added some clearcuts and planted pear, crab and apple seedlings and some dwarf chinkapin oaks. Picture only shows a fraction of the work area."
"Open woods between clearcut areas. Very diverse timber including Hard and soft maple, cherry, ash, popular, white and red oak, hickory and beech."
"Another clearcut on top of property replanted with Chinese Chestnut and Dwarf Chinkapin along edges."  
Many, many more pictures here Some Habitat Improvement Pictures

Friday, February 28, 2014

Desperately Seeking.... Part IV

Have you ever been sick and dragged yourself to work anyway?  You figured being able to put in 80% was better then 0%

You were sitting in your cube or working the line.  You hacked.  You sneezed.  You blew your nose like a trumpeting elephant.  You were miserable.

Your co-worker looked over the cubical partition, or across the line and said, "Joe, you ain't worth a broke popsicle stick.  You take your butt home before you make the rest of us as miserable as you are."

Therein lay the salvation of hypovirulence.

Two Masses Orbiting

The script for two actors was discussed in Part III.  The dynamics of two actors leaves little room for improv.

As humans, we have a vision of a chestnut orchard or a forest dominated by oak.  The script in Part III has that orchard or forest living on borrowed time.  The increasing density of the hosts changes the selection pressure from "host discovery" to "rapid host exploitation".

Unlike animals, plants do not have an active immune system that develops a portfolio of antibodies with exposure to pathogens.  Being exposed to a hypovirulent strain of a disease does not harden the plant against a future exposure to a virulent strain.  Increasing density of potential hosts makes catastrophe inevitable and the timing is completely unpredictable.

Economists, planners and bank loan officers do not respond well to unpredictability.  It is also emotionally harrowing.

The Third Actor

The trajectories of two masses that are mutually orbiting is mathematically predetermined and offers little drama and little opportunity for human intervention.

Adding a third actor opens up a multitude of potential outcomes because the range of "solutions"

One of my hobbies is homebrewing and home wine making.  In the course of pursuing this hobby I stumbled across "Killer Yeast".

From Wikipedia

In Saccharomyces cerevisiae are toxins encoded by a double-stranded RNA virus, translated to a precursor protein, cleaved and secreted outside of the cells, where they may affect susceptible yeast. There are other killer systems in S. cerevisiae, such as KHR [6] and KHS [7] genes encoded on chromosome.
The L-A dsRNA virus of S. cerevisiae...encodes a secreted protein toxin (the killer toxin) and immunity to that toxin. L-A and M are transmitted from cell to cell by the cytoplasmic mixing that occurs in the process of mating. Neither is naturally released from the cell or enters cells by other mechanisms, but the high frequency of yeast mating in nature results in the wide distribution of these viruses in natural isolates.

 Picnic Bugs

Picture from HERE

Picnic bugs (aka, sap beetles) are the natural vector of Oak Wilt.  Picnic bugs are attracted to rotting fruit, presumably by the volatile esters.  The fruiting body of the Oak Wilt produces those kinds of attractants.  After becoming a carrier of the fungi, the picnic bug feeds on the sap of an open wound, presumably attracted by the byproducts of fermentation.  In the event that the open wound is on an oak tree, there is a high probability that wounded tree will become infected.

Picnic bugs are "Bill's" vultures.

At this point, it is speculative to presume that an existing strain of Killer Yeast virus could pass from a yeast bearing culture to a picnic beetle, thence to an infected tree...and debilitating the virulent form of Oak Wilt to where it "ain't worth a broke popsicle stick."

It is entertaining to speculate about.  Also, given viruses sloppy replication and rapid mutation, I believe it could be made to happen.


A table of strains of yeast.  Column 10, "Competitive Factor"  active indicates a "killer yeast".

A trap for capturing picnic bugs can be easily constructed from a two liter soda bottle.  Fruit juice that has been inoculated with yeast makes excellent bait.  Warm fermentation temperature favors production of esters.  It is rumored that cans of beer with two swallows left in them are also effective picnic bug traps.  I cannot vouch for that, never having left any beer in a can.

Attempting to inoculate the picnic bug with killer yeast would involve feeding them with a yeast culture via a sponge sitting in a bowl.  It should be in a warm place but out of the sun.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Desperately Seeking..... Part III

Desperately seeking hypovirulence

A contagious pathogen that kills its host too quickly is a failure.

Even though hypovirulence may be in the long-term best interest of the species, hypovirulence is usually not in the short-term interest of a given strain of that pathogen.

It is one of the classic contradictions to Adam Smith's Invisible Guiding Hand theory which holds that autonomous actors will always arrive at a global optima as an unerring side effect of seeking their own, personal optimum.

The pathogen may end up at that place but the path is messy and strewn with wreckage.

Hypovirulent strains cannot compete with the speed and totality that the hypervirulent strains exhibit when exploiting the nutrient resources of the host.

It is the compound interest problem, again.  If aggressive exploitation (which kills the host) gives the hypervirulent strain a 2X advantage, the hypervirulent strain will outnumber the hypovirulent strain by a factor of one million-to-one after 20 generations.

The pathogen lays vast populations to waste.  Tiny, isolated pockets of the host remain and pump seed out into the void.  The pockets grow until they encounter a smoldering ember of the pathogen and the process repeats.

Hypothetically, one of those smoldering embers will be less virulent than the first wave.  Its victims will be able to survive the infection and the pathogen will be able to undergo multiple generations of spoor release without killing the host.  That multigeneration spoor release and the sparse distribution of the host is the basis for the hypovirulence's competitive advantage over the hypervirulent strains.

Another way to say the above is that hypervirulent strains will dominate when the hosts are close together and speed of exploitation (invasion, extraction) is the bottleneck in reproduction.  Hypovirulent strains will have a slight selection advantage when discovery of new hosts is the primary bottleneck in reproduction.  This state may oscillate back and forth as population density changes and climatic factors vary---either favoring or suppressing the ability of the pathogen to "find" new hosts.

So, where might one look for hypovirulence?

The hypothesis presented here suggests one might find hypovirulence in two, very different places.


One place to look is the pathogen's epicenter where, presumably, the host and the pathogen have had the longest amount of time to oscillate their way to an equilibrium.  This is where the host population was first decimated and where the selection pressure first shifted to "host discovery".

When the Varroa Mite started devastating honey bee hives, researches went to the Amur region of Siberia (north of Korea) to collect resistant strains of honey bees.  Their focus was on finding resistance in the host rather than finding friendlier pathogens.  But the same principle applies.

The fringe

The second place to look are at the fringes of the host's natural range where the pathogen is petering out due to the scarcity of the host.  The primary selection pressure on the pathogen is "host discovery" and hypovirulent strains should become relatively more abundant.

Presume that the host's range covers an area large enough to show climactic variation.  Also presume that one side of the range favors the spread of the pathogen.  It follows that the pathogen will spread on the less friendly side only in those rare years when the weather favors the pathogen.  That amounts to an extreme penalty against the one-and-done, hypervirulent strains and creates a relative bias for the hypovirulent strain.

Therefore, if a pathogen favored cool, humid conditions then one might be well advised to look for hypovirulent strains along the southwestern (hotter, drier) fringe of the host's distribution.

Desperately Seeking, Part IV

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Desperately Seeking... Part II

A contagious pathogen that kills its host too quickly is a failure.

Consider two pathogens.  One of them kills its host in two weeks.  It is a disease that telegraphs its presence with visible markers. It incapacitates the host for much of those two weeks.  Contrast that with a second pathogen that does not kill its host for years or even decades.  This second pathogen is communicable during the entire time. Further, consider that the pathogen does not present any distinctive symptoms so it is impossible to identify potential sources of infection.


It is widely known that the European explorers and colonists brought many contagious diseases to the New World.  Measles, smallpox, typhoid, scarlet fever, influenza and cholera mowed down the indigenous populations.  There are many documented cases of European conquerors entering hostile territories and being hard pressed to find any living natives to conquer.

It is less widely known that some diseases were carried from the New World back to Europe.  Syphilis was one of those diseases.

Pretty hard to hang onto that romantic feeling looking at these.

Voltaire's book Candide is accurate in its portrayal of syphilis.  People died within two weeks of being infected.  People had fingers, arms, legs, ears and noses fall off.  Voltaire included syphilis in Candide because sexual promiscuity was a prominent self-identifier of upper class Europe, much like doing lines of cocaine were part of being an "authentic" 1980s Rock Star. 

Some of the virulence was due to the complete absence of antibodies against syphilis.  Much of it was due to the extremely virulent form of syphilis that Europe was first exposed to.

Over time the most virulent strains of syphilis self-extinguished.  That is, in aggregate, they killed off their carriers before they had a chance to spread the disease.

Compound interest

It is a compound interest effect.  The (aggregate infectivity) raised to the generation.  That is, (AI)^ (Number of Generations).

So a disease that has a 80% aggregate chance of infecting another victim before killing off the carrier will diminish to (0.80)^10 (about 11% of base population) in ten generations and to 1% in twenty generations.

Looking at the flip side, suppose a disease has an aggregate chance of infecting two new victims before killing off the carrier.  The twentieth generation will be (2.0)^20 which is a little bit over one million new infections in that generation alone.


Rumors abound that HIV was "invented" by malign, human agents.  Much of that speculation originates because of the malevolent perfection of the HIV virus.
  • HIV circulates at the highest levels in historically stigmatized groups: Drug Users, Prostitutes, Alternative Lifestyle Choice Practioners, Minority populations.
  • HIV is symptom free for most of its life cycle
  • Untreated HIV is a virtual, though delayed, death sentence
  • HIV does not have a clear progenitor "in-the-wild"
  • HIV originated in Africa, a continent free from health monitoring
  • HIV has proven extremely resistant to efforts to produce a viable vaccine.
There is some debate whether viruses are life forms or simple large molecular catalysts that replicate.

For the purpose of this essay, we will consider them life forms.

The Gossip by Norman Rockwell.  What are the odds that the message mutated a little bit with each telling?

A defining characteristic of viruses is they lack the ability to edit their replication.  Think of the process of a zipper (a strand of DNA) unzipping with the virus being the slider.  The virus grabs long strings of pre-sequenced amino acids when it thinks it has identified the start of a string it will need.

Mutations occur frequently.  Sometimes the virus makes a mistake in identification.  Different individuals of the same species have slight differences in DNA.  Sometimes the virus jumped from its native species and is ad libbing, making the best guesses it can, in the new host species.  Unlike higher animals, viruses do not have a fidelity checker for its creation.  It just keeps going.

Most of these mutation probably offer little advantage to the virus.  Sometimes, however, the mutation becomes a complete game changer.

One of those times is when the surface of the virus is sufficiently different from its progenitor that the host's immune system does not recognize it.

HIV mutates rapidly, even for a virus.  That made developing a viable HIV vaccine a problem.

Another issue in controlling HIV difficult is that it primarily attacks certain cells in the immune system.  That results in the disease manifesting in many, many different ways.  Basically, it opened the door to a host of opportunistic disorders.  It is impossible to know if a potential partner has HIV without resorting to a blood test.  The lack of ability to self-diagnose means that those populations with either no access, or no desire to access healthcare are at highest risk.

Desperately Seeking, Part III

Desperately Seeking..... Part I

You may have noticed that I failed to meet my goal of one-post-per-week.  There is a reason for that.

I have been grappling with how to handle this next topic.  I decided to treat it as fiction.  Yes.  That is right.  Fiction.

There comes a point where ideas, no matter how intriguing to the author, are too speculative to be treated as fact.

The other dimension is the blog format.  The blog format does not lend itself to long expositions.  Breaking "plot development" down into manageable pieces fragments the flow.  More to the point for this blog, the next two or three posts will seem VERY off-topic.

I beg your patience as I try my hand at crafting "fiction".

Desperately seeking anthrax.  Part I of ?

Guillermo ("Call me Bill") Peña was a graduate student in Biology at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.

He posed a dilemma.  More precisely, choosing a thesis for him was tying his major professor into knots.

Kindly stated, Bill was not the strongest student academically.  Lab work was not his strength.  His major professor briefly considered a "topic-counting" thesis.  That kind of thesis was typically assigned to part time, working students.  It involved performing a literature search and tallying "fer-it" and "against-it" papers.  It was an exercise in clerical work.

His professor rejected the topic-counting as a waste of Bill's talent.  While Bill struggled in the class room Bill was incredible out in the field.  He got along with everybody and he had a unique ability to think with both his hands and his brain.  Most important, he got stuff done.

Bill was from Del Rio, Texas, a seven hour drive from Wichita Falls.  Del Rio was on the Rio Grande River and near the western edge of the Texas Hill Country.  Both were which are biologically very interesting areas.

Due to financial considerations, it would be a kindness to find a topic that would allow Bill to operate from his parent's home.

The Topic

In the end, the professor decided to finesse the dilemma by giving Bill a monitoring project where failure was the null hypothesis.  That is, Bill was assigned the task of monitoring the west end of the Texas Hill Country for anthrax.

Monitoring anything in the Texas Hill Country is a huge challenge.  The topography is treacherous.  The ground cover is thorny brush.  And the people are the yin to Austin's cosmopolitan yang.

Picture from HERE

Finally, the violence of the drug trade flickers in and about all of the counties near the Rio Grande.  Like the Comanche of 1830s and 1840s, one never knows who might show up on your door step.  Strangers are viewed with the strongest of prejudice, regardless of how they dressed.  Loaded firearms are kept close to hand.

The anthrax monitoring project solved a couple of problems for the professor.  He did not expected Bill to not find any anthrax.  Failures to find it would confirm the existing belief.  That gave Bill the option to fall on his face and still produce a thesis that met the standards of Midwestern State University.

On the other hand, Bill had proven to be an innovative thinker.  The professor believed that anthrax might lay smoldering in the Texas Hill Country.  The professor was confident that Bill would find it if anybody could.

Channeling Mitchner

---37 pages of character development redacted for the sake of compactness---

Back to play action

Bill sat in the deer blind as the mid-morning heat rose.  His binoculars were hung on a nail beside the window.  He had video equipment already focused on the bait, just in case.  He was jamming to the tunes on his iPhone.  He had a jug of iced tea and his lunch in a cooler beside him.  He planned to stay all day.

Bill was watching a deer carcass approximately 50 yards away.  He had packed it in on the quad and placed it on the bald top of a gentle (for the area) limestone ridge.

He was waiting for vultures.

Vultures have astonishingly good eyesight.  They ride the thermals which develop as the heat of the day drives both the wind and temperature differences on the surface of the ground.

A vulture can lock his wings and ride a thermal with the energy expenditure that is the equivalent of a human taking a nap in a Laz-E-Boy recliner.  It is a very efficient way to find food.

Bill made a deal with the county highway crews.  He would pick up road kills for his project and they would not have to deal with them later.

Bill had picked up this deer on the way to his stake-out.  It was a fawn which made for easy handling.  He had selected the location for his stake out based on the friendly land owner (his Uncle Luis), the easy access and the fact there was already a deer blind in a convenient location.

His Uncle Luis had asked only one favor in return, that Bill shoot any coyotes or feral hogs that he saw.  Consequently, Bill's Savage .223 lay across his lap with the 3X9 scope dialed down to the lowest magnification.  Coyote hides were not worth a nickel this time of year and hogs were as skinny as rails but any carcasses would make fine addition to the buzzard bait pile.

Bill had put the deer out, on top of the ridge.  It would be like a drive-up window at a fast food restaurant to the vultures.  The carcass was as visible as glowing neon arches.  It was Easy in.  Easy out.

PVC Pipe

PVC pipe is also known as Redneck Tinkertoys.  (At least it is in Michigan.)

Picture from HERE

Bill had never really studied vultures before.  What he had seen from other birds, though, was that they often landed near food and then hopped over to it.  Perhaps it was because they wanted to inspect it before they committed themselves.

Bill was counting on vultures doing the same.

He had constructed a "fence" around the bait.  The fence was really a series of hurdles made of PVC pipe and fittings.  The hurdles were of various sizes.

Bill's plan was to find out the optimum height of hurdle.  Optimally, he wanted the vulture to perch on the top bar while eating but he would settle for having the birds briefly perch on the top bar before hopping onto the bait.

Old short stories

One of Bill's hidden vices was to read collections of short stories from the 1950s, the Golden Age of short stories.

A favorite author of his was Theodore Sturgeon.  Bill had gotten the idea for the data collection methodology from the last story in Sturgeon's book E Pluribus Unicorn.  The title of the story was A Way of Thinking

In that story, the villain's MO was the opposite of what most people would do.  Trying to take a propeller off of a shaft?  The villain would drive the shaft out of the propeller.  In a bar fight if a contestant threw a bottle at him (and the bottle flew through the window out into the street below), our villain would throw the contestant out the window after the bottle.

Bill decided it would be much, much easier to find anthrax if he could figure out a way to have the anthrax find him.

Enter vultures

Picture from HERE

There are thousands of vultures plying their trade in the Texas Hill Country.  The area has abundant deer, sheep and cattle.  They die for all the usual reasons.  Many of the carcasses are never found by the land owner.  None elude the vultures.

Bill figured that if there was any way to pull cultures from the beaks and/or feet of the area vultures.

The last piece had fallen into place a few days ago when his mom had yelled at him for leaving his dirty sweat socks on the floor.  He had asked how she knew they were his and she had pointed to the smudge around the ankle and said, "Your dad wears boots."

At that moment, the picture of the hurdle made of PVC pipe and sleeved with sweat socks had popped into his head.

Now, all he had to do was dial into the optimum height for the top bar.  Then he would mass produce the hurdles and set up his trap line.

This summer promised to be much easier than the other ones when he had been hoeing weeds and picking fruit down near Brownsville.

God Bless Education.

Desperately Seeking, Part II

New Species of Stone Oak found in Thailand

The following article was brought to my attention by Lucas Machias.  Thanks Lucas!

Illustrations/photos from HERE.  They may be expanded by clicking on them.

The following passages are excerpted from the Pensoft article found HERE.
An international team of scientists from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (China) and the Forest Herbarium (BKF - Thailand) discovered a new species of Stone Oak in the Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand...The wildlife sanctuary covers a region of low-lying forested mountains and is located in the middle of a fascinating transition zone that lies between the northern Indochinese and the southern Sundaland biogeographic regions.

...distribution limitation and rarity is not uncommon in tropical Oaks. Within this region alone, there are several species that are known only from one or two localities. Though not uncommon, such restricted ranges stress the possible delicate conservation status of new species and other flora and fauna present in the Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary. "The unique species composition, high diversity and relatively intact forest structure...
Currently, more than 300 species of Stone Oak have been described, occurring from eastern India to Japan and the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Snow continues to clog things up.  I hoped to have a spiffy picture of many bags of acorns stratifying.  Unfortunately, my source for acorns has been virtually shut down by snow.  Many of their acorns are stored in outbuildings.  Snow drifted the buildings in.

They also have the issue receiving supplies of some of the species.  Q. texana/nuttallii drops its acorns late in the year.  Their most northern sources for Q. nuttalli acorns had not been out collecting before the rare, for them, snow storms covered up the ground.

So I don't have very many acorns stratifying....yet. Hope springs eternal. 

Q. robur bottom left, Q. phellos top left, Northern Pecan top right.

I have a great wife.  Acorns stratifying in the pantry.  Scionwood in the refrigerator.

Oak Trees around the Homestead

I have several trees around the homestead that are notoriously short lived.  It is time to start planting their replacements so I can have a smooth succession of shade.

My current plan is to move a 4' tall Burr Oak (Q. macrocarpa) from the garden to the north side of my house.  The seed for this Burr Oak came from a NAFEX member, Lucky Pittman, several years ago.  The parent tree was growing beside the First Baptist Church parking lot in Hopkinsville, Ky.  It has had no problems enduring Michigan winters. 

I also plan to move an 8' Swamp White Oak (Q. bicolor) to the south side of my house. 

I am pondering what to graft over them.  My current inclination is to graft scionwood from the McBaine Burr Oak on the Burr Oak on the north side and a Q. x byarsii (Q. macrocarpa X michauxii) on the south side of my house. 

That would mean my house was bracketed by Q. bicolor to the west, Q. macrocarpa to the north, Q. muehlenbergii to the east and Q. x byarsii to the south.

Further afield

Out back I have many seedling oaks of no distinguished parentage.  A few show slightly better form than the others.  My plan is to practice my grafting on some of them as well.  That is where any extra McBaine scionwood will go. 

Typical branching habit of Q. robur

Seedling of Q. robur with semi-fastigiate form.

Q. robur, in particular, seems to tend toward narrow crotch angles.  I suspect that it is an unintended legacy of early importation/selection for fastigiate forms.

Q. robur has its flaws (crotch angles, powdery mildew, susceptibility to borers) but it it grows fast and produced huge amounts of acorns.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Oak Wilt

Excerpted from Oak Wilt Home Page by David Roberts, Ph.D:

Pruning:  DO NOT PRUNE during the warm season; trimming is a major cause of oak wilt infections in Michigan today. If oaks need to be pruned, the dormant period is best - November through February. If storm damage occurs during the warm season, clean-prune the branch 1-2 feet below any visible injury and seal with a pruning paint. Repair of storm damage should occur as quickly as possible-optimally within hours or within a couple of days of the damage. 

Storm damage which has occurred during the dormant (winter) months is not of particular concern for oak wilt. Nevertheless, winter storm damage should be repaired during the winter months and not during the warm season. It is not advised to use pruning paints during winter storm repair. 

Except for emergency situations, cessation of pruning during the warm season, is probably our most effective tool for preventing oak wilt at this time. Compared to Dutch Elm Disease, in which elm bark beetles can easily transmit the fungus from diseased trees to healthy trees, the oak wilt insect vector is inefficient at transmitting the oak wilt fungus when no wounds on oaks are present.

Additionally, have enough space between oak trees, especially those in the Red Oak family, so that root grafts are unlikely will limit the speed of Oak Wilt spreading through a planting.

Oak in the Red Oak family typically die within one season.  Oaks in the White Oak family die more slowly...perhaps five years.  Oak in the Live Oak family are intermediate in resistance.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pure Gas

If you read the instruction manual that comes with your chainsaw, you will probably see a note buried in the fine print, "Use Gasoline Only". 

Many plastic parts swell up when exposed to the ethanol in common gasoline blends.

I have a Poulan and the gas cap becomes a stinker to get off and screw back on.  Replacement caps are available from here.  I have a spare set and swap them back and forth.  One set is on the chainsaw while the other set is "on the wagon drying out."

Another solution is to find a station that sells "Pure" gasoline.

====> Link to find Pure Gasoline <=====

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Edible Fungi Associated with Oaks

Gilled Bolete.  All pictures from Wikipedia
Note:  Edibility is not cast-iron solid.  Follow a good guide to mushroom identification and guidelines regarding starting with small samples first.  Better yet, hook up with a knowledgeable local person.  Mushrooms show local variation and don't always look like the picture in the guide book.

The species listed are "ectomycorrhizal".  That is, they not parasitic but sheath the roots with a felt-like covering that can help protect against toxins and can help in accessing nutrients.  Most information was gleaned from HERE.

Inoculating with mycorrhiza has not been conclusively demonstrated to help trees grow.  Most soils have enough native fungi to support tree growth.  Most soils have sufficient, available nutrients that trees are not on the raggedy edge of survival.  The potential of these fungi is the production of additional, gourmet foods from your trees.

Boletus edulis (King Bolete)

Boletus pulverulentus (Inkstain Bolete)

Boletus rubellus (Ruby Bolete)

Craterellus cornucopioides (Black Trumpet)

Gyroporus castaneus (Chestnut Bolete)

Heimioporus betula (Shaggy-Stalked Bolete)

Hygrophorus russula (Pinkmottle woodwax)

Indigo Milkcap
Lactarius indigo (Indigo Milkcap)

Leccinum aurantiacum (Orange Oak Bolete)

Phylloporus rhodoxanthus (Gilled Bolete)

Russula vesca (Bare-Toothed Brittlegill)

Russula virescens (Green-Cracked Brittlegill)

Strobilomyces strobilaceus (Old-Man-of-the-Woods)

Tricholoma magnivelare (American Matsutake)

Tuber melanosporum (Black Truffle)

Tylopilus alboater (Black Velvet Bolete)  

Honorable mention:  Not ectomycorrhizal but good use for stumps and waste oak wood

Grifola frondosa (Hen-of-the-woods)

Lentinula edodes (Shitake)

Heimioporus erinaceus (Lions Mane)

I wish I could give you a bulletproof way of inoculating your trees with these fungi.

The best plan, to date, is to collect soil and decomposed leaf litter from spots where these species are found and to mix it with the material I am stratifying my acorns in.  My current problem is that I cannot find the phone numbers of my mushroom fanatics and the ground is frozen.

I want any feedback if you guys/gals have ideas!  Also, I would also love a source of inoculum for any of the species listed above.