City Trees

September/October 2020

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While Ithaca's swamp chestnut oaks now stand at a respectable 20 feet (6.1 m) tall, they can grow quite large. The most celebrated is a 140 by 115 foot (43 by 35 m) national champion in Big Oak State Park in Missouri. Professor Nina Bassuk, program leader of the Urban Horticulture Institute at Cornell University, has moni- tored these michauxii since they were planted, and is a fan. "Because it is in the white oak family, it's not as susceptible to oak wilt." She adds, "The form is great. It grows pretty well —it's a big tree. It tolerates wet times and dry times, is often drought tolerant, though you have to plant it in soil that's not overly alkaline." Despite its Southern U.S. origins, climate change has allowed the swamp chestnut oak a toehold in the micro- climates of northern cities. The tree does need care. "With hindsight," says Hillman, "I would have looked for sites with more moisture and lower pH. I think that would have alleviated the chlorosis we sometimes see now." He would recommend Q. michauxii for moister sites with more soil, rather than relatively narrow tree lawns. "This is a stately tree deserving of greater con- sideration in contemporary landscapes," states Michael Dirr in his Manual of Woody Plants. "Why is this tree not more common in gardens?" Professor Bassuk concurs: "It should be planted more," she says. Foliage of swamp chestnut oak. The author in Ithaca, NY with a young Quercus michauxii showing its signature rounded form. This illustration of a swamp chestnut oak comes from Paul Nelson, courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation. 40 CityTREES

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