02 November 2011

In which I demonstrate that I cannot be trusted with endangered species

This little sapling is my contribution to saving Butternut trees from extinction.  Butternut trees are an endangered species in Ontario because of butternut canker disease, which is affecting Butternuts across their range. Seed is being collected from apparently resistant Butternut individuals and grown out to seedlings for distribution to volunteer landowners. One rainy Saturday this spring I was given 10 little trees to plant by the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority Butternut Recovery Program. Seven months later, six of them are still alive, and Tree 6 here is the healthiest of the bunch.

With the best of intentions, I made a huge mistake when I planted them. I thought the soil I was planting them into was likely rather lean, so to give them a little boost, I thought I would add some of my homemade organic fertilizer to the planting hole. If you have read Steve Solomon's Gardening When it Counts, you will know about the fertilizer formula. My version has soybean meal, bone meal and kelp meal in addition to the other ingredients and you may be able to see where this is going, but I didn't.

When I went for my walk the next day, I was surprised to see the first of my new plantings completely uprooted and lying some distance from where I'd left it, with a large hole in its place. I was horrified to find that 5 out of 10 of the trees had been similarly beset. I replanted the trees and held my breath for the next few days when I checked on them. I never found any clues as to the identity of the vandal, but I suspect he was a creature with a sensitive nose and a discerning palate.

I was blaming the early mistreatment of these seedlings for the high mortality rate, but now that I've actually done the math - 2 of the dug up trees and 2 of the unmolested trees died, it appears their survival was unaffected by their youthful adventure. So there is no moral to this story after all, except that it will be a lot easier on your nerves if you don't entice wild critters to dig for goodies underneath your newly planted endangered trees.

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