Friday, April 30, 2021

5 Tree Cities of the World

A spinning half-globe topped with grass and a tree.

It’s Arbor Day – a chance to appreciate, tend to, and perhaps save, the trees around us. Protecting our tree canopy is an essential component in the fight against climate change, so every day should be Arbor Day. And these efforts need to be global. It is with this mind-set that the Arbor Day Foundation began Tree Cities of the World in 2019. This a program that recognizes cities around the world that have taken exceptional care of their urban forests and have committed to their sustainability. In order to receive recognition, a city (or town) must meet five standards: They must establish responsibility on a municipal level; they must have a law or policy that mandates tree management; they must keep an accurate assessment of the trees they have; they must have dedicated funds for all this; and they must celebrate their achievements annually to keep awareness and enthusiasm strong. To this date, 120 cities have been recognized, with over 2,000,000 trees planted. This has been made possible by more than 618,000 volunteer hours in all these cities. In this blog, I’d like to take you around the world and introduce you to some of these places.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

A road in Buenos Aires, Argentina covered in purple-blooming jacaranda trees.

Buenos Aires (BA), the capital of Argentina and its largest city, can be found in the southeastern part of South America spread out along the banks of the Rio de la Plata. BA is well known among dendrophiles as a city with an abundance of gorgeous greenery. Here is a tree guide that walks you through some its most stellar species. One tree that’s mentioned in the guide and is strongly associated with BA is the jacaranda. They are all over the city and bloom magnificently in November (their springtime). Here is a collection of some incredible images of them. BA is also an artsy city, and the love of art and the love of trees combine in this statue – the mythical strongest man is holding up the oldest tree in BA. 

Teo women climbing amongst the massive, twisty trunk of a tree.
Hyderabad, India

This busy metropolis in south central India is the only city on the subcontinent to be recognized. As climate changes have brought more extreme monsoons (and weather in general), Hyderabad has had to deal with huge numbers of trees falling. The work of activists to save their trees has led to this recognition, of which they are understandably proud. Part of their tree-saving efforts have been to discourage the planting of non-native, flashy species and encourage the hardier native varieties. Trees have a long history of being valued in India; they have deep religious, historic, and cultural value. Case in point: Hyderabad is home to a 400-year-old Baobab tree, given to the ruler Quli Qutub Shah by a merchant from Madagascar. It is known as Hathyan ka Darakht.

Kampala, Uganda

A wooden walkway in a Kampala park, covered in moss, ferns, and trees.
You’ll find Kampala in east-central Africa, on the shore of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest fresh-water lake. The only African city recognized, Kampala may seem like an unlikely candidate given the fertile forests in this country. But they have, unfortunately, been recovering from and dealing with ongoing civil conflicts for some time. These conflicts have led to famers and other stewards of the land to be displaced and rampant habitat destruction. In response, Uganda has created programs to re-train people and re-forest the environment, such as Trees for the Future and welcomed help from afar, such as this program backed by the Welsh government. For its own small bit of Uganda, Kampala has made a commitment to preserve and protect its urban canopy and its lush parks showcase their efforts.

Snow and frost-covered trees in a park opposite a metal railing. Photo by Andrey May on Pixabay.
 Krasnoyarsk, Russia

Krasnoyarsk is the third largest city in Siberia and sits in the epicenter of Eurasia. At first glance, this seems like another unlikely tree-saving place since Russia is home to the most trees on the planet. But Russia has a long history of planting trees for conservation and remediation purposes. The Soviet added green spaces to their planned cities and trees were even planted as part of the Chernobyl cleanup. So, it’s actually surprising that this is the only recognized city in Russia. The citizens of Krasnoyarsk know that their spectacular natural treasures are what makes them special, and they are fighting to preserve them. By all accounts their summers are lovely, but Siberia is famous for its winters. To see the beauty of  Krasnoyarsk at -30°C (-22°F), check out this video.

Thousands of orange and yellow monarchs roosting on a tall oyamel fir tree.
Morelia, Mexico

This beautiful and historic city in western Mexico is the capital of the state of Michoacán. It is home to a lush natural environment, including the UNESCO Monarch Butterfly Bioshpere Reserve. This is where monarchs end their southern migration, and between October and March millions of these beauties land here. Unfortunately, this area is also home to violent drug cartels, illegal logging, and general lawlessness in the forests. Nevertheless, there are many brave conservationists who staunchly defend their natural resources, sometimes to the death. The situation is dire there and could conceivably end the monarchs for good. All of this makes it so much more commendable that Morelia has vowed to protect their precious trees. 

An orange tree beside a lake with green trees on the opposite shore.
Wellington, New Zealand

On the southside of the North Island of New Zealand you’ll find their capital, Wellington. Surrounded by natural beauty, this charming city is continually being placed at the top of "most livable" cities lists. It is, like New Zealand in general, dedicated to the care and preservation of its natural resources, which includes its urban trees. Back in 1997, the citizens of Wellington set a goal to plant 2 million trees, and they’re getting close. It’s no wonder that the Arbor Day Foundation recognized them the first year they started the Trees of the World program.

A gif of comedian Jimmy Fallon hugging a tree
So, go out there and appreciate a tree today everyone!     
Submitted by Pam


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Earth Day 2021

The Earth with a pale hand holding it in its palm. Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash.

It’s been one trip around the sun and we find ourselves approaching another Earth Day under the influence of Covid-19. But at this point, things look a lot better than they did last year at this time. No matter how one feels about the vaccine and the virus-mitigation efforts that have been taken, there has inarguably been some amazing science done this year to get us to where we are now. Being cautiously optimistic seems way more reasonable now then it did in 2020.

A Monarch butterfly hanging off a yellow flower. Monarchs need our help. Photo by Marc Meyer on Unsplash.
Unfortunately, one thing that has not changed is the dire straits that many non-profits still find themselves in. The economic recovery that is on the horizon for some organizations is some distance away for those that depend on donations. Most people have to feel financially secure before they are comfortable sharing what they have. Knowing this, on Earth Day 2021 we are donating a portion of our proceeds to two exceptional non-profits. We hope that you will choose that day to shop on our site and that you may be inspired to support them yourself. Or, simply pass along the word, so that we can get as many people as possible to see what these people are doing for our community and beyond.  
An adult gray wolf with puppy. Help save America's wolves. Photo by ML on Unsplash.
Last year we sponsored the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a Tucson-based environmental activism group and we are such fans of what they do that we are sponsoring them again this year. These people don’t just live environmentally conscious lifestyles, they are fighting for our natural world in the trenches of courtrooms, boardrooms, and legislatures. Whether it is protecting a small endangered mammal of the Southwest, safeguarding tribal and public lands, addressing climate change, or conserving ocean waters, these dedicated people are indefatigable in their efforts. And while it may seem like they have too many irons in the fire, they know how to keep the forge running and every iron is being handled optimally. CBD is also very transparent as to where they are in every project, and what their next steps will be. I encourage everyone to go to their website and see for themselves all the incredible work they’re doing. If you are unable to support them financially, there are petitions to sign and information on other ways you can help. After all, they are working for all of us by working to protect all life on Earth.  

Red, ripe pomegranates amongst green branches. Desert Survivors has heirloom pomegranate trees.
Our other chosen non-profit is Desert Survivors,  which is celebrating its 40th anniversary of respected service to our community this year. Desert Survivors combines a love for desert plants (and their conservation and protection) with an employment program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Both are combined into a retail enterprise that provides reasonably-priced local plants and trees that are not just beautiful but are kind to our harsh-yet-delicate ecosystem. They even have a little shop on the Chuck Huckleberry Loop along the Santa Cruz River that offers drinks, snacks, and other items that passing bicyclists and walkers may enjoy (the Loop, by the way, was recently named the best recreational trail in the US by USA Today). I have a beloved family member with developmental disabilities, so I am always deeply touched and grateful for those people who dedicate themselves to helping all members of society live their lives with dignity and purpose. So, whether you feel inspired by what they do for others, or you are a local plant enthusiast or heirloom tree lover, I hope you will check them out (please go to their website for any Covid restrictions that may be in effect). They are located where Tucson’s earliest inhabitants lived, at the base of Sentinel Peak (“A” Mountain). Ditch the big box stores and buy local plants from local people. A portion of our proceeds on Thursday, April 22nd will go to Desert Survivors, so shop with us on that day and help them out. Or, you can go to them at any time to support them.

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, AZ. Photo by James Lee on Unsplash.
This Earth Day, I hope we all take a moment to step outside and look around in appreciation of the planet we live on.                                                                                                                                                                           
 Happy Earth Day!
Submitted by Pam.

An alien looking out of a spaceship. A reflection of Earth can be seen in its eyes.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

What’s This Bug? The Wooly Aphid.

Closeup of a Wooly Aphid
If you see drifting bits of white fuzz in your garden, you might not pay much attention to them, or you might discount them as pollen, lint, or even little fairies. But you may want to pay a little closer attention because they could be Wooly Aphids (Mult spp) hidden as innocuous debris.

The distinctive white fuzziness of these insects isn’t hair or fur – it’s the result of waxy strands that they secrete that create the wooly effect. It is believed that this wool is meant to protect them and deter predators. Underneath all that adornment they are small (about ¼” diameter), pale green to purplish-brown aphids. When they cluster together, they look more like a fungal growth than individual insects. If you see a white mass and are unsure of what it is, give the area a little shake – if it’s aphids, they’ll move. In fact, there is one species that does a dance when they feel threatened; they raise their rear ends and wiggle them. See them do their thing in this video, it’s pretty entertaining.

Two fluffy white Wolly Aphids hanging off a stem.

Wooly Aphids, like all aphids, are one of the first insects to get moving in earnest in the spring. And,
like virtually every other creature in spring, they have a specific reproductive agenda at hand. Wooly aphids use two host trees/plants in their life cycle. They choose one to overwinter and lay eggs in, but when spring comes they move to another to establish a breeding colony. The nymphs that appear in spring are crawlers, but by late spring they will be a full-blown white fuzzy mass on spurs and branches. Throughout the summer, subsequent generations take flight to find their own spots and, as winter approaches, all the Wooly Aphids go in search of their winter homes. This is often when people first notice them.

A dense pile of Wooly Beech Aphids on a branch.
Many people consider Wooly Aphids to be less of a threat to crops than other types of aphids. There are two reasons for this: Their numbers are generally not large enough to cause extensive crop damage and many of their species are adapted to live off of trees. Wooly Aphids are not considered tree-killers, and rarely even harm a tree’s overall health. They do, however, cause unsightly leaf curling and galls If you’re worried about your trees, this article has some great pictures that show what to look for.

The biggest concern in regards to Wooly Aphids is Sooty Mold. This particular plant mold is caused by an accumulation of honeydew, the sticky-sweet excrement of aphids. When aphids gather in large numbers, the honeydew can really build up creating the perfect growing environment for mold. Sooty Mold seldom kills a plant outright, but it can weaken it to the point where the insects causing the honeydew can do real damage. And then there is the ant angle – where there is honeydew there will be ants. They love the stuff and will protect and farm the aphids to get their honeydew (here is a cool super-closeup
Close-up of dark-purplish Sooty Mold nearly covering a green leaf.
video that shows them milking the aphids). Ants are notorious vectors for some serious plant diseases, so their presence on any plant or tree is definitely undesirable. Too much honeydew is not only a problem for plants, it can drip onto surfaces and is a real pain to get off cars.

If you are not charmed by the fluff-balls that are Wooly Aphids, ARBICO Organic has a multitude of weapons you can deploy against them. We have everything from insects that prey on aphids, to sticky traps, to a large variety of organic and natural insecticides. Our Aphid Control page is the best first stop on your search for a solution to your aphid problem.

Cartoon ants emerging from a hole.

Take Care.

Submitted by Pam


Thursday, April 1, 2021

A Tale of Two Easter Flowers

Easter lilies with pink and purple tulips in a clear glass vase on a grey table with white books in the background.
When we think of Easter, there are many images that come to mind: religious symbols, bunnies, baskets, and eggs. But there are also flowers – lots and lots of flowers (it’s spring after all). Two of the most iconic and beautiful are the Easter Lily and the tulip. At first glance, it may not seem that these two flowers are alike at all, but they have some surprising commonalities. These include their long international backstories that lead to the Pacific Northwest.

Lilies have been a symbol of purity, hope, and rebirth as far back as ancient Greece. With the rise of Christianity, this flower became associated with the Virgin Mary. One can find depictions of the lily in European religious art dating back at least to the 14th century (more on that here). Over time, the connotation of rebirth made these flowers an obvious choice for Easter celebrations, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ. 

A 1521 painting showing Mary and the baby Jesus in the middle. In the background, left and right are two men. The man on the right is presenting them with a lilies on a stalk.
The lilies that have been so greatly admired for centuries in Europe are not the lilies that most Americans are familiar with. Europe has lilies that are native there, but the Easter Lily that we know is actually native to Japan. In the mid-19th century, Japanese bulbs were introduced to Bermuda and they did extremely well. In no time, Bermuda was providing 90% of these flowers to the US. Unfortunately, a virus struck in 1899 that decimated the crop (more here). After that, Japan was the only source for the lilies - until World War II changed everything.  Luckily, a WWI soldier, on his way home to Oregon from Japan in 1918, had smuggled some Easter Lily bulbs into the country to share with family and friends. That little bit of federal lawbreaking literally provided the seed for the Easter Lily economy in the Pacific Northwest today. So, after bouncing from Japan to Bermuda and back to Japan; 99% of the Easter Lily bulbs sold in North America are now produced by four family farms in Smith River, CA. Quite a journey for a flower. 

Eater lilies on a white background.
Tulips may not carry the religious symbolism that lilies do, but they have long been a cheerful harbinger of spring. One of the first flowers to bloom in springtime, these colorful beauties are always a welcome sight. Easter just wouldn’t be the same without the sight of tulips. People commonly gift tulips at this time of year, and apparently, their different colors carry meanings to recipients much like roses do. I know I’d be happy with any color.

Multicolored tulips for sale in Ukraine. Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash.
Tulips are native to Central Asia, but we can thank the flower-lovers of the Ottoman Empire (based in modern-day Turkey)for introducing them to Europeans. The Ottomans prized these flowers and cultivated them in many colors and patterns. In the 17th century, Dutch tradesmen brought these beauties home. A quick side note: An important reason that lilies and tulips both traveled such great distances is their bulbs; unlike other types of flowers, bulbs take years to mature and can be transported in relative safety during this period.

Once tulips arrived in the Netherlands, they quickly became an obsession for many. Tulip Mania (1634-1637) was the height of this obsession, when tulips became the world’s most expensive flower and bulbs were sold that cost more than mansions. While this phenomenon was short-lived, the cultural and economic circumstances are still being studied. Luckily for all of us who appreciate their beauty, the bust of Tulip Mania did not mean the end of tulips in the Netherlands. To this day, the Dutch remain the world’s largest commercial producer; they export about 3 billion yearly. They even have a National Tulip Day in January (more on that, and other cool festivals, here).

A painting by Henrik Gerritz Pot, 1640, called Flora's Wagon of Fools. It shows people on a wagon with a sail. Many of them are dressed silly and are carrying tulips.
Tulips may be a national treasure in the Netherlands, but they have found a second home in Washington State. North of Seattle in the Skagit Valley, tulips have grown into a major industry that started with one man’s whim. George Gibbs, an English immigrant, was farming in the area in the 1890s when he randomly planted a few bulbs on his property. He dug them up a couple of years later and excitedly discovered that they had multiplied. With this new-found knowledge that the climate in Washington was perfect for tulip cultivation, he wrote to some Dutch growers for advice. Initially, they didn’t want to share their secrets, so he forged on without them. Later, though, he shipped some bulbs to them and they were so intrigued and impressed that they made the long trip to see his operation. From this one man’s dream, a world of tulips grew. Today, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival attracts thousands every year from all over the world. If you’re in the area, the festivities start today and go through the end of April. 

Tulips in a field with structures in the background. Tulip Festival by Kelsey Dody on Unsplash.

While researching this blog, I was surprised to discover that both the Easter Lily and the tulip are edible. At least technically edible, most people do not claim they’re especially tasty. If you are interested in ingesting some beauty check out this article on eating tulips, which has an intense passage from a Dutch person who ate tulips when other food sources dried up during WWII. As far as Easter Lily food goes, this blogger is a real fan. 

                             White bunnies popping up in a field of tulips.

Take Care. Submitted by Pam

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