Posted: Mon Apr 17, 2017 8:16 pm
by gnmcmartin
Bob:

Just a couple of examples I can find immediately: Knowing Your trees, 1964 edition, says this: "Norway spruce usually begins to deteriorate before reaching 60 feet, and seldom lives more than 100 years." And this from The guide to Garden Trees and Shrubs, by Norman Taylor: "A ubiquitous second rate evergreen, but not long lived, and becoming straggly with age." The forester I talked to about HWA said the same kinds of things you are hearing up in MA--that the tree is ugly, are not long lived with stands very early becoming overmature, and are best removed ASAP.

Of course, some of the prejudice may come from those who object to "exotic" species being grown in the US. Other people have different "aesthetic" preferences. One person I talked to--not a tree aficionado, as such--said "I don't like trees with space between the branches."

Anyway, Norway spruce is not an especially long-lived tree, with a Maximum, in a few cases, of something like 400 years, but reliably 200 plus. It also CAN become "straggly" in appearance when old when not growing on an appropriate soil. In that regard, although very adaptable generally, it is does not do well in soils low in Magnesium content. Also, some strains are less appropriate than others for the climates where they are planted.

So, I won't say that there has been no basis at all for the negative "press" that NS has received. But, a big problem is that a tree's "reputation," and NS has long had a bad one in some quarters, influences how one sees a tree. Michael Dirr wrote his description of NS as he did originally, even though he spent a lot of time at Michigan State University, where the campus is full of wonderful specimens, which he readily admitted in our conversation. For a long time, I myself was influenced by what I had read. Of course, another factor, perhaps in part motivating Dirr's original account in his book, is a preference for other trees and other spruces.

When I bought the large second parcel of my timberland up in the MD mountains, there was an extensive planting of NS. My thought was to have them removed. Then one day as I was driving up into PA to visit some antique stores with my wife, I decided to stop and walk down into the extensive older NS plantation along Route 40 west of Keyser's ridge. I did this because of my interest in trees/forests generally, not because of any expectations. My eyes suddenly opened--wow! I was reminded, at least a bit, of the wonderful forests in the Pacific NW.

We then proceeded up to Addison PA and stopped at the Augustine craft shop. Right there were some large old NS trees--really, really nice ones. I said to myself, "what??" I made a point of talking to the owner, and asked about the trees. I can't now remember exactly how old he said they were, but they were very old--I think he said 175 years or something. If they are still there, add 25 years now.

Well, my eyes were opened. As soon as I got back from GC and had time, I was on the phone, "big time." I think I talked to everyone in the US who had any interest or knowledge of NS, or I really tried to, with each person leading me to one or two more. I spent hours and hours and hours. One of the people I found was Jim Kokenderfer at the USFS experiment/research station in Parson's WV. He loved NS, and led me to his favorite stands in WV, including the one near Glady, and so it went, and I became a big NS enthusiast.

And then I found John Genys who I mentioned earlier, and I worked to help him get seed from various provenances for his trial. I collected from all the stands I knew of, and solicited seed samples from several seed suppliers.

Of course, the "Nexus" of NS love was at SUNY Syracuse, with Ed White leading, with others, including Charles Maynard, in the supporting cast. Charles Maynard was an important part of the team that did the gene transfer to create a blight-resistant, or "immune" stain of American chestnut. Charles Maynard has established at least one provenance trail of NS, and is overseeing two others established years earlier.

I also talked to people who knew something about the history of NS planting in "the New World," and "cultural" aspects, such as the tradition of planting "bride and groom" trees, etc. And, as a part of all this, I found and had measured--at the time--the national champion NS on the campus of Hamilton College. My name never got associated with that tree, because someone else had seen it and mentioned it to AF without my knowledge. But no one ever followed up until I arranged for the official measurement.

But, In spite of my current enthusiasm for this species, I must admit, I was blinded to NS's virtues for a long time, so I am not quick to rant against those still similarly blinded.

--Gaines