It’s election season – but that’s not why I’m doing a blog on “graft and corruption.” Instead, let me back up and explain that today I gave a seminar on diagnosing urban tree death. One of my points to the group was the importance of knowing the history of a site – what species were selected, how trees were planted, whether there had been any major construction activity, etc. I thought I’d continue the importance of site history into today’s posting.
Here’s a photo of a street tree – a Prunus spp. (Disclaimer: I am not endorsing a candidate for Mayor of Seattle despite the appearance of a campaign sign in the photo.) It’s a healthy enough specimen, though possibly a bit large for this narrow planting strip:
Several years ago you would have seen a different tree in this same spot:
Now did this weeping cultivar somehow transform into an upright form? Let’s look at this second photo in its entirety:
This reminds me of my favorite childhood book on Greek mythology, which had a great drawing of Athena springing from the head of her father, Zeus. Yes indeed, we are seeing the scion of a grafted tree lose the battle to the rootstock. Rootstocks, by their very nature, are vigorous. If we revisit the first photograph again, this time a little closer, we can see all that remains of the poor scion:
Lesson: if you are using a grafted tree in the landscape, you need to keep the rootstock under control. Grafted trees are probably not good choices for low-maintenance landscapes.