By Master Gardener Volunteer Lesley Arrandale
Some years ago I found a small tree growing in my yard. Larry Figart, our Extension Urban Forester, identified it as a southern hackberry or sugarberry (Celtis laevigata). I dutifully read about it and was pleased that it had found a home here. Since it produces small berries, clearly a bird had deposited the seed, and a self-sown seed of anything that survives without my intervention ultimately does well.
The tree grew. Birds found insects in the canopy, hummingbirds used the thin, sometimes sparsely foliated twigs as resting places, butterflies came and went, and squirrels made it their playground. Current inhabitants include lady beetles. I enjoyed seeing the knobbly bark develop and its weeping form is very pleasing to the eye. But all things must change. Although I knew, intellectually, that it could become a large tree (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/ST/ST13800.pdf), I couldn’t visualize the impact it would have in my relatively small yard. It has grown to take up about a quarter of the air space and has done that in a mere 10 – 15 years. It’s just in the wrong place.
According to Terra Freeman, Horticultural Extension Agent in St. Johns County:
This fast grower ultimately reaches 50 to 80 feet tall by 40 to 50 feet wide and forms a rounded to vase-shaped crown. Hackberry’s greatest attribute lies in its wildlife value, serving as a larval host plant for Question Mark, Mourning Cloak, and American Snout butterflies. The sweet fruits are consumed by many birds, including cedar waxwings, woodpeckers, pheasants and quail.
So — how could I miss that!? My research merits a failing grade, but I bring up my lack of judgement to illustrate how we can really impact our immediate environment by choosing the wrong tree. I can’t stress this enough. The wildlife Terra mentions is soon to be deprived of their home and food source. (No, I don’t see pheasants in my neighborhood, although years ago I was astonished to see a few quail!)
A living tree will go. To compensate, in a small way, I’m waiting for the leaves to fall. They will make a valuable soil amendment, spread around as mulch. Maybe there will be some insects that survive among the leaves. I’ll keep as much of the rest of the tree as is reasonable in a small yard. I’ll make some brush piles from branches and twigs, hoping that any insects hunkered down in bark crevices will have a chance at survival. Larger branches placed in out of the way places in the yard will make good habitat for other wildlife. Fungi and wood-boring insects will help the wood to decompose, adding nutrients back into the soil. Lizards, snakes, and small mammals might use the brush piles as shelter. I already know there are legless lizards, garter snakes, and black racers here. (Skinks have been absent for quite a while — probably because of the local feral cats — which is disappointing. Maybe they’ll return, now that we’ve installed some fencing to thwart those darn cats.)
If I leave the …….