Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Definitive Proof

I have been a regular visitor to this arboretum for (I'm sorry to date myself by saying), about 30 years. This land and the neighboring property were owned by two landscape architects around the turn of the (last) century, and when they died, they bequeathed these estates, Willowwood and the adjacent Bamboo Brook, to the county as parks. While they lived there, the formal gardens were installed with stone walls, walks, delightful bridges and stepped ponds, statuary and gates and trellises. Many, many exotic and indigenous trees and shrubs were planted throughout the surrounding acres. I have spent countless happy hours wandering the trails, alone, or with children and friends, often picnicking, and always taking home inspiration for my own gardens. There is such variety that from week to week from late winter to fall it was possible to continuously see new blossoms, hitherto never encountered elsewhere. I have been truly fortunate to live so close to this horticultural treasure.

When I first discovered these retreats they had been practically forgotten, and neglected. Hardly any visitors were to be seen there, and it was generally deserted. More recently, various individuals and groups have undertaken refurbishment and there are more people although, still, it is very peaceful. Americans seem to prefer amusement parks, boardwalks and movies to communing with nature. Or even worse, motorcycles and powerboats.

Here are some of the flowers from the ever-changing panoply, and remember a click on a photo will miraculously enlarge the detail:

These asclepias are wild in the surrounding meadows, and they attract butterflies.

Once, youngest daughter found several monarch chrysalides and brought them home to hatch. When they emerge they can't fly right away, so they clung to her dress.

Here are some views of this little corner of paradise.

One of the most appealing aspects of the house was its boxwood hedges, which are now severely distressed.

This beautiful stone barn is covered in ivy that was hard hit this past winter.

It is frequently frustrating to me that the vast majority of people are oblivious to the climate change occurring around them, never mind the awful consequences that will result. Significant Other, who must regularly listen to me bemoan this state of affairs, is of the opinion that very few will make the connection between climate change and tree demise as long as there is one shriveled, yellowed, pockmarked, pathetic leaf dangling limply on a branch.

In stubborn defiance of this prediction that dooms us to at least another year or perhaps two before people wake up to their unimaginable waste, over-consumption, pollution, and outrageously profligate baby-making, I decided to go to my nearest local arboretum, for irrefutable evidence.

Of course it was readily obtainable, but will anybody look, or care? Don't answer that!

What follows for the most part, are pictures of a tree from a distance, which may to the uninitiated look fine because there are still leaves attached to branches, immediately preceding a view of what those leaves actually look like, close up. But first here are two willows, the park's namesake.

One of the earliest pleasures in the season are the witchhazels, which don't have a showy bloom but do possess a wonderful light scent.

The leaves are blighted.

The bark is covered with fungus.

Another species of renown at this park are the many varieties of lilac. Every spring the Board of Trustees hosts a "Lilac Party" to raise funds. The lilacs are especially susceptible to the extremes of climate change. This lilac of the olive family is labled as a New Jersey Champion tree.

The leaves of this Persian Ironwood are completely yellowed.

This is a Wild Service Tree

Flowering Dogwood, like the lilacs, are in peril.

Another NJ Champion tree, this magnificent dawn redwood has a thinning crown. My children used to love climbing over the enormous rounded "knuckles" of its roots.

This is a Hedge Maple.

Here is a giant hickory losing its leaves.

A yellow lily, for relief!

A crepe myrtle.

A common lilac.

This is a China Fir - deciduous and coniferous trees alike are both victims of climate change.

A Chinese Elm.

A variety of crabapple.

This tree is called a Bird Cherry.

An Allegheny Plum.

These flowers are blooming next to a Scotch Laburnum bush whose leaves are yellow.

For the most part I have pictures of the Latin name if anyone is interested.

The label on this conifer was illegible, but it is an excellent example of a formerly beautifully proportioned specimen, that is now shrinking.

This is the view from the inside looking out, where the number of bare branches is clearly visible.

This is an example of oozing sap, which I have observed in deciduous trees this past year as well. I can't say for sure but it wouldn't surprise me if it isn't because it isn't cold enough for trees to go dormant in winter, and so the occasional dip into the teens freezes the running sap, which then bursts through the park and oozes out in copious amounts.

This bunny thought I was crazy.

So is this variety of species and age enough to convince any doubters that the trees are uniformly in decline with very little time left before they simply add fuel to wildfires?

Here is a story which should inspire everyone to stop using plastic unless absolutely necessary:

copy this link for a video on the topic:


  1. Try as I might, I just cannot ascribe the stresses to trees you document as caused by climate change. I see the effects of age, insects, desease and pollution. Can you cite anyone other than yourself concerning particular problems in your area?

  2. Hi Paul Kelly, thank you for your question. I am posting my reply in two parts because it is to long for my blogspot comments to allow.

    First, I have not ruled out that it may be pollution, or acid rain, and there are certainly insects and diseases. Age as a factor, not so much, because healthy trees (depending on species) can live for several hundred years. Plus, young wild saplings and recently planted landscape trees are dying at the same rate as mid-range and very ancient trees, and exhibit the same qualities of drought.

    I tend to think the diseases and insects are for the most part secondary effects to the underlying cause, stress from climate change, with the exception perhaps of alien imported pests and disease. The extent of damage is just too widespread - indeed at this point I would say universal - and so sudden - that I cannot think of any other mechanism besides climate change with the possible exception of intolerably elevated levels of ozone, that could produce such uniform symptoms across species and ages.

    For instance, if it was a disease or pest, you would see some trees affected next to neighbors that have yet to be attacked or infected. What I see is every tree with very close to the same degree of decline, all at once. It's unprecedented.

    Jim Hansen, who lives in NY, said it wouldn't surprise him for the trees to die especially since his own trees have just had to be cut down this past spring (at great expense).

    And then I wrote to this fellow, who is an evolutionary biologist with a lot of interesting videos: - and posed the following question:

    If you accept Darwinian evolution, AND you accept climate change, wouldn't you expect ecosystems to collapse, since they evolved in a different climate? Isn't it inevitable that species that are selected to survive in a particular environment aren't going to survive when that environment is altered faster than they can genetically adapt?

    His terse reply: "Climate change is always followed by mass extinction."

  3. Here's the rest:

    There really is no other plausible or satisfactory answer for why ALL species of ALL ages would ALL AT ONCE WITHIN ONE YEAR exhibit very extreme symptoms of decline that will at this rate almost certainly kill every tree completely within the next two years. It is most likely an extinction event caused by something very fundamental like climate change, and a classic example of reaching and surpassing a tipping point.

    And it doesn't surprise me that my local paper wouldn't even publish a letter on the topic - it is mind-boggling. At least, it certainly boggles my mind.

    I have written to another local publication for their August issue - we'll see if they include it, and what feedback if any I receive.

    And I've had mixed reactions from people I've talked to about it. One friend shrugged it off as inevitable, because extinctions always happen. I don't think she quite appreciates that it takes millions of years after a mass extinction event for the biosphere to achieve the level of biodiversity we currently enjoy - or the interlinked nature of the ecosystem and the repercussions that will swiftly follow.

    I have probably recommended this to you before but if you are really interested in climate change in general and mass extinction in particular you really should read "With Speed and Violence" by Fred Pearce. Not only is it a riveting read, he explains the science in a way that is remarkably accessible for a non-scientist such as myself and more pertinently to this discussioin, he provides a comprehensive overview of past extinction events, of which there have been five in the history of earth, and their relation to climate change (of whatever cause).

    In this case, of course, it's human caused and that is the where the real tragedy lies. You will come away after reading his book understanding that actually, NO OTHER RESULT can be expected other than for the trees to die, because we have ALREADY changed the climate, and it's not what they are suited to, and far faster than they can over generations mutate in order to adapt, and of course, they can't pick up and migrate.

    Time will tell. At the rate leaves are dropping this July, and the significant percentage of trees that are already bare - compared to all the trees looking normal last July - I anticipate that by September there will be headlines blaring, and possibly wildfires burning.

    You obviously have interest in the situation and I appreciate that.

  4. Are you saying your area of New Jersey is currently experiencing an extinction event that will almost certainly kill every tree in the next two years?

  5. No, I am saying that the Eastern Seaboard, from Virginia to Rhode Island, is currently experiencing an extinction event that will almost certainly kill every tree in the next two years. And that's only what I have seen personally, myself. If you extend the logic, it must be true of the entire world, although perhaps not so soon.

    The average temperature of Earth is rising - the poles are heating much more than the lower latitudes, offsetting those areas, like Peru, that are colder. It's possible that the area I am in is experiencing a faster rate of extinction because we are sort of in the middle - where it's too warm for trees to go dormant in winter, but we still get periods of extreme cold. Maybe places further north like NH an Maine are still getting cold enough for trees to go dormant.

    Or maybe, those trees are in decline as well and it's just not being talked about.

    Never underestimate the power of denial. That's the reason my (ex) father-in-law lost a huge extended family to the death camps - he was the only one lucid enough to see the true dimensions of the gathering storm in Hungary in 1938. Everybody else was convinced that Hitler wasn't actually going to do exactly what he said he was going to do - exterminate the Jews.

    Have you read "Collapse" by Jared Diamond? Many civilizations have driven themselves to cannibalism in the past by wantonly depleting their resources, even though they could have averted disaster had they allocated them more wisely. The difference now is the entire world is linked, there is no boat to hop on and set sail for unspoiled territory.


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