Androscoggin Poplar

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Spring is something to celebrate especially if you happen to be interested in trees.

Submitted: October 04, 2016

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Submitted: October 04, 2016

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Spring has sprung, the grass is riz, and the buds on the Androscoggin is aburstin’.

Yeah, yeah I’m no poet, but just the same at this time of the year I feel pretty chuffed about my Populus androscoggin trees! Mind you I like them all year round, even the grey back when they are naked, but because they are a balsam poplar, the wax on their bursting leaves and buds is fragrant. There are some two hundred trees alongside our house, so the fragrance pleasantly wafts around the property. I wish I could describe the smell, the most similar being the propolis that bees make from catsear. I guess that’s no help either! Catsear is a dandelion-like weed and propolis is a glue bees make to maintain their hive. It is made from material they gather mixed with wax extruded from glands on their body. It is a recognised health product.

Anyway I have been fighting gorse pretty much all of my working life, mainly to establish exotic forest but also to maintain pasture. There are a number of methods, which don’t matter here, but for those of you who have gorse as an indigenous plant, here in New Zealand it was introduced as a farm hedging plant, but it has escaped to become an invasive weed species.

Our property comprises two ancient river flats, terraces, between them is a shady, steep, southerly face. The elevation between the bottom terrace and the top terrace is around sixty metres, so on a map, it doesn’t look to be much area but on the ground the total area amounts to nearly two and a half hectares. When I took over the property in 1967 the face was covered in gorse which was four metres high! Sorry I know figures can be dull!

Anyone who reads my stuff has probably figured out that I have a passion for trees, and it is trees that are the best way to combat gorse. I have used three genera along my southerly face; Pinus, Eucalyptus and Populus. With the first two, I had to cut lines through the gorse and keep the seedlings weed-free until they could manage on their own. On steep ground and with tall, vigorous gorse it was hard work, and maybe not everyone’s cup of tea. The complication was bunnies! In the month of February 1975 I shot 46 rabbits in a small area of Eucalyptus that I had to totally replant. I have harvested some of those Eucs, amazing when I think of it, I sowed the seed, pricked them out, grew them on and then planted them out. Gun barrels they are now, getting on for fifty meters tall and my hands don’t meet when I hug them!

The Poplars were somewhat easier, I cut light-wells in the gorse and in the centre planted Poplar poles of about two metres long with a small end diameter of around two centimetres. They took no care at all after hefting a crowbar to drive in the holes about a third to a half meter deep for the poles. The trick for anyone trying this is to cut the poles and to charge them with water before planting out! Soak them for a month before budburst time when the planting should be completed. In the nursery we made cutting about the size of pencils, so they don’t have to be big poles at all.

Gorse is a light demander, so cutting down available light will eventually kill it. The fallen autumn leaves seem to cut more light because the sit on the green parts of the gorse. While the Poplars are in leaf, they compete with the gorse for moisture too. Once the gorse has gone, and because Poplars are deciduous, during the winter the soil has a chance to recharge moisture levels so sheep are able to feed on the grass that grows. Another little bonus for the sheep is the pollen-rich flowers that fall just before budburst, during lambing!

My trees are now large, getting on for twenty metres and the edge ones are fat, too big to hug! Androscoggin have a strong root system including on the soil surface, which binds the soil together, thus preventing erosion!

Edge trees grow large branches too and the fallen leaves deter planting too close to houses. Those branches can be brittle during strong wind but a good source of fuelwood. The timber is very good for timber truck decks, beehives and as firewood Androscoggin burns well but leaves more ash than pine or eucalypts. The autumn colour is brilliant, at least in years when the rust not around. Poplar rust was feared to decimate Poplars in New Zealand but over the thirty or so years it has been present (arriving from Europe) they have built up a resistance to it except in very wet years.

At this time of the year I celebrate my Androscoggin Poplars, for their rebirth, their fragrance and the benefit they provide to our environment!


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