February 7, 2016

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Tree of the Week: Beacon Oak

by Nick Perry

We are all familiar with the phrase “strong as an oak”.  It’s used when describing an object or person that is capable of withstanding tremendous physical stress.  The phrase is just one example of how the oak tree has influenced people throughout history.  People have used the tree as a religious and political symbol, as well as attaching historical importance to individual oak trees.  The oak species also produces high quality lumber that is desired for its beauty as well as durability.

This week’s tree of the week is the Quercus bicolor ‘Bonnie and Mike’.  The common name for the tree is the Beacon Swamp White Oak.  It was discovered in 2007 by Michael and Bonnie Dirr during one of their excursions to Virginia.  The thing that attracted them to this particular tree was its fastigiate growth pattern.  The upward branch growth set it aside from the other larger spreading oaks in the area.  By 2009, a California company was ready to cultivate the species in their fields.

This species has the same growth range as the common swamp white oak and grows from the Midwest to the East, but can spread as far South as Tennessee and Virginia.  It is classified as a hardiness zone 4 tree.  The tree grows best in full sun, but can tolerate shade.  The growth rate begins slow, but gradually increases to a moderate rate, averaging roughly 30’ in 30 years.  The overall height can range from 30’-35’ and its spread can range from 12’-16’.

With branches growing upright and tight to the trunk, the tree can be utilized in several locations including boulevards, residential lawns, parks and gardens.  They survive well in boulevards due to their history of growing in adverse conditions found in swamps and lowlands, where they are exposed to extreme flooding and droughts.  The species can handle exposure to salt commonly found along thoroughways, boulevards and sidewalks.  It doesn’t have many issues with insects or diseases, and it is more resilient to oak wilt because it is a white oak.

The characteristics of this species are similar to the common swamp white oak.  The leaves are alternate, simple, and obovate and range from 3”-7” long.  The teeth around the margin are irregular and add a nice aesthetic appeal to the leaf.  The leaves are a shiny, dark green in the spring and summer and change into a nice golden yellow in the fall.  This fall color can really accentuate the tree in the landscape.  It is a monoecious plant and contains both male and female flowers.  The yellow-green male catkins are more noticeable than the smaller red female flowers found in the leaf axils and can add to the aesthetics of the tree.   Acorns produced by the tree are roughly 1” long and are a nice tan color.  Acorns can attract wildlife which contributes to the biological diversity of the landscape.  The bark of the young twigs is smooth and light-brown in color, while the older, mature bark is a light gray and is furrowed with irregular fissures.


Photo Courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt and Sons Co.

Photo Courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt and Sons Co.

Photo Courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt and Sons Co.

Photo Courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt and Sons Co.

JFS Introductions, Quercus bicolor ‘Bonnie and Mike’ Beacon Oak [Online Image]. (2015). Boring, OR.  J. Frank Schmidt and Sons Co. Retrieved from http://www.jfschmidt.com/introductions/beacon/


  1. Blooming & Beautiful. Beacon Swamp White Oak. (2011). Retrieved From. http://www.bloomingandbeautiful.com/%2FBeacon-Swamp-White-Oak-P12380.aspx
  2. Virginia Tech University. swamp white oak, Fagacea Quercus bicolor, Willd. (2015). Retrieved From. http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=313
  3. Penn State Extension. Home Lawn and Garden, an Interview with Michael Dirr. (2015). Retrieved From. http://extension.psu.edu/plants/gardening/news/2014/an-interview-with-michael-dirr
  4. Gibney, Richard W. Cultivars of Three North American Trees. gibneyCE.com. web. 02 December 2015.


Tree of the Week: Highland Park Maple

by Nick Perry

When you see or hear the word autumn, what is the first image you have? Many people immediately think of the spectacular color changes in the foliage. The magnificent reds, yellows and oranges can really be prominent during sunny autumn days.

This week’s “Tree of the Week” does not disappoint when it comes to displaying brilliant fall coloring.

The Highland Park Maple, Acer grandidentatum x saccharum ‘Hipzam’, is part of the Sugar Maple family and is native to North America. It is classified as a Zone 4 tree on the USDA hardiness map and can be grown in the majority of Minnesota.

The Highland Park Maple is not a very large tree in size. It can grow between 30 and 50 feet in height and its spread can vary from 20 to 25 feet. With a pyramidal growth habit, it can be used in both group plantings or as a stand-alone accent tree in a residential yard. It requires full sunlight and grows at a medium rate. Because it can handle adverse growing conditions, this maple may be able to grow where other similar maples do not fare as well. The capability to tolerate dry soils and urban pollution allows it to grow in commercial and residential environments. The ability to resist pests and diseases also add to its allure. It shouldn’t be considered for boulevard plantings, as it does not fare well in saline soils and its lateral branches typically arise roughly 7­8 feet off the ground.

The tree does not produce any showy flowers or fruit. It does, however, have very nice foliage. The leaves are sturdy and tatter­proof. In the spring and summer, they are a rich dark green. In the fall, they begin to change color producing gorgeous reds, yellows and oranges.

Young, red branches also add an attractive element to the landscape throughout the year. The red branches can really look picturesque against the freshly fallen snow.

The University of Minnesota has successfully grown the Highland Park Maple species at their St. Paul field location. They will provide several of these specimens to local areas including the City of St. Paul and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Highland Park Maple











Photo Courtesy of Willoway Nurseries, Inc.

Willoway Nurseries Inc. Acer grandidentatum ‘Hipazam’ – Highland Park Maple. 2015. Willoway Nurseries inc. Avon, OH. Willoway Marketing. Web. 23 October, 2015.




Plant Finder: Highland Park Bigtooth Maple. (n.d.). Chalet Nursery website. Retrieved from


The Tree Farm: Highland Park Bigtooth Maple. (2010). The Tree Farm website. Retrieved from


Acer grandidentata. ‘Highland Park’ Bigtooth Maple. (n.d.). Robinson Nursery website. Retrieved from http://www.robinsonnursery.com/wp­content/uploads/2012/02/Acer­grand.­Highland­Park.pdf

As Tough As Nails. (2010). Lake County Nursery website. Retrieved from


Tree of the Week: Osage Orange

WP_20151005_002This week’s tree is the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera). This small deciduous tree grows best in full sunlight and can reach heights of about 30 to 40 feet tall. It has a short trunk and outward branches that form a low, dense rounded crown. Young twigs have green bark while older bark is orange-brown with deep furrows. Twigs of this tree are often thorny, but there are thornless varieties. Due to its natural form, Osage orange is often used as a hedge plant. It was used as a living fence before the invention of barbed wire.


Osage Orange Hedge BallsOsage orange is part of the Moraceae, or mulberry family. It is dioecious, meaning there are male and female trees. Female trees produce a green, bumpy fruit resembling the size and shape of an orange. The fruit are referred to as hedge balls or Osage orange balls. Squirrels like to eat the fruit of the Osage orange. The fruit is also sold as a way to repel insects, however there are debates as to whether it is effective or not.  Osage orange also goes by various other names including hedge-apple, horse apple, and bodock.


We currently have some young Osage Orange trees growing in the nursery. These trees came from hedge balls picked from trees located along an old fence line separating two beef cattle pastures near Pleasantville, Iowa. We expect to get more seedlings in from this source. Osage orange grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 9 and can adapt to various soil conditions.


Disease-Tolerant Elms in Minnesota: The Search Continues

The story of planting American elm trees has become much more complicated since Dutch elm disease (DED) arrived in Minnesota. Prior to the arrival of the disease, elm saplings were often dug up from the wild and transplanted into cities and communities. Now we have to go through a rigorous process to find disease resistant elm cultivars, because anything we plant from the wild has a high likelihood of becoming infected with DED. There are some disease-tolerant elm cultivars being planted in Minnesota, but they are not from the state. Team Tree is trying to find resistant elm trees in each quadrant of the state so that we can have Minnesota grown cultivars adapted to our unique climate. We are specifically looking for mature elms that have lived since DED was found in Minneapolis in the 1960’s and likely have natural tolerance to the disease. After identifying a specific mature elm that we would like to replicate, we collect fast growing branch tissue during the winter dormancy period.

Collecting in Marshall

Collecting elm cuttings in Mankato, MN

Scion Material

Branch material for experimentation


When we are ready to use the dormant branch material, last year’s new growth is grafted or processed as stem cuttings to make a clone genetically identical to the tree it came from. To make a rooted cutting, we cut a section of branch material several inches in length and plant it in a rooting medium. To encourage root establishment, we dip the cutting in a concentrated hormone solution that originates from a growth regulator that plants produce to initiate the growth of new roots.

Rooting cuttings (of cottonwood, not elm)

Rooting cuttings (of cottonwood, not elm)


Modified cleft grafting, however, is best cloning technique if we want quick growth, because the tree can allocate all its energy into one small grafted branch, instead of having to focus on developing new roots. When grafting, a wild elm seedling (rootstock) is used for the base of the new tree and a few inches of potentially resistant branch material (scion) is grafted to it. We do not allow the rootstock material to form leaves and branches, so the resulting tree will be completely from the scion wood. The purpose of the rootstock, as you could likely guess from its name, is solely to be the root system of the tree.

Fresh Graft

Grafted elm clone


Because we usually graft in the wintertime, we keep the newly grafted trees in a greenhouse so they have a head start on the growing season. We then move them out to our nursery for the summer.

Successfully leafed out elm in its first season post-graft

Successfully leafed out elm in its first season post-graft


From this time until the tree reaches 3-5 years of age, the main focus is on growing a large healthy clone. Once the tree is large enough, it is inoculated with Dutch elm disease to test for tolerance. Any trees that have shown that they can survive exposure to DED after several rounds of testing will be used for restoring American, red and rock elm to Minnesota’s landscape.

We hope that someday the fruits of our labor will pay off and result in a specimen such as this:

Residential Elm

Mature, disease resistant elm


Here’s the collection crew:

Team Tree

Team Tree in SW Minnesota

Stephan, Ryan, Chad

Team Tree in Lake City, MN

American Elm Forms and C.C. Laney in 1908

WillowElmsOne hundred years ago, well before Dutch elm disease (DED) made its way to our shores, we had the time to ponder the many wonderful qualities of America’s favorite shade tree, the American elm (Ulmus americana). In April 1908, C.C. Laney published this wonderful article in The Garden Magazine:

“The Types of the American Elm”

One might dismiss this article as just a bit of horticultural antiquity, but there is much to be learned from it. These elm forms can still be found on the streets and in the parks throughout America. Look around and you’ll likely see a “willow-type” or “pitcher-type” elm. In the Twin Cities area we’re apparently quite lucky to have many of the reportedly “rare oak-type” American elms.

Take a few moments out of your busy day and travel back in time when we could encourage our children to:

“know [these elms] by name … to make pilgrimages to them, to hold picnics and little parties under them. And so a love for the trees would be cultivated by association and the next generation, being friends to the trees, there would be no need of enacting laws to compel their preservation.”  – C.C. Laney, 1908

Shade Tree Short Course Talks

We all had a great time at Shade Tree Short Course this year.  Here are a couple of presentations done by University of Minnesota Forest Resources staff and students at the STSC.

Sugar Maple Decline – By Dustin Ellis
Effects of Street Reconstruction on Boulevard Trees: 20 years of Information – By Ryan Murphy


Aronia melonocarpa


Our research nursery here on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus has a variety of species including a new favorite of mine – Aronia melonocarpa (black chokeberry).  “Black chokeberry is an open, upright, spreading, somewhat rounded but leggy, deciduous shrub which typically grows 3-6′ (infrequently to 9′) tall; features clusters of 5-petaled, white flowers in spring which are followed in early autumn by blackish purple, blueberry-sized fruits; and has lustrous, dark green foliage that turns an attractive purplish red in autumn” (chokeberry page).  A. melonocarpa is found naturally in swampy wooded areas in North America.  It can survive in both full sun and partial shade.  The plant prefers a slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0 to 6.5), however, is tolerant of a wide pH range (pH 5.0 to 8.5).  Aronia is a good substitute for those growers who would love to grow blueberries but do not want to deal with dropping their soil’s pH into blueberry’s preferred range (pH 4.0 to 5.0).  The other awesome thing about this plant is the highly nutritious berry.  The fall berries are super-rich in anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins as well as a variety of other minerals and vitamins.  The visual appeal of this plant’s white flowers in the spring, attractive color in autumn, and nutritious berries make this a very exciting plant indeed.  (Photos published under GNU Free Documentation License and found at commons.wikimedia.org – left photo by: BotBln and right photo by: Pawvic)

Aronia_melanocarpaAronia_melanocarpa berries

2014 Minnesota Elm Collection Begins!!!

 On Tuesday February 18, we began our 2014 Elm collection process. On Tuesday, we collected material to propagate new baby trees for screening from two American elm selections located on streets in the metro area. Throughout February and March, we will be rolling around the state of Minnesota to collect material from high preforming elms found in the state observed by foresters or home owners for propagation. Eventually, the baby trees propagated from cuttings and grafts will be inoculated with Dutch elm disease (DED) to see if the selection is a resistant to DED. Hopefully we will be able to find DED resistant elms that were found right in the great state of Minnesota!!

Bellow is a short photo essay of our 1st day of 2014 collections    

1st American Elm collected in 2014

P2183033P2183045 P2183038 P2183037 P2183042  P2183050


2nd American Elm collected in 2014

P2183053 P2183055  P2183062 P2183067 P2183070

More updates on Minnesota elm collection to come!

Time Travel along Olson Memorial Highway

Team Tree’s decade-long odyssey with Olson Memorial Highway began with a Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Arbor Day planting in the early 2000’s.  This included many of the selections originally grown at the Urban Forestry Outreath & Research Extension Nursery.  Since then, the median down the center of Highway 55 has become a living laboratory to track performance of many of the Dutch elm disease resistant cultivars.

The benefits of timely developmental pruning are very evident.  These trees are well on their way to shading this busy metropolitan thoroughfare, without pruning at the right time and correct dose this wouldn’t be possible.\

Check out the embedded Condition Rating charts, these track overall tree quality based on a quantitative rating system meant to identify defects that detract from overall tree quality.


YouTube Preview Image

Tree of the Week: Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood)

Heeled in Dawn Redwood

Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood) is a tree that looks similar to the Redwoods that grow in the Redwood National Forest (Sequoia sempervirens, Coast Redwood) and the Sequoia National Forest (Sequoiadendron giganteum, Giant Sequoia). Metasequoia glyptostroboides has a much shorter mature height of 70 to 100 feet as opposed to the record Sequoia sempervirens of 379 feet!! The foliage has a soft fern like appearance with exfoliating bark and a pyramidal form making it a perfect specimen tree where adequate space is available. Metasequoia glyptostroboidesprefers likes moderately wet soil making it a good rain garden choice.


Dawn Redwood is also a fast growing tree. This past spring in the nursery, we planted ten Dawn Redwood trees into 15 gallon containers and were about less than 1” in caliper. At the end of the season, the Dawn Redwoods had an approximate caliper of 1.5” and a stunning 2 feet of new growth! While Metasequoia glyptostroboides is of the hardiest redwood/sequoia family, it still is a zone 5 making winter hardiness in Minnesota a potential problem. Our Dawn Redwoods are currently heeled in a cozy layer of mulch for the winter to keep the roots insulated (right image). Hopefully come next spring, all ten will have survived this cold winter and will be able to be planted out in the city!

By planting unique species like Dawn Redwood in Minnesota will help diversify the urban forest. The ten trees that we will plant out in the city will be a helpful trial on how well they perform in the harsh Minnesota winters. While Metasequoia glyptostroboides is a zone 5 tree, micro climates in the city should help the likelihood of survival when extreme cold hits.

Check out some of the awesome close up images in the gallery below!!