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Help save ash trees by collecting their seeds

August 10, 2011
By Richard Gast , Franklin County Cornell Cooperative Extension

There are more than 900 million ash trees in New York, representing about 7 or 8 percent of all trees in the state. And they are all at risk because of a half-inch-long, metallic-green, invasive beetle called the emerald ash borer, which is believed to have made its way to the United States from Asia on solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships or airplanes.

EAB was first discovered in the United States near Detroit in 2002, the same year it was found across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. To date, EAB has been responsible for the destruction of as many as 80 million ash trees in the U.S.

The insect was first discovered in New York in 2009, in the Cattaraugus County town of Randolph. In 2010, EAB infestations were confirmed in Genesee, Greene, Livingston, Monroe, Steuben and Ulster counties.

Article Photos

White ash leaves
(Enterprise file photo — Peter Crowley)

Three more in-state infestations have been verified this year. In June, EAB was discovered in and around Upper Falls Park in the city of Rochester (Monroe County) and also at South Park in the city of Buffalo, the first documented EAB infestation in Erie County. And just last month, the first authenticated EAB infestation in Orange County was confirmed on the U.S. Military Academy campus at West Point.

Research indicates that healthy ash stands, once infested, can reach nearly100 percent mortality of trees greater than 1 inch in diameter within six years. During the first few years, ash decline is very slow and symptoms are not obvious. Later in the infestation, mortality accelerates rapidly.

Due to rising concerns that it may be too late to contain the emerald ash borer and that all of America's ash trees could be lost, and their genetic diversity lost with them, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the USDA Rose Lake Plant Materials Center in East Lansing, Mich., has launched the National Ash Tree Seed Collection Initiative - in essence, a plan for the worst-case scenario. Under the initiative, ash tree seed will be held in long-term storage in cryogenic vaults at the former National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colo., now the USDA National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, a repository for plant and animal genetic resources.

Fact Box

If you go ...

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What: Ash seed collecting training

Where: Paul Smith's College VIC

When: 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 27

How much: Free (donations to the VIC will be accepted)

Registration: Email rlg24@cornell.edu or les.benedict@srmt-nsn.gov, or call 518-483-7403

The Plant Materials Center is asking volunteers to collect seed from ash trees in order to create a genetic base that will eventually be used to re-establish populations of all ash tree species throughout their native range, ultimately returning the ash tree to the American landscape.

The National Ash Tree Seed Collection Initiative is a long-term project. If you would like to learn more about the initiative and/or would like to participate in the collection of ash seeds, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, in cooperation with the Akwasasne Task Force on the Environment, the Northern Adirondack Chapter of the New York Forest Owners Association and the Paul Smith's College VIC will offer an ash seed collection training course at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 27 at the VIC.

The training will explore ash tree identification (it is extremely important to collect seed from correctly identified trees) as well as seed biology, development, germination, handling, protection, quality evaluation and timing seed collection so seeds will be physiologically mature, thereby offering the greatest likelihood of survival in storage and production of healthy seedlings. Sound seeds that are harvested when mature and processed immediately will have the greatest life span during storage. Unsound seeds, such as those that are immature or infested with fungus or insects, will not survive very long and may potentially infect other seeds. In my limited experience, seed lying on the ground is usually avoided, as it may have been compromised by insects or fungus since being shed.

The training will also look at the tools and techniques used for collecting seed from healthy, vigorous, mature or nearly mature trees of good form and growth habit. Participants will gain an understanding of how to assess and collect only good, live seed for storage.

Please note that this is a hands-on workshop with most of the training taking place outdoors. Those attending are asked to please dress appropriately for the weather. Practical, comfortable shoes are suggested. Work gloves may be helpful. You may also wish to bring a notebook or writing pad and pen or pencil. Binoculars may come in handy, too.

 
 

 

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