I have found that the more I read about trees (native trees) the more frustrating it is to decide what to plant, because- it seems like every tree that I look into now has some disease that will wipe it out, shorten it's life, etc. Birch, elm (dutch elm disease), oak (such as oak wilt), etc. I was even looking into silver maple (since there is already one by me) and was amazed at the list of diseases that affect maples (even other kinds of maples).
I posted this mostly because I wanted to know if anyone else has felt this way- every tree book has a list of diseases and usually say something like "not recommended to plant" because of this or that problem. What have people done to them? It seems like there are no trees left that will actually live to the lifespans listed in the books, without a lot of help. I realize that many of them are still fine in perfect conditions and in prime growth, but my question is do ANY of them really live to the long ages anymore that they are supposed to? I understand that when a books says "lives up to 400 years" or some other number, that most of them do not live quite that long, but with the list of diseases that now seem to threaten every tree, do any of them make it even to the halfway mark of that? Is there ANY tree I could plant NOW, (I live in lower peninsula of Michigan) that would actually make it a few hundred years? Even just 200? Realistically, without any additional care? Has anyone looked into this?
There is a saying that I encourage everyone to think about: "Paralysis by analysis." Basically it is the idea of doing nothing because we are too busy studying. In brief, here in Maine anyway, other than Ash due to the Emerald Ash Borer that is soon to arrive, I would not feel too bad about planting any other tree. Even Hemlock with that needle fungus is not so bad. It is just not spreading like the Emerald Ash Borer. So as a large land owner with significant resources in Ash, yes I am cutting it while the price is high and before it is killed off.
Elm...what has survived is hardy, and the American Chestnut is making a comeback with a new disease resistant variety. That is fun to get into if you like working with State Forest Rangers, but the requirements are stiff too, those trees you have worked so hard to plant, fertilize, nurture and grow must be burnt if they are determined not to be disease resistant.
I live what you describe because we have a farm that has been in Maine since 1746 officially, and non-officially well before that. I have planted some trees with success, and some without. The white pines my father planted when he was 5 eventually matured, but mostly white pine blister rust hurt the stand. I planted quite a few high bred hackmatack in 1992 and the Hack bark beetle is currently killing 1-2 trees per acre per year, BUT that type of wood grows to full maturity in 15 years so all is not lost. My black spruce regeneration project is doing well despite nibbling moose, but in Canada the Spruce Budworm is attacking with a vengeance and within 40 years might be here. Considering how slow spruce grows, it might be an issue, but I am still glad I planted it.
The biggest downfall I see in forestry is not nature, but marketing. 3 years ago spruce and fir paid out $120 a cord, but today it pays only $40 a cord.Hemlock paid $60 a cord and today pays $10. However where as hardwood paid $60 5 years ago, today it pays $120. It is the same with logs. in 1965 Yellow Birch was worth its weight in gold, today it is useless. Ash today is worth a fortune (due to other places being hit by the borer), but soon that will change. Spruce Logs have gone down in price, yet White Birch logs have remained the same for 50 years!
My forestry plan does have a section suggesting what to manage for based on soil type, and that is what I suggest to anyone. Why try to make a tree grow in soil it would struggle in? That is sound reasoning, but because there are so many variables in forestry, the plan I have fails to make mention of a tree species I kind of like; the lowly Eastern Hemlock. There is not ONE mention of it in my forestry plan, yet it comprises of 25% of my woodlot. (We are talking 100's of acres by the way so its a significant amount). I asked my forester what gives...why wouldn't she suggest I manage for a tree type that obvious thrives on my soil and the answer is rather simple; the eastern Hemlock does not have enough market share to meet the threshold of the USDA (and a variety of other factors).
But all this is forestry. The trees I plant today MIGHT be harvestable at the eve of my life since I am 42 years old, but that is only if I plant and manage for the right tree varieties. What are those; well I can assure you they are not the ones so highly prized today if history is an indicator.
Here are some Red Spruce Logs I harvested on Wednesday. Spruce is slow growing so these trees are about 80 years old.
In my experience a lot of the "not recommended to plant" statements are in the context of suburbia, where someone is trying to plant a replacement tree in the front yard that they want to (a) replace a majestic tree that recently died and (b) they want it to look good for the rest of their lives. When putting all of your eggs in one basket, you want it to be a perfect basket!
But if you've got enough land to be planting several trees, then you can afford to take some chances. "A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for." Same with trees. Planting a tree is a challenge to the elements. Some trees are going to thrive and be majestic for future generations; some are going to fall over disappointingly in a moderate breeze and crush Aunt Maybelle's 1977 AMC Gremlin. (Gosh, darn, so sorry auntie!) The only truly safe tree is the one you don't plant, but obviously that means no tree rewards.
Me, I've been sticking tree seeds in the ground for several years now, mostly pecan and persimmon and a few black walnuts but quite a few other types as well. I am gratified this season to finally have quite a few chest-high saplings all over the property that I planted. Mind you it's less than two percent of the seeds I planted, but they were free seeds, so why not? We have the space.
My own situation has little land,but I apply the "you can always kill it later"
philosophy to the "junk trees" that show up. Mulberries,Kentucky coffee trees and box elders are allowed to thrive,until they become inconvenient.
Then I harvest the above ground carbon and nitrogen. The roots are already in place as soil amendments.
When I purposefully plant a tree, I still am willing to plant a less than perfect free or cheap tree, rather than waiting till I select and purchase the perfect tree.
I stopped reading the Plants for a Future database because I was obsessing over perfect plants that were hard to source,rather than using the plants I had.
Meanwhile unmeasured gobs of sunlight was going in-captured.
So I eat my soup with a fork,until I can get my hands on a spoon.
I don't plan to ever cut the tree down for any reason. Mostly I had a serious question- are there any trees today that will, without any care, survive to even half of their ages- SPECIFICALLY long lived trees. In other words, are there any left that will realistically live at least 200 years when the given lifespan (not record breaking trees) is 400 years, or even longer? Or live 300 years when it is generally said their lifespan is 600 years? Just wondered. I KNOW that many trees will live a long time with care, or be fine in their beginning 100 years or so, but I am thinking of something that is truly long lived, and will grow here in Michigan. NOT interested in logging etc.
White Oak, Red Oak, Sugar Maple, Persimmon, Pecan, are all trees that will live long lives when planted and left to grow as they want to grow.
Bugs come and go, the trick there is to do the things that create a healthy tree, this allows it to fight off any thing that comes at it.
The disasters you mentioned were all started in unhealthy trees.
If you plant a tree, give it everything that it needs to become well established (mycorrhizal fungi, good soil, proper bacteria in the soil, etc.
I think part or even most of the problem is monocultures. Especially with public plantings you see a road or a canal lined with thousands of the same species, probably not just the same species but all clones or siblings. A bug or virus that happens to land on a tree that it is able and willing to munch on will proliferate and make the short hop to the next tree.
The solution is diversity. Your oak killer hops to the willow tree and dies of starvation. Your willow killer hops to the apple tree and gets eaten by the bird that likes to live in the neighbouring peach tree, and so on. If you plant 100 different species and 20 of them die, so be it, you got 80 species left, plant another 20.
You could probably stick half a dozen ash trees dispersed in a 100 acre forest containing no other ashes, and they'd never meet an ash borer.
Sycamore trees will outlive your great-great grandchildren.
I absolutely love them.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
Some of the trees that came up were chestnut, pecan, sugar maple, walnut, Garry oak, tap-rooted apple, perry pear, linden (basswood tree), and gingko. You live in a much colder climate that I do, so a lot of them probably wouldn't work for you, and not all of them live as long as you'd like. But, a ginkgo tree supposedly grows in hardiness zones 3-8. They also supposedly live 1,000 years or more (there's one that's about 3,500 years old!).
You might enjoy reading and watching some videos put out by Connie Barlow. Her thesis is basically that gardeners and foresters can provide a valuable service to nature by helping slow-to-reproduce species, especially trees, spread north and/or uphill to keep up with warming climate. So you might think of something still relatively uncommon where you live, but more common a bit further south, and plant that so as to give it a promising future in a warming world.
Thanks for all the help. Sycamore sounds good, just because I've never heard of it having any problems. I was wondering about the oaks recommended though. I was told by someone who is involved with a nature preserve, who said that basically, if any one moves anything with oak wilt on it into an area with oaks, it will kill them, no matter how healthy and old the trees are! If you have any further thoughts, let me know. I know monocultures seem to START all the diseases, but I am not sure if, once started, it makes any difference. I was interested by the poster's comment about ash borer not hitting scattered individual ashes. Is that really true? (I was given the impression by the same person that the ash borer is cyclical, and will not strike an ash tree right away, but will eventually strike the mature trees. He kind of gave me the idea that the insects are attracted to find the specific trees, at their maturity, or in a certain number of years- I guess I just didn't get the impression that ANY would live without constant treatment)