I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.

I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues…

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, NOTHING is going to get better. It’s not.

Catch! calls the Once-ler. He lets something fall.

It’s a Truffula Seed. It’s the last one of all!

You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds. And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.

Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.

Grow a forest. PROTECT it from axes that hack. 

Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.

In the little book, The Lorax, that Dr. Zeus penned many years ago, we were left with the hope that if we just paid attention, kept planting, kept tending our trees well, that there was a chance that the trees would come back and thrive. Sometimes though, it’s just not meant to be. The death of this particular species wasn’t caused by water pollution or fertilizer run-off or deforestation.

About 8 or 9 years ago, on a trip down to see my sister, I noticed many trees that seemed to be dying. As I crossed the state line into Georgia splotches of brown leaves showed up on both sides of the interstate. It bothered me so much that I tried to reach the Georgia Agriculture Dept. on my cell phone. I couldn’t figure out what was dying and you know how inquiring minds want to know. I love this twice-a-year road trip, getting to see the change of seasons marked by new greens in the spring, followed by blooms, and then the leaves beginning to turn in the fall. I know, there aren’t many trees that turn golden in Florida but you understand what I mean.

Anyway, someone from the Georgia Forestry Dept.  finally got back to me a couple of days later with the sad news that the redbay trees were beginning to die in the southeast. These trees are not ones that you would find in a nursery. You certainly wouldn’t ever see a landscaper plant them in commercial setting. But they were plenty visible along the highways, in forests, near bays and swampy areas, or in yards shading homes. Passing by at 70 mph you might not have even noticed them or if you had, not been sure what they were. The redbay can grow upwards of 60 to 70 feet and the trunks are thick and a perfect tree for climbing. Standing under one with its dark green leaves, you could catch a scent of menthol. Many southern cooks knew to use them in gumbos or stews. My sister had a huge one right outside her kitchen and you’d always catch it’s cool aroma as you walked to her door.

Range of the redbay

Around 2002, a tiny beetle hitched a ride from Asia in some packing material. “The beetles bore tunnels into redbays, where they lay their eggs, deposit the laurel wilt spores, and then farm the fungus—at the expense of the tree’s life.  Within weeks or months at most, the fungus clogs the circulatory system of the tree, and the redbay will die.”  An Undefended Buffet by Susan Cerulean.

Shortly thereafter, near Savannah, people began to notice that these beautiful evergreen trees with the dark green leaves were beginning to die – almost overnight. In the years since, the beetle has moved from Georgia north to South Carolina and now has crept into southern North Carolina near the coast. It’s spread across Alabama and Louisiana and into Texas. It’s covered the state of Florida. And now, down almost every street, you can see large trees covered in dusty brown leaves.

People who built their homes around or under them are now having to cut them down and haul the pieces away. But more than just thousands of people are effected by this loss. Swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on the fragrant leaves. The butterflies, along with bears and deer, eat the leaves. Squirrels supplement their diet of acorns with redbay berries as do many birds. Not just one species will be searching for food and a home with this loss.

In the case of the redbay destruction, there’s really not one person to blame. For centuries, man, insects and animals have carried diseases as they move from town to town, country to country, continent to continent.  Smallpox, cholera, Asian flu, Bird flu – all spread so easily as our population began to grow and the world became smaller with new innovations in transportation.

It’s a sad thing is that I have no photos of these trees. I can remember the one at my sister’s old house and thought I had several shots of it. But searching back, I found pictures of her house but none really showing this special tree. I’m wondering if others across the south are lamenting that they too have tons of photos but none to remember the redbay that probably won’t return. One site did say that nurseries were trying to propagate  redbay seedlings but another site said that these were dying as soon as the seedling reached a certain age.

I am hoping against hope that these trees will return to us just as the Truffula trees returned to “Thneedville.”

Go hug a tree today and while you’re at it – take a picture too, Anne

Background paper: Autumn Breeze

Embellishments: Autumn Breeze, Boots and Buckles Dig. Emb.

Font: Armalite Rifle

RedBay

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6 Responses to Blog: The death of a species

  1. Caroline Mohr says:

    Anne, I had to smile at your comment about the Bradford pear trees. Outside my condo sunroom is a now-27-year-old Bradford pear tree. Every time the owner of the landscape company and I walk the property, he says ‘needs to come down’ to which I reply ‘in good time’. I need to go take a picture! And, of course, the Dutch elm disease has done a number in New England. So sad…

  2. dachiemama dachiemama says:

    This is so sad. We took family vacations to Gatlinburg and the Smokies when I was a child. I vividly remember the lushness of the trees and how on the way up to Clingman’s Dome, my sister and I hid our shoes in the greenery and “found” them on our way down. When my husband and I went back in the early 80s, we went to Clingman’s Dome. It was fall, but there were only bony trees with few leaves. I asked a park ranger what had happened to the trees. I asked him if I had only imagined it. He said that a pest, probably the same as you talk about, had gotten into the forests and the bugs were eating the trees from the inside out. So sad.

  3. junegauntley says:

    Oh, Ann, how totally sad for the residents and people who love the redbay trees in all those counties! How disappointing it would have been for you to see what is happening along the drive to your sister’s house.

    Your story, and Kathleen’s, reminds us that it is happening everywhere, with different species dying from different species of beetles. In our case here in British Columbia it is the pine beetle, which has destroyed pine trees in our province, and has now marched on to Alberta. The first year we noticed it, we went on a trip to the Okanagan, through the Coquihalla highway, where the scenery is stunning, with evergreen trees of different types all along the route. We couldn’t believe the masses of brown dead trees. We had heard of the pine beetle devastating the pine forests, but had no idea of the magnitude of the problem. The dead brown trees are being harvested by the lumber companies to clean up the scenery along our highways, and I think made into wood chips.

    It is painful to those of us who love trees to see and hear of these beetle problems! In a province where the lumber industry is huge, with most of the province covered in evergreen forests, it is a huge concern. The world needs forests!

    June

    • Anne says:

      Thank you for sharing. To see these beautiful old trees fade from the landscape is a tragedy. Here in the mountains of North Carolina, the beautiful hemlocks have been dying for several years now and the mountains are covered in brown branches. If it’s on private land, the expense to spray is huge. Most of the trees on public land will not survive.
      One of the worrisome things about the trees being harvested and made into mulch and wood chips is that some of these beetles/bugs are surviving. Have heard that the only way to totally eradicate these varmints is to burn the wood.

  4. sistersunshine says:

    Oh Ann I FEEL your pain… we too have a Lorax tree story… for us in the grand northern regions are being invaded by the Emerald Ash Borer. Many years ago early in our marriage, my hubby & I needed to cut down the two trees that stood sentinel in our front lawn. Trees that were planted by his great grand parents in 1898. We were sad but the trees were a safely hazard and needed to be taken down. With great pride we planted our own sentinels, AND decided that we’d grace our side yard with a couple of trees… with dreams of OUR great grand children climbing them and many family gatherings under them.

    Three years ago I noticed that they didn’t seem to be as ‘full’ of leaves, and chalked it up to the poor weather we had been having. (As a farmer’s wife, you tend to notice ebb & flow of growth with the weather patterns), but spring before last, our trees were devoid of any top leaves & I knew that something was going on… I too called our state extension office and got information on what could be happening… first I needed to let them know what type of tree it was (DUH!) As soon as I said Ash… they said cut it down and burn it… there’s nothing we can do to save it… by the time you can ‘tell’ something is wrong (less leaves) it’s too late.

    Well I am a believer in giving all living things a fair shake… and it wasn’t until THIS spring that our poor tree had next to NO leaves, and I admitted that my great grandies were NOT going to enjoy climbing these trees as our children & grand children had (they were JUST getting big enough for a bit of climbing). The local utility company came by one day and said they needed to trim back some of the branches on one of the trees… I told him he could trim it to the ground… heck he could trim both of them to the ground!

    The proximity to the power lines only allowed one to be cut down… all this past summer we gathered around our camp fire and said ‘Good bye.’ to this wonderful friend… the trunk pieces were peeled of their bark, and have become our new ‘ponder pads’ around the fire… the paths that the Emerald Ash Borer created form an intricate design on sides… and will help us to remember that as you said Anne… these ‘invaders’ hitched a ride somehow, and have slowly been migrating north…

    Our plans… to remove the other tree this summer, and plant a VARIETY of other hardwoods around our farm… some will survive so that our Great Grandchildren and great great grandchildren will learn to ‘touch the sky’ by climbing them.

    *U* Kathleen

    • Anne says:

      Kathleen, cutting down those big trees must have been a hard decision. How sad to read that the replacements did not survive. Hopefully the new ones that you plant will last for years and years. Unfortunately not many people are planting trees with the thought of future generations enjoying the benefits. Bradford Pear and Crepe Myrtle seem to be “the” tree of the year in this area. I love them too but they will not last like oaks, beeches, sequoias, pines and junipers. My DH has longed for a white oak for years. Early last spring we hooked up the trailer, drove about 250 miles to a nursery that specializes in hard woods. I love the photos of him digging the hole, carefully placing in the tree and mulching to keep it safe. He was diligent about watering and keeping the bugs at bay. If it survives it definitely will be our great grandchildren who will play under it’s branches. Anne

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