Lone Tree Farm was named for a huge old cottonwood tree that originally stood along Knanranzi Creek just beyond the present-day farmyard. Although it was been gone for almost a century there still are some isolated trees that carry on the tradition.
This ash tree is the lone survivor of a stand of trees that used to occupy the abandoned meander near the bridge. There were mainly willows and box elder trees in the stand, but the ash tree that remains now is pretty much alone. It does have a significant new purpose, however: it holds a bolt that serves as an elevation datum for the periodic U.S. Geological surveys of water levels in the Creek. Originally, the elevation marker was part of the previous old bridge, but the “permanent” datum was surveyed into the marker bolt on the ash tree. Bridges come and go, but the tree has preserved the elevation during those transitions. And, like the willows and box elders that used to be the ash tree’s neighbors in the abandoned channel meander, it’ll probably eventually disappear.
This elm tree was safely isolated in the pasture while the rest of the elms on the Farm and throughout the countryside all succumbed to Dutch elm disease. It was probably saved by its location. The canopy has that distinctive mushroom shape of an elm tree, in contrast to the box elder tree on the far horizon. That tree silhouetted against the sky along with the bushes around it’s base has been called the “Chicken Tree” by our grandkids because when the leaves are on it, it looks like a chicken with big cartoon boots. Not so much this time of year, however. The photo on the right shows a line of elm trees that were planted along the south property line of the original tree claim. All of those elms were wiped out and Dad spent most of the 1970s and 1980s turning all of that wood into fuel for their wood-burning stove. That project also probably helped him work through the loss of my brother Bob. I’m thinking about Dad today because he was half Irish and his birthday was on St. Patrick’s Day.
This apple tree is also a survivor and is located along a north property line marked by the fence. It’s tempting to think that maybe the tree is growing out here in the “wild” away from the farmyard because someone paused fieldwork to have lunch that included an apple. Fieldwork has changed a lot, however. The lunchtime planting of an apple core was probably back when horses or small tractors were used. Now with the big field equipment at work, trees get in the way. So, this poor old tree has been trimmed way back. The limbs piled on the other side of the fence were taken from where the circular scars mark the tree trunk. It’s ironic that there’s a little thin frost clinging to the top of this threatened apple tree, while on the long-dead elms along a different property line there’s a total covering of thick white frost.
This big old cottonwood tree may be a descendant of the original Lone Tree. At least it’s growing very near where we believe the original cottonwood was located. This sole-surviving offspring of the namesake tree is now the only cottonwood left on the whole Farm. I tried to transplant some of the little ones that took root near this old survivor, but the flooding in the Creek wiped them all out. As the steep stream bank has eroded back over the last couple of years, this senior citizen may be threatened with collapsing into the channel. However, there were plum thickets that helped stabilize the Creek bank and pushed the main area erosion farther downstream. The modest little wild plum trees have basically provided protection for the much larger matriarch. The plum trees have fallen into the channel and have floated away, but the grand old cottonwood lady still is standing. Maybe some day there will be seedlings that survive to continue the cottonwood tradition that started with the original Lone Tree.
There’s recent research that suggests the trees in large forests may communicate and support each other through their root systems. I’ve speculated about the implications of these ideas for trees on the prairie in this post. But if trees really do share with each other in community settings, then who do these lone trees communicate with in their isolated locations? Also, the research emphasizes relationships among trees of the same species. Is there mutual aid and support (other than protective shading and bank stabilization) going on through the roots systems of the lonely big cottonwood and the cluster of little wild plum trees?