Volunteers Collect Ash Tree Seeds to Preserve the Threatened Tree for the Future
The recent discovery of the emerald ash borer in Pike and Scioto counties means 60 percent of Ohio is now infected with the deadly insect. As the tree-killing rampage of the beetle continues, central Ohio volunteers are quietly taking part in a national endeavor to preserve ash trees for future generations.
Since 2002, the beetle from Asia has destroyed millions of ash trees in Ohio, a dozen other states and 2 provinces in Canada. Nicknamed the green menace, it has no known natural predator and kills a tree in up to 4 years. Efforts to stop it have failed, so volunteers are preparing for the day when most if not all ash trees are gone. They are collecting and saving ash tree seeds to be planted decades from now. Amy Stone,Ohio State Extension Educator, says seed collection is for after the emerald ash borer goes through and the population dies off to see if the North American ash tree can be replanted. Stone adds, experts assume that the borer will cover all of North America.
The national Ash Seed Collection Initiative was started in 2005 by David Burgdorf, a plant materials specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in East Lansing, Michigan. He says the program save genetic material that originated in the U.S. for future generations to use.
Seed collection volunteer Steve Crawford travels Ohio warning people about the emerald ash borer and teaching them to collect seeds from ash trees. It's not as simple as it sounds.
On the east side of Columbus, Crawford points out a large ash tree laden with seeds. Crawford says only female trees produce seeds and not every year. These seeds are still green, so anyone interested in volunteering to collect genetic material from ash trees must wait until they turn brown.
The seeds collected by Crawford cover the bottom of the large paper grocery bag, and he's not finished. He asks anyone uncertain about the exact type of ash tree is asked to toss in a 5 section of twig with one or two leaves removed to help identify the type of ash tree.
After being collected in Columbus, the seeds begin a 26-hundred mile journey to the future. In Michigan, the seed packets are checked for viability. Then they head to Georgia where the U.S. Forest Service x-rays them, looking first for the existence of seeds and secondly for, believe it or not, the ash seed weevil, another insect threatening the future of ash trees. After that, it's off to the Agricultural Research Service's National Seed Preservation Lab in Fort Collins, Colorado. There, the ash seeds are cryogenically preserved in flood proof vaults.
There are collection programs for other types of seeds, but the National Resources Conservation Service ash seed project is the only one to rely on volunteers. In Columbus, Steve Crawford says he is more than to give many hours of work.
"It's just if someday my grandchild or great grandchild climbs an ash tree or rests beneath one, it's all worth it."