Work Day at Alta Mons

20 August 2012


We started clearing the area adjacent to the existing orchard this afternoon to make space for the second phase of the planting at Alta Mons. While most of the land in the valley around the Pearson house contains gentle rolling meadows flanked by a nice pine population on one side and Crocket springs on the other, the area where we intend to plant the orchard expansion is filled with invasive trees. This particular spot in the hollow has not been maintained for several years and has been an ideal place for a pod of Ailanthus clones to develop en masse, that is, until we showed up yesterday with chainsaws, hacksaws, weedwhackers and gut full of angst and ill-will for these Ailanthus.


Map of the orchard sites near the Pearman house at Alta Mons.

Commonly called the tree of heaven in its native China, Ailanthus atissima is a significant invasive species throughout the Americas that was originally brought to the U.S.  as an ornamental tree planted in Philadelphia gardens 185 years ago. It has escaped cultivation and thrives in disturbed areas such as along roadways and in abandoned fields, like the site at Alta Mons, where it can easily out-compete nearby plants with its rapid growth rate. Ailanthus reproduce rapidly through shoots that emerge from the root system. The entire colony at Alta Mons was well over 100 trees, all of which were clones of a pioneering parent. After several years of free reign on the property, many of the trees were well over 40 feet tall.

If you have have never consciously identified an Ailanthus, you might have smelled one in passing. They have one of the most pungent odors in the plant kingdom that is aptly described as being similar to rotting peanut butter by Will Cook of Duke University. 8 hours after sawing, whacking and kicking through the thicket, I still smell Ailanthus all around.

We managed to clear well over half of the trees and with another days work and a little  brush-hogging the other growth in the area, it should be in fine shape for next years planting of an additional 50 trees to bring the total number of apple trees in the orchard up to 100. We will post more updates on the clearing process as it develops over the fall. We will definitely finish the clearing before the first frost hit to catch the trees before the sap has a chance to get stored in the roots, which helps the stumps resprout in the spring. So check back soon.

As Dave stated after the work, “it was not a good day to be an Ailanthus.”

Below are some pictures from the felling party.





Jon and Dave in the heart of the thicket.


While all of us associated with Heritage Orchards love planting trees, there is a certain satisfaction in chopping down these odoriferous invasives, as evident in Dave’s relaxed contempt.



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