While near Port Townsend last week working on a multi-year woodlot thinning project, I pondered the trouble of our beautiful madrones throughout the Northwest. We all know the black scars on tree trunks. These are the characteristic signs of a fungus termed Fusicoccum aesculi or madrone canker which has been ravaging our thin bark evergreens…for the past 3 decades. The tree has no obvious defense except it’s thin bark, and this peels in the autumn months. Could this be it’s Achilles Heel?
Our efforts this week were to bring more sun to a deeply shaded hillside of second growth Douglas fir.
While we thin Douglas fir, the madrones nearby still suffer from attack
The main image is of a young tree, deeply attacked by the fungus in Kai Tai Lagoon of Port Townsend. The young tree is still forming new wood even while the canker attacks it from all sides. At some point the embattled trunk will not be thick enough to support the weight of it’s canopy up on high and may capsize in a wind storm. Fungi, the spores are floating in the air currents and finding tree hosts with open wounds, or other tree scars to attack.
On older trees, the attack may not lead to a contorted trunk, but will still interrupt the flow of starches and moisture as in this photo taken from a cross-section of a dead main stem.
However, Port Townsend also has another player in the madrones fight; this one abiotic in the form of a recycling paper mill: the Port Townsend Paper Corp. kicking out a smelly exhaust that has been said to limit the spread of the fungi. Are we so fortunate?