The magnolia blues

We were on a race to trace at the beginning of this week. Some of the rhizo-pot windows are becoming quite crowded, but most of the waterlogged trees aren't showing new root growth. After tracing and imaging the remaining magnolias, Marvin and I took a trek into the forestry plots to investigate why some of the soil data loggers were down. Turns out, we had ants in our pants instruments. Ants are a common adversary we face in the forest. They often find their way into instruments and the boxes where we store our batteries. Luckily, people on the internet claim to have an abundance of natural remedies to deter these little dudes. We'll try some cloves and cinnamon sticks and get back to you. In the meantime, keep reading to learn more about the magnolias' current root stats and some other forest finds we came across this week.

A fourth tracing session for the magnolias

Blue was the chosen color for the fourth tracing session and it served as a perfect metaphor for the dismal conditions of the waterlogged trees. There was no doubt that they were feeling blue about their poor root growth. The control trees are growing normally, as expected, leaving us with cool window tracings like the ones you can see below.

The root tracings aren't telling us the whole story about how/if the magnolias are recovering. If you can remember back to the graphs I shared in last week's post, the assimilation rates for both species of magnolia are slowly recovering. That shows some progress, but their ultimate fates are yet to be determined. In the meantime, can we make any predictions on how the magnolias' root systems will respond in the upcoming weeks? Thanks for asking, yes we can!

All thanks to the preliminary results we have from the Root Lab's 2019 waterlogging trial, we have a pretty good clue as to what these trees may be doing. I mean, I'm no detective, but I did watch "Sherlock" (the version with Benedict Cumberbatch), so I think that my guess is as valid as the next Sherlock-viewer. Okay, back to the root of it all. The magnolia species in the 2019 trial showed immediate die-back of roots after the onset of waterlogging, followed by a new flush of root growth after the trees were removed from the pools. This is a strategy we may call an "avoider." Trees using this strategy will avoid the maintenance of damaged root tissue by simply allowing their rooty extremities to die and decompose. We then suspect nonstructural carbohydrate pools (remember them, the free starches and sugar stored in plants for energy purposes), to shift from the stems to belowground to supply new root growth. So far, the increasing assimilation rates support this expectation.

Below is Laetiporus sulphureus, otherwise known as chicken of the woods. L. sulphureus is both parasitic, causing a brown rot that decays the tree's structural carbohydrates, and saprobic, finishing off its decaying host on the forest floor. It is quite the smooth criminal, ridding the scene of any incriminating evidence. Check out this website for more on the history and characteristics of this species.

Marvin found this 'gi in one of the forestry plots. I meant to make a fajita dish with it, but by the time I was reminded of its existence at the bottom of my fridge, it looked a little funky (even for me, avid eater of buggy mushrooms).

Say hello to Phaeolus schweinitzii, commonly known as Dyer's Polypore. This parasite causes butt-rot in conifer species. Butt-rot decays the host tree at the base of its trunk, sometimes moving to the root system. By the time these mushrooms pop up around the unlucky victim, it's too late for intervention.

Dyer's Polypore gets its common name from the mushroom dyeing community. Pretty niche group, eh? There is probably a great subreddit just for this. Anyway, the mushroom can produce desirable colors from golden-yellow to forest green, depending on the age of the mushroom when harvested. Wanna dye yourself? Take a look here.

This week's native

Our new native guest might be lacking in the toxicity department but certainly isn't lacking in a rich historical past. You may know it as the wild leek, the ramp, or Allium tricoccum if you're fancy. The wild leek's taxonomic classification is hard to pin down. Some sources claim it's within the Liliaceae or Amarylilidaceae families, and others say that it is now categorized in a separate family called Alliaceae which includes the 700-800 species within the allium genus. I briefly described the science of taxonomy (naming and grouping organisms) in a previous blog post. Let's just say things were a lot simpler during Linnaeus' time. Present day technology and DNA analysis leads to constant changes in how we classify organisms. A genus or species might be moving around from family to family, sleeping on the couches of their relatives until they can afford their own place. If they don't have any defining characteristics or a clear distinctive DNA marker, they might live in their parents' basement forever.

The wild leek grows in clusters with all shoots originating from a bulb. Fun fact: a true bulb is actually a modified underground stem. Some plants use these structures as storage organs from which a new stem can grow. Image source

Some of you are probably asking "Can we just sign these wild leeks up for an account on ancestry.com and get on with it?" I hear ya! Back to the alliums. There are around 30 cultivated plants in the allium genus including onion, garlic, scallion, leek, chive and more. They are all perennial herbs with garlic scented leaves and bulbs. Leeks in particular are pretty hardy plants that can be found in most regions of the globe. Historically they have been revered by many cultures, dating all the way back to 4,000+ years ago with the Egyptians. To learn more about their history, uses, and cultivation, check out this document that presents an informative run-down of the stars in the allium genus. Allium tricoccum is especially significant to those of us in the Chicago region because it is the very plant that gave our city its name. The local Miami Indian tribe named the region Chicagoua because of the abundance of smelly wild leeks that inhabited the southern banks of Lake Michigan.

Just like the Egyptians before them, many American Indian tribes valued leeks for their nutritional value and early spring emergence when food sources were depleted from the previous winter. European settlers also utilized these plants, often incorporating them into health tonics (maybe leek tonic was the original "kale smoothie"). That leads us to present day when A. tricoccum is amongst one of the most popular wild foods for foragers and foodies across States and Canada. Because wild leeks are a slow growing and bulbous species that take up to five years to reach reproductive maturity (i.e. the ability to produce seeds), wild populations are threatened due to over-harvesting and habitat destruction. Many regions, especially in the Eastern United States, have restrictions on harvesting and reselling. What can we do to help wild leek populations and can we still harvest these tasty aromatic plants? The most important actions we can take are following sustainable harvesting practices and planting your own cluster of leeks if your property has the plant's optimal growing conditions (shade and moist, well-drained soils with a neutral pH). There are many guides to harvesting and growing online, such as this awesome post from the Wild Muskoka Botanicals blog that details everything from responsible harvesting, recipes, buyer's guides, and more.

Below are some A. tricoccum seeds Marvin and I harvested. Check back in at a later date to see if we were successful in our efforts to grow our own land of leeks.