Hasn’t the heat wave been dramatic? That’s a pretty poor question for what is at stake for the region as we now are classified as being in a SEVERE drought. EXTREME drought is the next category that Western Kansas and Southeastern Missouri are now experiencing. It’s painful to watch the important agricultural crops wither all around. We are able to water most of the horticultural crops at Powell Gardens and our gardens are holding up well thanks to a hard working and committed horticulture staff. Kudos to them!
Then I noticed that virtually all the oaks in the Parking Lot Arboretum on the other side of the garden were doing the same thing. See the bright yellow-green new foliage adorning this Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muhlenbergii)? Chinkapin oak I consider to be the quintessential oak of Kansas City as it once graced the region’s bluffs, including where downtown now stands. Lewis & Clark described it there and you can see it in the magnificent mural of their described scene at the Anita Gorman Discovery Center.
Powell Gardens Parking Lot Arboretum contains 96 oak trees comprising 16 of Missouri and Kansas’s 21 species of native oaks. Virtually all of them are not just enduring the heat and drought but putting on new growth. I noticed that the River Birches (Betula nigra) were shedding leaves to conserve water.
Does this mean anything? Was it caused by conditions earlier in the season or do they know something we do not? I would love to be an optimist and that they foretell a change in the weather pattern that would bring a monsoon flow and returning rains to the region. Time will tell. I can say that oaks are one tough tree once they are established so it’s no wonder they were the dominant tree in the region when the settlers first came here.
My friend Leah Berg said this reminds her of a talk by America’s tree expert, Guy Sternberg, on a recent conference of the Kansas Arborist Association. Guy explained a need to plant more heat resistant trees as our climate warms. He recommended oaks for such and I sincerely concur.
The Value of Trees
The recent HEAT WAVE with temperatures reaching 100F or more for a full week was especially brutal on us and plants because the days are so long near the summer solstice. Trees have enormous value to us in times like this as their shade is the cheapest air conditioner available!
This image is the woodland walk from the Marjorie Powell Allen Chapel to the trolley stop at Powell Gardens. On hot days it is a respite compared to the full sun of the garden’s open prairie landscapes.
- TREES supply the oxygen we need to breathe.
- TREES keep our air supply fresh by absorbing carbon dioxide that we exhale and also that which we emitted by factories and engines.
- TREES are natural air conditioners. They lower air temperatures by evaporating water in their leaves.
- TREES cut down on noise pollution by acting as sound barriers.
- TREES trap and filter out dust and pollen on their hairy leaf surfaces.
- TREES shelter us from direct sunlight on hot sunny days.
- TREES roots stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.
- TREES camouflage unsightly scenes and break the monotony of endless highways, sidewalks and lawns.
- TREES slow down strong winds.
- TREES give us privacy.