Earthworms’ Castings

With Jean Ponzi

Subtle Turning

Even in a rainy year like this one, our Tulip Poplar trees start browning and dropping leaves in July. They’re an early affirmation of the Great Turn to come.

In dry times, we run our sprinklers just to support them. Our city place is an intentional forest, landscaped for the trees. Scant patches of full sun are barely enough to raise a few stalks of basil. We are hopeless for blossoms and veg.

Growing trees is one major thing we can do in this critical period of Climate Change. Groves of data urge densely human regions to plant and care for native trees.
My home place is doing its part. I can bum tomatoes and zinnias from friends.

One urban tree I recommend is Liriodendron tulipifera. We variously call it American tulip tree, tulipwood, tulip poplar, whitewood, fiddletree, and yellow poplar. Fast growing and hardy, tulipifera’s namesake is the shape of its broad leaves. As our tallest eastern hardwood, it’s State Tree of Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Tulip Tree is native to eastern North America from southern Ontario and Illinois east to southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and south to central Florida and Louisiana. This impressive range includes metro St. Louis.

With native super-stock like this, why have we filled our human habitats with exotic trees? Too many “new” species we’ve coveted don’t prove out in gritty city living conditions. Some, like ancient Ginkgo, do thrive but can’t support the biodiversity we need because their native circle of eco-peeps was left behind in another place. Some produce parts we came to loathe, like Sweet Gum: gorgeous except for its zillions of spiky trip-hazard seed balls. Bradford Pear is pretty but weak, it breaks in storms – and it has turned invasive!

Only over the last decade or two have we – and our urban foresters and plant producers – embraced our great native plants for our personal places. Native species re-weave the tattered bio-webs around human life because they evolved with critters we enjoy: birds, bats, amphibians, insects and more.

Even as we cling in our attachment to fossil fuels, we humans are turning bit by bit into eco-logical ways of life. Trees grow us into their wisdom circles, inspiring us to re-learn Nature’s ways, while providing truly solar powered 02 and AC.

I’ve been leafing through essays, reports and TED talks, seeking human responses to Climate Change. My work leads me into conversations with people everywhere who are seeding the kind of Great Turn desperately needed from our kind.
Autumn is turning from subtle to great in our home’s trees, following Tulip Poplar’s lead into graceful, logical attachment release.

We have annual options to learn from them. And constant opportunity to appreciate one of Nature’s best-adapted kinds of human neighbor trees.

Join Jean Ponzi’s conversations with people turning Greener. Pick up her Earthworms podcast, her community service since 1988, from KDHX St. Louis Independent Media at podcasts.kdhx.org.