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LANote: Cultivating hope

Louisiana trees have a special a special character. Pictured: Oak Alley Plantation.

Louisiana trees have a special sort of character. Pictured: Oak Alley Plantation.

Trees inspire me, and my bias tells me that Louisiana trees have a special personality. Now, I know that trees have no knowledge of state boundaries, but still… I love to photograph them in the winter, against bleak skies. If they’re deciduous, that’s when you can see their bones, their true form, their death before rebirth.

I live in an older Baton Rouge neighborhood. It’s not trendy. The houses at one time were considered a bit upscale (before “upscale” was a word) but now they are politely called “older” homes. But the one thing my gently declining neighborhood has is trees. Thick and thin, shaggy, scraggly, clumped, towering or majestic – they are everywhere.

On my property are four large live oak trees, one white oak, two large magnolias, a young pecan, two stands of nice pine trees and a variety of river birches, cherries and a Leyland cypress. Pines are the sentinels that guard the outer perimeter of my yard. I lost one backyard pine to Hurricane Rita and another to Gustav. I promptly replanted pine seedlings in their place. I think of the pines as soldiers battling the winds of the Gulf of Mexico or the Arctic blasts from the Northwest Territories.

My oaks cradle my roof with cooling shade. The Louisiana live oak: dense,mysterious and ancient. Poems have been written in an attempt to describe them,and rightly so. When I’m on my front yard swing hanging from my oak and look out at Fairfax Park, I am in a state of perfect pastoral bliss. It doesn’t matter that the honking roar of Florida Boulevard is only two blocks away.

I think of my fellow urbanites trapped treeless in their new subdivisions. I’m reminded of an oil company commercial from the 1960s where a beautiful woman urged, “If you don’t have an oil well, get one!” I say, if you don’t have a tree, get one, or two or even a half-dozen.

Planting a tree is a truly unselfish act. You plant them for yourself, but as a gift for the generations to come. To plant a tree is an act of reverence. A love letter to the good earth. The Chinese proverb says it: one generation plants the trees under which another takes its ease.

Louisiana’s Arbor Day is January 21. The dead of winter, as home gardeners and landscape professionals know, is the perfect time to plant a tree. From Feb. 26 through March 4, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF), hosts its annual Shade Tree Sale at its offices throughout the state. More than a million superior genetics hardwood and pine seedlings have been distributed to the public at bargain basement prices during the sale since the Shade Tree Sale began in 1976.

Be forewarned. A tree seedlings look nothing like a tree. A bundle of kindling came to mind when I bought my first pack of hardwoods. And the pine trees? Hairy pencils. But you know what? Those twigs grow rapidly and my four year old bald cypress is doing great. My two river birches are each twelve feet tall now.

I felt good when I planted them and I feel good watching them grow. I hope they grow tall and are loved by my children and their children. I have begun something that will outlive me. I have planted hope.

This winter, no matter how gray, how cold, how wet, how dreary it is, plant a tree. It can be a seedling from the Shade Tree Sale, a ten-gallon pecan from the nursery, a citrus tree from Plaquemines Parish or a fig tree from the Garden of Eden. But plant hope. Do it for hope.

Where to go:

Figs
James Robin (pronounce it Cajun-style) of Opelousas is an expert on Old World fig trees. Imagine eating fig preserves on hot buttered toast. Can you see it, smell it, taste it? Call Mr. Robin. He’ll tell you exactly what you need.

James Robin
337-407-0188
4017 Hwy. 357
Opelousas, La. 70570

Citrus
Ben Becnel (Ben Sr. or Ben Jr.) of Plaquemines Parish is the authority on citrus trees in Louisiana. His family has been farming along the lowest part of the Mississippi river for five generations. He’ll tell you what citrus trees will grow best in your area and his website gives you some great information on how to coax the most fruit out of your trees.

Ben and Ben Becnel Inc.
14977 Hwy. 23
Belle Chasse, La. 70037
504-656-2326

Pecans
Julie and Mark Swanson of Natchitoches Pecans in Cloutierville can get you started with your very own pecan orchard. And they have candy. www.natchitochespecans.com .

Natchitoches Pecans
439 Little Eva Road
Cloutierville, La. 71416
318-379-0272

Superior genetics seedlings
Want an oak, cypress or river birch? Pick up a seedling packet at the Shade Tree Sale. You get six hardwoods or 20 loblolly pines for five bucks. Depending on the sale location, you can get bald cypress, river birch, black gum, green ash, cherrybark oak, yellow poplar, sycamore, Tupelo gum, overcup oak, nuttall oak, white oak, sawtooth oak, cherrybark oak, southern red oak, red mulberry, Chinese elm, crabapple, mayhaw, persimmon, black walnut, sweet pecan, river birch, green ash and red maple. Call the LDAF Forestry office at 225-922-1234 for dates, time and locations.

LSU AgCenter
Native Tree Growing Guide for Louisiana

This story was reposted from Louisiana-based agricultural and cultural blog LANote.org, a NoleVie content partner.