Green Scene: Tree football

SUBMITTED PHOTO Codominant stem failure signals the early end of a career in tree sports but maybe not in a lawn.

Perhaps you remember the series of commercials kicked off in Super Bowl XXIII. In this fantasy, beer bottles replaced humans and took their places on the gridiron. And have you seen the similar photos from Austria and the drawing that inspired them? Here, it's not bottles but trees, and the field is normally used for the other kind of football.

Now, I don't remember hearing anyone ask about the implications of two glass bottles colliding for a shattering tackle. But for entertainment and education, I am going to ask about the implications of two trees colliding on an American football field. (Okay. The Canadian football field might give a bit more space for the trees, but trees certainly could not run under the crossbar of the goal posts). And I am not that far out on a limb with this vision. Dryads and drus are female and male mythological tree spirits respectively. So I guess other than an occasional kicking exhibition, the dryads would serve as cheerleaders or sideline reporters, while the drus would take the field.

First, let's agree that the evergreen spruces, arborvitaes and junipers would best serve as players. How often have you seen a juniper with wind or snow damage? So these trees' careers might be able to survive the mighty tackle of an oak. (By the way, if this were really a world championship, the palms might have an argument that if they can handle a hurricane, they can handle an aggressive oak. Someone, however, might argue that only dicotyledons can play, so palms would be off the field. So maybe live oaks could take their place. Live oaks can survive hurricanes).

Let's get back to the tackle of the mighty oak. Suppose the oak tree aimed a bit high or wide on the spruce. The spruce, whose boughs can bow under a snow load, would evade tackle, and the oak would come crashing down. While the spruce would continue downfield, the oak would be sidelined with broken limbs. The trainer will need a pruning saw to prevent the spread of decay and the growth of water sprouts.

A downfield block produces a collision between two equally sized maples. If the collision was light enough, maybe less than 30% of the foliage was lost to twig damage. It will take up less space for a while, but it should recover. But what if branch-to-branch contact resulted in lost bark? In time, the wound will close, but it will never heal, and the branch will be permanently weakened.

So protect the trunk. For professional tree football, lost trunk bark signals the end of a career: Too much risk. But with decades of patience, the tree's genes can be passed on through asexual reproduction, and the wounded warrior's cloned son can once again prowl the backfield.

Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit's municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at


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