The New H-Tree

Have you ever seen the original H-tree?

Here's a little article and photo of the original H-tree. Take a look.

How did things get started?

On about June 1, 2002, Mike Jensen approached me about re-creating the original "H" tree as it existed several miles south of Story City along the Skunk River. At that time Mike asked if I thought it would be possible to re-create this famous anomaly of nature. I told him I felt that it could readily be done. I suggested that Green Ash would probably be a good species to use.

The original "H" tree is reported to have been red elm (Ulmus rubra) and white elm (Ulmus Americana). That is one of the trees was white elm and one tree was red elm. Red elm is also called "Slippery elm" and white elm is also know as "American Elm". However, the Dutch Elm Disease of the 60's and 70's killed the original trees. Thus, using Elm for the re-creation is not feasible.

I inspected several young containerized trees at the Paul Voga Nursery. These trees were the selected cultivar Prairie Spire, Fraxinus pennsylvanica "Rugby (Green Ash). The trees appeared to be vigorous and showed no signs of resprouting from the rootstock below the graft union. Generally, ash trees will die if they are prone to resprouting from the rootstock below the graft union. Thus, these are to be avoided.

Green ash is native to this area and is found naturally on moist bottomlands or along stream banks. Once established it tolerates high pH, salt, drought, wind, and sterile soils; requires full sun and it tolerates 2,4-D better than many trees.

Prairie Spire is a male tree; thus, seedless with a growth rate of nearly 2 ft. per year over a 10 year period; rather stricking in appearance, narrowly erect growth habit with terminal dominance and dense lateral branches, becoming pyramidal-elliptical with age, bright glossy green foliage becomes dark green and semi-glossy as it hardens, changing to an intense golden yellow in Autumn.

After studying numerous pictures at the Story City Museum, it becomes apparent the average person could readily stand beneath the bar of the H of the original tree; thus, the bottom of the bar or arch was 7-8 ft. high above the ground surface. The distance between the two new trees is about 7-8 ft. which is about the distance apart of the original trees, but this distance betwen the new trees will become somewhat less with increasing age as the diameter of the trees continues to increase. Thus, the distance between the new trees will eventually become about 7 ft.

A planting site in the Story City South Park seems ideal since there are numerous green ash of up to 100 to 150 years of age growing there. Also, several locations show quite adequate room for the establishment of a new H tree.

So what was done about it?

On the evening of June 28, 2002, two Prairie Spire green ash were planted towards the east end of the Story City South Park. Mike Jensen organized the planting. Those in attendance for the planting were Mike Jensen, Patsy Jensen, Marilyn Lekwa, Allan Beck, and Carson Nibe. Mike dug the holes and hauled the trees down to the planting site. Everyone else helped plant the trees. The trees were planted approximately 7.5 feet apart and positioned so that a major branch on each tree at about 8 feet above ground would grow directly towards each other and would eventually form the bar of the H. Al Beck pruned the remainder of the growth on the trees so as to restrict overall growth and to emphasize the growth of the bar of the H. The trees were nicely mulched, staked, and watered.

Watering will continue this summer in order to achieve establishment of the trees. Next spring the trees will be carefully watched and pruned so that the new growth of the H bar branches are carefully trained towards one another and can eventually be intertwined or twisted together to form a nice smooth graft; thus, forming the bar of the H. Not only will these two branches form the bar of the H, they will each, also, help become a major part of the tops of the trees. Thus, in these early formative years the rest of the growth on the trees will be subdued so as to prevent a complete top being formed by a non-bar branch. After the bar branches are twisted together and have both grown across the 7.5 foot gap between the trees, the branches will each be tipped straight upward to help form a major part of the top of the tree directly beneath it. At this point, the tops will be allowed to become fully developed and remedial pruning will continue to maintain the H structure. In this way, the bar of the H grow to be about the same size as the trunks of the trees and at the same time remain vigorous throughout the growth and life of the trees. Otherwise, if the lateral branches of the trees were only used to form the bar of the H and were not involved in contributing to the top of the trees, the bar would eventually become dwarfed and non-vigorous to the point of becoming insignificant in appearance and perhaps even die off.

Mike Jensen and Marilyn Lekwa took pictures of the tree planting project.

Here's a picture to show you how the trees will be grown together to form the H.

Maintenance Time.

On May 18, 2003, I pruned the trees by making about one and a half dozen cuts to remove branches on the trunk and mostly below the H bar branches. No more cuts will need to be made below the H bar branches; only desprouting of the trunk will be needed. The branches above the H bar were pruned back somewhat.

On June 28, 2003, I made 17 cuts to head back new growth. The central leader on the north tree was not dead as suspected earlier and had now started late new growth which was as desired. Thus, a vigorous water sprout could be severely cut back which had been scheduled to take the place of the thought-to-be dead central leader.

The total length of the 17 shoots that were pruned off on June 28 come to 15 foot of growth. The vigorous water sprout that was pruned off was 2 foot, 7 inches in length.

Between May 18 and June 28, Al Beck de-sprouted the main trunks of the trees two times.

The tip growth on the two H bar branches is real good.

On July 2, 2003, Mike Jensen, Marilyn Lekwa, and Al Beck put up a wood pole between the two trees to which a branch from each tree will be trained to form the permanent H bar. The wood pole consisted of an 8.5 by l.5 inches by .75 inch pole placed 7.5 ft. above the ground. The wood pole was secured to the trees with .25 inch twisted sisal rope. The rope was wrapped around the branch of each tree tight enough to start pulling the branch to the pole. After several weeks the rope will be tightened in order to pull the branches even closer to the pole. Eventually, the two branches will be pulled tight against the pole and will be parallel to the ground. At the same time this will result in a 90 degree angled crotch with the trunk. Starting out this angle was only about 35 to 40 degrees with the trunk.

Shortly after our July 2 visit Mike Jensen had erected a picket snow fence around the planting site in order to minimize any vandalism.

After the two branches are trained into the desired position, the wood pole will be removed.

Marilyn Lekwa took pictures of the process.

On July 31, 2003, Mike Jensen and Al Beck returned to adjust and tighten up the rope on the two branches that will form the H. bar. Growth has been good and it looks like everything is coming into place. The rope will be adjusted again in a few weeks. Mike again took pictures.

This is a picture of the H tree I took on July 26, 2003. You can see the branches that will form the horizontal bar of the H being pulled down with some rope.

Documentation written and provided by Allan Beck.

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