What’s up with the trees?

Dog­ber­ries are bare, maples blighted with fun­gus

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID MAHER

Au­tumn is here, bring­ing with it all the sta­ples: the first frost, a mo­saic of leaves — but this time a no­tice­able ab­sence of dog­ber­ries.

St. John’s mu­nic­i­pal ar­borist Brian Mercer says he has found only a few trees around the city with any dog­ber­ries — most are com­pletely bar­ren.

While the tale passed down through the gen­er­a­tions sug­gests more or less dog­ber­ries in any year can give a hint about the com­ing win­ter, Mercer says that no­tion is sim­ply a myth.

“Sci­en­tif­i­cally, that’s not the case. They’re more of an in­di­ca­tion of the past than a pre­dic­tion of the fu­ture,” he said. “They tend to put their en­ergy and ef­forts into pro­duc­ing flow­ers in the late spring or early sum­mer. If it hap­pens to be a cooler sea­son than nor­mal, then we don’t see the berries.”

Mercer says there’s no need to be con­cerned for the health of the lo­cal dog­berry — or moun­tain ash tree — pop­u­la­tion. Two va­ri­eties of dog­berry trees grow in New­found­land and Labrador: the showy moun­tain ash, which pro­duces larger flower clus­ters, and the Amer­i­can moun­tain ash, which tends to have smaller leaflets.

The berries are food for birds through the win­ter, but are also grazed on by moose and rab­bits.

The hardy trees grow well in the prov­ince at the bor­der of bogs, on rocky hills, or on drier ar­eas and can be up to 15 me­tres high, Mercer said.

There’s noth­ing hu­mans can re­ally do to en­cour­age or dis­cour­age the growth of berries. The year fluc­tu­a­tion is en­tirely nat­u­ral.

“The birds will find other sources of food,” said Mercer.

Else­where, small black blotches known as maple tar ap­pear to be more com­mon this year than in oth­ers, though Mercer couldn’t say for sure whether there’s been a sub­stan­tial in­crease.

The blotches are a fun­gus that can look yel­low or light green in the sum­mer, but turn black as the year goes on.

They can be un­sightly, and will block sun­light on the af­fected leaves, but they’re es­sen­tially harm­less to the trees.

When the spot­ted leaves fall from the trees in win­ter, the fun­gus stays be­neath, wait­ing for the spring. Once spring comes, the fun­gus will re­lease its spores, in­fect­ing the same tree from the pre­vi­ous year.

Mercer says the best way to pre­vent the blotches from com­ing back year af­ter year is sim­ple lawn main­te­nance.

“The best thing to do is just rake those leaves and get rid of them, ei­ther through reg­u­lar dis­posal or com­post on site,” he said.

In short, rake your yard and keep your heavy coat handy — win­ter is com­ing.

DAVID MAHER/THE TELEGRAM

St. John’s mu­nic­i­pal ar­borist Brian Mercer says a de­crease in dog­ber­ries and a per­ceived in­crease in­tar spots on maple tree leaves are no cause for alarm.

DAVID MAHER/THE TELEGRAM

Tar spots, of­ten found on maple trees, are a fun­gus that can re­cur ev­ery year if trees aren’t prop­erly main­tained, but the dis­coloura­tions are mostly harm­less.

DAVID MAHER/THE TELEGRAM

A dog­berry tree with no berries.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Dog­berry trees were much more ful­some in pre­vi­ous years, as seen in this photo from 2017.

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