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Posts tagged: trees

Genetic Studies Reveal a Tree’s History to Ensure its Future

Ponderosa pines standing tall in front of Yosemite Falls in California

Ponderosa pines stand tall in front of Yosemite Falls in California. Photo by Kevin Potter, USFS.

It can reach heights of 200 feet and live 500 years, and occupies landscapes across the western United States. Some say its bark has an unforgettable smell resembling vanilla or even cinnamon, and this tree is one tough cookie. It grows in a variety of soils and climates and survives fires that consume other species. It is also an ecologically and economically valuable tree that provides food, habitat and ponderous (heavy) lumber.

It is the iconic ponderosa pine. But the world is changing, and ponderosa pine is vulnerable to climate shifts, high-intensity wildfires and bark beetles — as well as development that replaces trees. To keep the ponderosa pine standing tall, researchers are looking for answers in its genes. Read more »

Discovery Could Rekindle Interest in a USDA Trailblazer

Fruits and vegetables in a basket

David Fairchild was instrumental in establishing gardens nationwide to screen plants from overseas with potential for improving U.S. diets, gardens, and landscapes. ARS photo by Keith Weller.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Bountiful harvests don’t magically appear on store shelves and supermarkets. USDA scientists strive to make sure that the variety of meats, fruits, vegetables and grains we enjoy are hardy enough to withstand insects, diseases, droughts and other natural threats familiar to anyone with a garden or farm.

David Fairchild, a USDA scientist, was a key part of that effort. Fairchild collected plants from all over the world so they could be studied and bred. He organized the USDA’s Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction and served as its chairman for more than 20 years. He is credited with introducing about 30,000 plant species and variations into the United States, and he was instrumental in establishing gardens throughout the United States to screen plants with potential for improving our diets, gardens and landscapes. Read more »

In Recently Burned Forests, a Woodpecker’s Work is Never Done

A black-backed woodpecker

The black-backed woodpecker is a burned forest specialist. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Following a wildfire, some might see dead trees. Woodpeckers see possibilities.

The black-backed woodpecker is one such bird—a burned forest specialist—who readily chooses fire-killed trees (snags) in which to drill cavities for nesting and roosting.

When the woodpecker moves on, its cavity turns into valuable habitat for other forest-dwelling species. Read more »

Working Trees for Islands Showcases Power of Agroforestry

A breadfruit tree owner poses in her home garden with ornamental plants

A breadfruit tree owner poses in her home garden with ornamental plants (Photo by Diane Ragone, Breadfruit Institute)

Do you grow fruits and vegetables in your backyard or community garden? Do some of them come from trees?

Breadfruit, or ‘ulu, is an easy-to-grow, productive, nutritious, and starchy staple crop grown in many Pacific Islands, including Hawaii. It can be roasted, baked, boiled, fried or pounded into poi. In the past, many people grew breadfruit at home and in community gardens. However, many breadfruit trees have been cut down, especially in urban areas. Products such as breadfruit can have a helpful impact on Pacific islands such as Hawaii, imports about 85 percent of its food. Read more »

Transferring Dead Trees from Source of Wildfire Fuel to Biofuel

Mountain lake with pine beetle damaged forest

Researchers are harvesting beetle-killed trees in the Rocky Mountain region for use as feedstock for biofuel. (iStock image)

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Trees killed by bark beetles have, for years, been a source of fuel for forest fires.  Now, those very trees are being turned into biofuel and biobased products.

This vast bioenergy resource—approximately 46 million acres—requires no cultivation, circumvents food-versus-fuel concerns, and may have a highly favorable carbon balance compared other forestry feedstocks. The problem, however, is that beetle-killed biomass is typically located far from urban industrial centers in relatively inaccessible areas, which means transportation costs are a key barrier to widespread utilization of this vast resource. Read more »

Bi-State Sage-Grouse Success Shows Importance of Voluntary Conservation Partnerships

Front view of a bi-state sage-grouse

Bi-State sage-grouse live at the California-Nevada border, and biologists estimate that between 1,800 and 7,400 of these ground-dwelling birds inhabit about 4.5 acres of sagebrush habitat. Bureau of Land Management photo.

We can achieve more when we voluntarily work together, and the decision today not to list the Bi-State sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act proves the power of partnerships. In this case, collectively, we were able to proactively conserve and restore habitat for this geographically distinct sage-grouse.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service works with conservation partners and ranchers in Nevada and California to take steps to benefit sage-grouse habitat while also helping ranchers improve their ranching operations. Meanwhile, this work helps connect public lands like national forests, where U.S. Forest Service is working to restore habitat, too. Read more »