Mulch Ado About Nothing

Spotted in Easton, MD:  a properly mulched street tree!  This is a sighting as rare as that of a Yeti – in fact, every other tree on that street sported the usual volcano of mulch heaped up against the tree’s trunk.    Why just the one triumph of good horticultural practice?   Perhaps there is just one town employee who has listened to the pleas to stop burying trees alive in shredded bark; perhaps the anomalous groundsman was disciplined after deviating from the norm.

Sighted in Easton — properly mulched tree

I was down in Easton, the center of  Maryland’s Eastern Shore, to visit Ruth Clausen, my horticultural mentor and co-author (with me) of Essential Perennials.  We were putting together a workshop on propagating perennials which we will teach at the Philadelphia Flower Show on March 3rd at 2 p.m., and visiting Adkins Arboretum in Ridgely, MD, where we found the skunk cabbage already in bloom – if skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) enjoyed a more flattering common name it would be a garden fixture with its fascinating, early season flower and luxuriant foliage.  Skunk cabbage plants actually heat up in late winter, metabolizing nutrients stored in their roots to melt the surrounding surface soil so that they can poke up their precocious blossoms for the benefit of early pollinators — flies and other early insects find a warm refuge inside the hooded flowers.

“SKUNKCABBAGE-MOSS-400X575” by Sue Sweeney


As special as the flowers were, however, and the Arboretum’s fine specimens of native hollies and other trees, the real excitement of the visit was that street tree’s mulch.  It was spotted after a dinner with wine and was initially suspected to be an alcoholic apparition. Why is the urge to fatally smother tree trunks so universal in this country?  How did such a destructive practice become the norm?  More important, how do we stop it?

Posted by

Thomas Christopher
on February 7, 2015 at 9:17 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.

Comment List

  • Justin Stelter 21 / 11 / 2016

    Hilarious. Great article.

  • Bob 21 / 11 / 2016

    Its not the name that keeps Skunk Cabbage from being a popular horticulture plant its the smell.

  • Virginia 21 / 11 / 2016

    I agree with Kermit at 11:02 p.m (unfortunately).

  • Vicky Shallow 21 / 11 / 2016

    Carry a garden claw and attack the problem when you see it.

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