2009-12-17 / Front Page

Jamestown a test site for hybrid Chinese tree

Jamestown Tree Warden Steve Saracino and the Nanjing Beauty planted as part of a test. Jamestown Tree Warden Steve Saracino and the Nanjing Beauty planted as part of a test. Recently, Jamestown tree warden Steve Saracino, along with Jim Rugh and Tony Antine of the Jamestown Tree Preservation and Protection Committee, attended an urban tree symposium in Massachusetts. There, they met Mike Shade of Joplin, Mo., who is working to test and evaluate a new hybrid tree: Taxodium x zhongshansha, an interspecific hybrid between the Bald Cypress of the U.S. south and the Mexican Montezuma Cypress.

Bald Cypress is a strong native deciduous conifer that calls the wetlands of the south home. It is straight growing and can exceed 100 feet in height. Montezuma Cypress is native to Mexico and is not often grown in this country. Montezuma Cypress grows faster than Bald Cypress, and can withstand extended droughts. In addition, it tolerates high-salt soils.

Both species are deciduous, losing their needles in late fall, similar to larches and dawn redwood. While many horticulturists have speculated that it would be interesting to cross these two trees, no one in this country had ever attempted it. The major obstacle was that the two cypresses produce pollen at different times of the year.

This new hybrid tree was created in 1980 by Dr. Chen Yong Hu of the Nanjing Botanical Garden in China. There, botanists collected and stored Montezuma Cypress pollen in 1979 and used it to handpollinate a superior Bald Cypress tree in 1980. This cross produced 500 seedlings.

The best one was attractive and combined the straight, fast growth form and habit of the Bald Cypress with the evergreen nature and rapid growth of Montezuma Cypress. The Chinese developed a way to mass-produce the tree by cuttings and today, millions of this new tree are being planted in southern China, an area equal to U.S. climate zone 7 and possibly zone 6 (Jamestown is in zone 6).

The Chinese are using the tree for fast screening, and in dry and salty soils. The tree is also being used to control beach erosion. It will be planted at the Three Gorges Lake, which will be created by the world’s largest dam – now being built on the Yangtze River.

In 2001, the Chinese gave 55 trees to Dr. David Creech of Steven F. Austin University Arboretum in Texas. The new tree was named “Nanjing Beauty” for the U.S. market and is now being tested and evaluated at more than 50 arboretums and botanical gardens across the country.

One question that has not been answered up until now is just how hardy the new trees are. After learning about Jamestown’s coastal zone 6 climate, Shade asked if the town would serve as a test site. Saracino agreed, and three small trees were donated to the town.

These have now been planted and the results will be reported to Shade and the Missouri Botanical Garden.

“No one really knows if this new tree can grow in Jamestown,” Saracino said. “It is interesting to be part of this research project and quite an honor for the town.”

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