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Arboretum Gives Endangered Trees a Second Chance

Scattered among a few pockets around southern Ontario, blue ash is among the most endangered trees in the province. But a conservation project based partly at the University of Guelph Arboretum might not only rescue this species but also yield specimens resistant to an insect pest that has felled other ashes during the past decade.

Helping rejuvenate blue ash in Ontario is the goal of a seed-harvesting initiative that brought volunteers to the arboretum one day last semester. Their effort yielded a "bumper crop of seeds" from a decades-old plantation that is now among the most important groups of blue ash in the province, says Prof. Shelley Hunt, arboretum director.

Those seeds will be sent to planting groups around Ontario in an effort to reverse the trees' decline.

Blue ash extends from southwestern Ontario to Oklahoma and Georgia, according to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, which lists the tree under the province's Endangered Species Act. Some populations are protected in national and provincial parks; remaining trees on private land are not.

Clearing for farmland has brought the species close to extinction in Canada. "The forest land is chopped up into chunks, so you have these isolated populations of trees over the landscape," says Hunt.

Along with arboretum horticulturalist Sean Fox, she enlisted undergrads from her environmental sciences class and arboretum volunteers to help collect seed last fall.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014