Have you ever heard of an ‘alpha tree’?
My sister had an arborist come and trim some of her trees and he looked through a small wooded area in their back yard to make recommendations on thinning it out. The area is a triangle shape and the three corners are anchored by a sugar maple (Acer saccharum), pictured above from a week ago before the leaves started to turn, an old spruce (Picea abies) and an American beech (Fagus grandiflora).
Between the sugar maple and the spruce is a ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) and the rest of the area includes an old black pine (Pinus nigra) and at least one spruce that is completely dead.
The arborist said the sugar maple was the alpha tree in that corner wooded area.
I’ve never heard anyone refer to an alpha tree before but I assume that it means that it is the dominant tree in that area. The sugar maple is probably the tallest tree there, though the beech might be just as tall. And it was probably one of the first trees planted in the back yard some 45 years ago.
What does it mean to be the alpha tree? Does the alpha tree get all its nutrients first? Do the other trees in an area know or sense in any way which one is the alpha tree? If you have to thin out a wooded area, do you leave the alpha tree? What if the alpha tree dies? Does another tree become the alpha tree or do the trees mourn the loss of the alpha tree and ‘pine’ away. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) What if all the trees are of similar size? Then is the alpha tree determined by species? Is there a natural order of things in the tree world that we can only imagine?
Has anyone heard of this concept of an alpha tree? If you have, let me know, as my brief online search didn’t provide much insight. I even looked in a couple of books on trees and came up with nothing.
In my own back yard, the current alpha tree, if there is such a thing, is probably the honey locust, (Gleditsia triacanthos) since it’s the tallest tree. On the side yard, the new ginkgomust be alpha because it is the only tree over there.
We have some other ‘alphas’ in our family besides this sugar maple.
My ten year old niece Sophie is the ‘alpha dog’ in her household, in a good way. The actual dogs follow her around because they know she’s the boss of them. I don’t know how this came about, but that’s how it is.
I’m pretty sure I’m the ‘alpha gardener’ in the family. My siblings usually ask me their gardening related questions. They like to know what I’m planting and why. When I posted that I was going to get a Carolina Silverbell tree, my youngest sister (Sister with the Homestead) commented that she wanted one, too, and I got an email from my oldest sister asking about it and should she get one. (I talked them both out of getting one because of the acidic soil requirements).
My oldest sister is the ‘alpha crafter’ of the family. Quilting, spinning, weaving, knitting, crocheting, she does it all. She has a big loom and makes us all indestructible kitchen towels on it and knits socks and sweaters. Last year at Thanksgiving, I over heard her say that she didn’t think she had spun enough yarn to finish knitting a sweater she was working on. Only an alpha crafter would say that.
Even though I’m not the alpha crafter in my family, I’m going to post someday soon about some hand made gifts for the gardener that anyone (nearly) can make. Really, maybe tomorrow.
Are there any ‘alphas’ in your garden or family?
(This is Muncie, one of Sophie's pack.)