Displaying items by tag: University of Tennessee Agricultural Institute
2-minute video on hemlock genetic diversity conservation added to this article on September 2, 2021
UT Tree Improvement Program prepares for its greatest grafting season yet
“What you have here is the future of Tennessee forests,” said Scott Schlarbaum, a professor and director of the University of Tennessee Tree Improvement Program.
You can tell from a chuckle he thinks his statement might sound hyperbolic and a bit dramatic, but it’s really not.
He gestured across an unassuming but important UT facility just off Alcoa Highway tucked within the East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center that will be the main base for a historic tree-grafting effort that will commence this winter.
The goal: Create trees with high-quality genetic traits ranging from wildlife and habitat qualities to timber value.
Heavy traffic hissed down the nearby highway as it passed by the modest understock yard, greenhouse, raised beds and small house containing offices used as the main grafting facility for the UT Tree Improvement Program (TIP). At least 50,000 vehicles pass by the site every day but most drivers and passengers are oblivious to the existence of this small but important outpost of forest conservation skirted by a Knox County greenway.
The Tree Improvement Program was first established in 1959. It survives as a notable exception to the cost-cutting of such projects in other states at both university and government levels.
“These days we tend to look only at the short term. UT did not.”
Beginning in January, Schlarbaum, director of the program since 1983, will oversee grafting efforts on some 3,600 trees. Last year, during which TIP efforts were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, about 2,000 trees were grafted.
“We are gearing up for our biggest grafting year ever. That’s a huge deal,” Schlarbaum said.
A life dedicated to the flora of Tennessee
Dr. Hal DeSelm clambered around the crest of Cherokee Bluff in the heat of a late Knoxville summer 22 years ago. The Tennessee River flowed languidly some 500 feet below. Beyond the river stood the campus of the University of Tennessee Agriculture Institute. The towers of the city center rose to the northeast beyond the bridges of the old frontier river town.
DeSelm was not interested in the views of the urban landscape below. He was interested in the native trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses that clung to the ancient cliffside with firm but ultimately ephemeral grips on the craggy soil.
The retired UT professor, a renowned ecologist and botanist who died in 2011, had been sampling the terrestrial flora of Tennessee for decades. The life-long project took on a new urgency in the early 1990s, when he accelerated his data collection in hopes of writing the authoritative guide to the natural vegetation native to the forests, barrens, bogs and prairies of pre-European Tennessee.
Between 1993 and 2002, DeSelm collected 4,184 data points from 3,657 plots across the state. Many of those plots have since been lost to development, highways, and agriculture, or overrun by exotic species, but he assembled an invaluable baseline of the native landscape. Many of the sites he recorded have since been lost to development.
- Tennessee River
- native plant
- native tree
- native herb
- native grass
- native shrub
- University of Tennessee
- terrestrial flora
- cedar barren
- Hal DeSelm
- Cherokee Bluff
- University of Tennessee Agricultural Institute
- native landscape
- preEuropean Tennessee
- natural vegetation
- sampling plot
- exotic species
- invasive species
- Todd Crabtree
- Tennessee State Botanist
- Natural Heritage Program
- ground cover
- herbaceous growth
- soil type
- baseline data