I imagine after humans have destroyed much of life on earth that some tough species will survive and continue to thrive without us. Among them are cockroaches and box elder trees. Growing up in northern Ohio, I got to know most of the Appalachian and Great Lakes tree species well. Moving to Wisconsin 45 years ago, I didn’t recognize box elder trees and didn’t realize how insidious they really are. I first thought they were some kind of ash, having opposite, pinnately compound leaves with five leaflets. I also mistook seedling box elders for poison ivy which has pinnately compound leaves with three leaflets. Box elders (Acer negundo) are in the maple family with sweet sap and furrowed and ridged bark. The twigs are stout with a waxy coating that gives them a shiny green to purple color. The trees flower in the spring and the female trees produce large quantities of seeds that ripen in the fall. The seeds are winged pairs of samaras like sugar maples and can helicopter in the wind for long distances during the fall and winter. Native to much of North America, box elders are pioneering species along rivers often following willows and cottonwoods in succession on new floodplain soils before longer-lived species like silver maple and swamp white oak take over. Adult box elder trees reach about 60 feet tall with a spreading crown. Older trees are gnarly and trashy-looking. The wood is weak and soft so the trees are prone to breakage by wind, ice and snow. Box elder trees make poor firewood with low BTU’s per pound, but the red-stained wood can be turned into beautiful bowls. The soft wood was once used for making fruit boxes, hence the name. Seedling box elders grow really fast, putting on an inch in diameter each year for the first 15 or 20 years. Young trees sprout from the stump developing multiple stems. This characteristic, coupled with production of allelopathic compounds in the roots that suppress growth of other plants, leads to dense stands of box elders along rivers, streams and in abandoned farmland. After storm or flood damage, these dense stands of box elder can become nearly impenetrable. Box elders are drought and pollution-resistant trees, enabling them to rapidly invade abandoned urban areas. In our area, box elder “hells” occur on wet places along the Apple, Willow, Kinnickinnic, Trimbelle, and Rush Rivers. The Kiap-TU-Wish Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the DNR have worked hard to restore many miles of trout streams. Box elders shade the streams making them less productive of algae and aquatic plants that support macroinvertebrates and fish. Box elders are prone to wind fall and destabilize stream banks, adding sand and silt to the streams. Many of the stream restoration projects in this area began with cutting hundreds to thousands of box elder trees along the stream corridors. Randy Arnold, Volunteer Coordinator for the Kiap-TU-Wish Chapter, has probably chain-sawed more box elder trees than anyone. While I was writing this article I squished a box elder bug crawling across my desk. The nymphs of these orange and black insects feed on female box elder trees.  Adult box elder bugs invade our homes in great numbers in the fall. Despite their abundance, box elder bugs don’t seem to bother the box elder trees. I’ve chain-sawed many box elder trees helping with Kiap-TU-Wish stream projects, clearing them from the boundary of the restored prairie at the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust Kelly Creek Preserve, and in beating back the box elder jungle on our place. Garlon, a trade name for triclopyr, is a herbicide that when sprayed with foliar application to seedings or to cut stumps effectively kills box elder trees and prevents re-sprouting without killing nearby grasses or evergreens. Box elders are weedy trees that have made their place in my pantheon of bad actor plants in our area. They rank right in there with buckthorn, reed canary grass, honeysuckle, poison ivy, garlic mustard, prickly ash, Chinese elm and wild parsnip. Box elders have few redeeming qualities but they certainly are tough survivors. Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at rfjsports@rivertowns.net. --Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist  

I imagine after humans have destroyed much of life on earth that some tough species will survive and continue to thrive without us. Among them are cockroaches and box elder trees.Growing up in northern Ohio, I got to know most of the Appalachian and Great Lakes tree species well. Moving to Wisconsin 45 years ago, I didn’t recognize box elder trees and didn’t realize how insidious they really are. I first thought they were some kind of ash, having opposite, pinnately compound leaves with five leaflets. I also mistook seedling box elders for poison ivy which has pinnately compound leaves with three leaflets.Box elders (Acer negundo) are in the maple family with sweet sap and furrowed and ridged bark. The twigs are stout with a waxy coating that gives them a shiny green to purple color. The trees flower in the spring and the female trees produce large quantities of seeds that ripen in the fall. The seeds are winged pairs of samaras like sugar maples and can helicopter in the wind for long distances during the fall and winter.Native to much of North America, box elders are pioneering species along rivers often following willows and cottonwoods in succession on new floodplain soils before longer-lived species like silver maple and swamp white oak take over. Adult box elder trees reach about 60 feet tall with a spreading crown. Older trees are gnarly and trashy-looking.The wood is weak and soft so the trees are prone to breakage by wind, ice and snow. Box elder trees make poor firewood with low BTU’s per pound, but the red-stained wood can be turned into beautiful bowls. The soft wood was once used for making fruit boxes, hence the name. Seedling box elders grow really fast, putting on an inch in diameter each year for the first 15 or 20 years.Young trees sprout from the stump developing multiple stems. This characteristic, coupled with production of allelopathic compounds in the roots that suppress growth of other plants, leads to dense stands of box elders along rivers, streams and in abandoned farmland. After storm or flood damage, these dense stands of box elder can become nearly impenetrable. Box elders are drought and pollution-resistant trees, enabling them to rapidly invade abandoned urban areas.In our area, box elder “hells” occur on wet places along the Apple, Willow, Kinnickinnic, Trimbelle, and Rush Rivers. The Kiap-TU-Wish Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the DNR have worked hard to restore many miles of trout streams.Box elders shade the streams making them less productive of algae and aquatic plants that support macroinvertebrates and fish. Box elders are prone to wind fall and destabilize stream banks, adding sand and silt to the streams. Many of the stream restoration projects in this area began with cutting hundreds to thousands of box elder trees along the stream corridors. Randy Arnold, Volunteer Coordinator for the Kiap-TU-Wish Chapter, has probably chain-sawed more box elder trees than anyone.While I was writing this article I squished a box elder bug crawling across my desk. The nymphs of these orange and black insects feed on female box elder trees.  Adult box elder bugs invade our homes in great numbers in the fall. Despite their abundance, box elder bugs don’t seem to bother the box elder trees.I’ve chain-sawed many box elder trees helping with Kiap-TU-Wish stream projects, clearing them from the boundary of the restored prairie at the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust Kelly Creek Preserve, and in beating back the box elder jungle on our place. Garlon, a trade name for triclopyr, is a herbicide that when sprayed with foliar application to seedings or to cut stumps effectively kills box elder trees and prevents re-sprouting without killing nearby grasses or evergreens.Box elders are weedy trees that have made their place in my pantheon of bad actor plants in our area. They rank right in there with buckthorn, reed canary grass, honeysuckle, poison ivy, garlic mustard, prickly ash, Chinese elm and wild parsnip. Box elders have few redeeming qualities but they certainly are tough survivors.Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at rfjsports@rivertowns.net.--Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist 

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