This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
A year or more ago my attention was attracted to the frequent deaths of trees along our streets and avenues, and since have seen comments on it in our daily papers. These, like the Gardener's Monthly, are satisfied that gas which escapes from the main pipes is the cause. As reasonable and satisfactory as this might seem to the casual observer, I could not make myself believe it for several reasons, though I fail to be able to say definitely what the cause is. I am nevertheless convinced that it is not the gas. The lamentable account of Arnhem Velperweg, if not exaggerated, is truly a sad one; but in my opinion it is laughable to lay the cause to the dereliction of gas companies, and more so the remedy that they resorted to. The same, it appears to me, as trying to rebuild a house while the old one is still burning. Since all mysteries are explained by theory till facts are reached, I think we have got to satisfy ourselves with theory on this subject for a while. Whenever a tree dies on some thoroughfare, we wonder and ponder at the cause, but if we go through a woods and see as large and as handsome a tree die there, the cause suggests itself, - it simply got sick and now dies, that settles it at once.
In my opinion, the gas theory ought to be the last one, until other theories have been tested and found to be wrong. It is the one opinion all over the world, that if one plants a tree it ought to certainly outlive him by at least one hundred years.
I asked the question: What right have we to expect every tree that is planted for some purpose, to reach the age of two hundred or five hundred years? Who has assured us that trees which are planted tor shade, are not susceptible to diseases the same as fruit trees, or roses? When young transplanted trees die, experience has taught us that it is mostly owing to careless planting, usually that of too deep. My observation on nature leads me to believe that trees die in the same ratio as animals; and a beautiful maple, or elm, on Fifth ave. is no safer than a shrub in the woods. From my investigation I conclude that it is a kind of blight, as every tree that died in our city in the last three years, first started by wilting on the top or side branches before going into eternal rest. Now if gas was the direct cause, it would certainly do its work quicker, and not wait until every leaf was developed, and give three or four months grace besides.
Who has traced the current of the gas as it leaks out of the pipes, to say positively that it goes just in the direction of one tree, a distance of fifteen or twenty feet, but spares the two trees on each side of it, which are often not more than six or eight feet away?
A few years ago I read in some German horticultural monthly, that the cause of trees dying in cities, was owing to the gas light, which prevented them from going to sleep, that the continual wakefulness told so severely on the nervous system, that finally death resulted from it. This is good logic too, but like the gas theory, it won't bear investigation.
[Our correspondent is mistaken in taking the Gardener's Monthly as a type of those papers which are satisfied gas at the roots is the cause of the "frequent deaths of trees along our streets and cities." The Gardener's Monthly understands very well that trees die from various causes; but that many trees do die from gas at the roots is a fact too well-known to be disputed. We believe gas to be only one of the causes of the frequent deaths. - Ed. G. M.]