This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
I OBSERVE an universal love of tree planting, both for shelter and ornament, as well as profit. In some localities it is a great hobby, and a very sensible one too. Beyond the central portions of Kansas and Nebraska, the country is so elevated, oftentimes so cold, and so utterly devoid of water or rain for irrigating purposes, that most agricultural writers have asserted, over and over again, it was useless to attempt any sort of tree culture, for they could not possibly live in so uncongenial a soil and climate. Mr. R. 8. Elliott, Industrial Agent of the Kansas Pacific Railway, has for several years past been studying thoroughly the characteristics of meteorology, temperature, winds, and soil of this region, and at last became convinced that tree-culture was a possibility, and therefore commenced three experimental nursery beds in the most exposed localities, to prove that the plains did actually possess some encouraging signs of success in tree growth, and to remove beyond further question the prejudices of those writers who know so little of the subject. We were intensely interested in these experiments, and eagerly waited for the trains to arrive at the different points.
The first plantation is at Wilson, a small station 239 miles west of Kansas City, and at an elevation of 1,686 feet above the level of the ocean, or over a quarter of a mile high, The second plantation is at Ellis, 802 miles west, and 2,119 feet high. The third is at Fort Wallace, 423 miles west, and 3,303 feet high, nearly in longitude 102°, and very near to the western boundary of the State of Kansas. Most of these experimental grounds were from five to ten acres in extent, although all the ground was not fully occupied.
The objects of Mr. Elliott were two-fold : First, to see if young trees taken from our ordinary commercial nurseries and transplanted here, would thrive either with or without irrigation, and, second, to learn what varieties adapted themselves most readily to the situation, and made the most rapid and healthy growth. His facilities for the purpose were rather rude. His only force consisted of two laborers, who knew nothing of tree-planting; the boxes of trees were opened at three different stations, and the trees had to be transported from place to place, and subjected to considerable handling, exposure and delay before all were finally planted. At each place the ground was broken up last September, to the depth of six or eight inches, and again plowed over this spring, when the seeds of some trees were sown without special care, and the other young trees hastily planted, No artificial irrigation was resorted to, neither had there been much subsequent cultivation of the ground, from the beginning of spring down to the 1st of August. The ground was also not particularly advantageous for the purpose, being a high, rolling prairie, very dry soil, covered with the buffalo grass, and considerably exposed to the driving winds.
Each plot was surrounded by a board fence five feet high, which, no doubt, had some ameliorating influence, for it was noticed that the trees nearest the fences, under the lee of the wind, made the best growth. The average age of the trees planted was two years. At the three stations, about eighteen varieties have been set out, namely;
Evergreens - White, Scotch; Australian and Gorsican pine; Norway spruce, red cedar. Deciduous - Ailantus, ash, box elder, catalpa, cottonwool, linden, silver leaved maple, sycamore-leaved maple, Osage orange, Lombardy poplar, elm, honey-locust, European larch, black walnut, tulip tree, white willow, golden willow. Fruits - Apple, cherry, peach, plum, Concord grapevines.
The above were all transplanted, At the same places, there were sown, in the fall of 1870, and spring of 1871, seeds of ailantus, catalpa, chestnut, elm, black locust, honey locust, soft maple, oak, Osage orange, peach, pecan, pinon (New Mexican nut pine), and black walnut.
At the head of the list for rapidity of growth, from either seed or transplanted trees, is the silantas. In every place, its vigor and health and hardiness are super-eminent, and its growth would have done credit to any nursery of careful treatment. It is said this is the only tree at Denver which thrives without irrigation, the eleva-tion being 5,200 feet. The general opinion is that it may safely be put down as one of the most successful and rapid-growing trees for any portion of the plains, and that it would prove exceedingly valuable either for screens, for timber, or belts, or as a help in ameliorating the climate and attracting rains. It needs so little attention, and usually does so well on dry and even sandy soil, that its success here is unquestionable.. Next to this, the most interesting is the larch, A large number of these had been ordered and planted, but owing to the lateness of their arrival and careless handling, only few were alive. Most of them had also been planted too deep, yet those which lived made growth so satisfactory that Mr. Robert Douglas, the best evergreen authority on the subject in the West, says they fully equal, and in some cases excel, anything that he has seen in his own locality in Illinois, or any portion of the West. The principal difficulty is in starting them properly.
After that there would be no question of their adaptability to the soil and climate. The testimony is also confirmed by Josiah Hoopes, Thomas Meehan, and D. L, Hall, who were present with us. White ash has been largely planted, and at the time I saw them had made vigorous shoots a foot to eighteen inches in length, and seemed perfectly healthy in all respects, although suffering somewhat from the attacks of a large green worm, which had unexpectedly appeared. A black beetle (known also as the blister beetle) had eaten the foliage of some of the trees, and may become a disagreeable enemy. Gatalpa is *- rapid-growing tree, and its timber is very durable in the ground. Mr. Dunlap considers it one of the most promising trees, notwithstanding the apprehensions which are felt that its broad leaves will render it peculiarly susceptible to injury from the prairie winds. Box elder and Osage orange are perfectly healthy and vigorous. Willow - Also vigorous, but had been gnawed considerably by the prairie dogs. Other trees suffered in like manner, but the willow much the worst. Soft maple is injured a little by the winds, Cottonwood - A valuable tree, and a good grower. Chestnut - A failure ; likewise European sycamore and linden, The evergreens seem to be more uniform in their success.