A Note from Julie Osslund

In 1989, the State of Montana was selling 100 trees for $10. Who could resist such an offer?

We planted the buffalo berries, Shepherdia Argentea; Russian olive, Elaegnus Angustifolia; and cottonwoods, Populus Angustifolia wands into the ground that fall, 1989 or spring, 1990. They were barefoot beauties and about two foot tall!

Out of the 100 trees we planted, do you know how many are alive and thriving today? 1 cottonwood, 13 Russian olives and 10 dioecious buffalo berries (24%). Birds and bees love them. They no doubt prevented erosion, and we must have saved a few energy dollars over the years. I know that Russian olives are considered a noxious weed in riparian areas, but at one time they were thought of as one of the best solutions for our area: drought resistant, tolerating harsh conditions, and offering wildlife habitat, especially for pheasants and grouse.

In our world nothing is all good or all bad. Here’s an interesting fact: beavers won’t lay a tooth on them. Well, “rarely eaten or used” is how the July 2015 Department of Ag comment went during the public hearing comment section, which is another reason that native species are having a hard time competing with them. The good recommendations are still for buffalo berries – “good for wildlife, shelterbelt and hedges”, MT Master Gardener Handbook.

WIND BREAK 1989-1999

We planted the saplings in the parched rocky soil as soon as winter blared its last tenacious trumpet. We were newly married and planting 100 prickly trees in a rocky river bed had the fervency of a religious revival.

The fearless, spiny babies grew continuously throughout the baking sun, despite spider mites, lawn mowers, weed eaters and other would-be assassins. We watched them rise up and rejoiced! Mandy and Dave lugged endless, overflowing jugs to the field, day after day after day, like ants dragging battered insects to their waiting colony.

Now the trees are taller than the four of us stacked end-to-end. We seldom rejoice, but the trees diffuse the intense flat winds, not by blocking, but by listening, patiently entangling and releasing.

Submitted by Julie Osslund