By Michael MacDonald
HALIFAX — An invasive insect from Asia is expected to kill almost every ash tree in Canada, but Donnie McPhee has a plan to preserve the species.
Co-ordinator for the National Tree Seed Centre in Fredericton, McPhee is asking Canadians to help him find mature stands where seeds can be gathered and later stored for future generations in the centre’s deep-freeze vaults.
“We’re looking to protect the genetic diversity of the species,” McPhee said in an interview. “We’re looking for natural stands of trees that are in seed …. We want Canadians to be our eyes — to let us know they’re out there.”
And the time is right to start the search because the white ash and black ash — two of the most common species — are expected to produce a bumper crop of seeds this fall. The centre’s website provides details on what to look for, but seed collecting should be left to experts.
“We’ve already had people showing up with big bags of ash seed … but it’s too early in the season,” McPhee said.
Larvae of the emerald ash borer, a small beetle with an iridescent green hue, have already killed millions of trees in Canada and the United States, and the pest’s population is still growing.
The larvae make tunnels underneath the tree’s bark, cutting off nutrient flow to the canopy, which eventually kills the tree.
“The reports I’ve seen suggest that within 50 years, there might not be any ash trees anywhere in the country,” McPhee said.
McPhee’s long-term plan is to have the centre retrieve the collected ash seeds from cold storage in about 40 or 50 years, when the ash borer population has dwindled and safe planting can begin.
“The population of the insect will drop way down because the food supply isn’t there,” he said. “At that time, we want to go in and put the genetic diversity of the population back to where it came from.”