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Spring 2005 - Chemical

Destination Purdue > Spring 2005 - Chemical

Chemical helps trim trees, budgets

By Maria Hetzer

Ever notice those ugly, hacked-up trees lining the sides of many rural roads? The ones that look like Edward Scissorhands had a field day?

Chaney and Nagasaka

Photo provided by Gnanasiri Premachandra

Bill Chaney, forestry professor at Purdue University, working in his lab with a research assistant, Chie Nagasaka, in 1997. Chaney's research on tree growth regulators could save billions of dollars in trimming costs.

They look like this because the trees require regular trimming to avoid the risk of fires caused by the trees touching power lines. To avoid such hazards, billions of dollars are spent to have these trees trimmed regularly, said Bill Chaney, a forestry professor at Purdue University.

Luckily, a growth retardant chemical, which Chaney tested in his lab, has been successful in stunting the growth of trees near power lines. Using the chemical could decrease the need for frequent trimming and save money. The chemical is already being used in the market, but further research is being conducted to see what other effects the chemical has on trees.

Ryan Blaedow, a former Purdue master's degree student from Milwaukee, conducted research with Chaney to find out if this chemical could prevent trees from getting diseases while also stunting their growth. Blaedow did most of his work in the field, applying the chemical to crab apple trees. He then measured tree growth each year and monitored the incidence of apple scab disease on the leaves.

The chemical was only somewhat effective in improving disease resistance in crab apple trees, but other kinds of trees showed benefits such as greater drought and temperature tolerance and better disease protection, said Blaedow.

These traits are obviously very important for arborists, but consumers benefit as well. This chemical could make the plants in your yard look more attractive and live longer. Chaney and Blaedow were able to conduct this research and solve these problems because of their education in tree physiology, the study of the structure and function of trees.