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Exhibition Shows that EAB-Infested Ash Can be Reclaimed and Reused as Furniture

The tree-lined Chicago streets provide a picturesque image, but that image is likely to change with the recent discovery of Emerald ash borer (EAB) within city limits. Does the EAB find mean infested trees must go to the chipper? The simple answer is no.


Just as these ash trees have brought beauty to Chicago streets, they can be reclaimed and reused to create new, practical and striking creations. Some marvelous examples will be featured in Rising from Ashes: Furniture from Lost Trees, a traveling furniture exhibition at The Morton Arboretum August 22 – September 7.


“This provides an opportunity to raise awareness, share with a greater audience, and bring the problems of EAB to the forefront. Through this exhibition, we show that art and beauty can be created out of wood that would otherwise be wasted,” said Anamari Dorgan, Arboretum Manager of Interpretation and Exhibits.


The exhibition, a joint venture between the Arboretum and the Chicago Furniture Designers Association (CFDA), emphasizes the value of urban forests and the destructive effects of EAB. At least 30 pieces of furniture, created by CFDA members out of ash wood felled due to EAB infestation, take center stage during this exhibition with messages focusing on the Emerald ash borer, the steps to process harvested ash trees into lumber, the furniture making process, the properties of ash and its uses.


“Even though the trees used to make this furniture were killed by EAB, the byproduct is still usable, aesthetically pleasing art. This is an important message, and we are proud to partner with the Chicago Furniture Designers Association to communicate this in such a visual way,” said Dorgan.


Ash wood has excellent working properties that make it suitable for a multitude of different projects. It is generally straight-grained, with cream-colored sapwood and brown to grayish-brown heartwood. Because the Emerald ash borer does not damage or even reach the heartwood, there is no danger of spreading EAB when reclaiming infested wood. It can be used as furniture, flooring, cabinetry and sporting goods such as baseball bats. Trees not suitable for lumber can be used to generate heat or electricity, as mulch or as wood chips.


Those tree-lined streets of Chicago contain an estimated 20 percent ash, and Illinois has an estimated 131 million ash trees. Dead, damaged, diseased or otherwise unwanted urban trees could supply nearly a quarter of the annual hardwood consumed in America, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Therefore, by reclaiming and reusing trees that would otherwise be destroyed, there would be less need to remove perfectly healthy trees for lumber.


“I hope people come away from the show with the knowledge that the tree in their yard is not really dead after it dies – it can have life again as something new. We think of urban trees as a nuisance when they die. That is short-sighted,” said Dolly Spragins, co- chair of the furniture show.


But four “pieces of the puzzle” must come together to make it easy for urban timber to see that life again.


First, arborists must bring down urban trees in a manner that leaves their wood marketable, that is, in sections at least eight feet long. In conventional techniques, arborists remove trees in much shorter sections.


Second, there needs to be more local sawyers able to cut and process urban timber, which is often variable in quantity, character and availability.


Third, wood workers and others who purchase wood need to be aware that urban timber could meet their needs.


And fourth, consumers need to request and purchase products made of urban timber.


The Illinois Emerald Ash Borer Wood Utilization Team, which Arboretum arborist and Community Trees Advocate Edith Makra chairs, is working to facilitate these four “building blocks.”


“Urban trees in general are treated as waste. There is valuable lumber in our landscape trees that can and should be harvested,” Makra said.


The Morton Arboretum is an internationally recognized 1,700-acre outdoor museum with collections of 4,117 kinds of trees, shrubs, and other plants from around the world. The Arboretum’s beautiful natural landscapes, gardens, research and education programs, and year-round family activities support its mission – the planting and conservation of trees and other plants for a greener, healthier, and more beautiful world. Conveniently located at I-88 and Rte. 53 in Lisle, Illinois, the Arboretum is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central Time or sunset, whichever is earlier. The Children’s Garden is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., March through October, and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., November through February. Visit www.mortonarb.org or call 630-968-0074 to learn more.

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