Almanack Contributor Paul Hetzler

Paul Hetzler

Paul Hetzler has been an ISA Certified Arborist since 1996. His work has appeared in the medical journal The Lancet, as well as Highlights for Children Magazine.

You can read more of his work at PaulHetzlerNature.org or by picking up a copy of his book Shady Characters: Plant Vampires, Caterpillar Soup, Leprechaun Trees and Other Hilarities of the Natural World


Saturday, March 28, 2020

More About Opposums

North American Opossum with winter coat by Wikimedia user Cody PopeAlthough my Irish-American mother taught me that the prefix O’ (descendent of) was originally part of common Irish surnames such as Kelly, Murphy, Hogan and Kennedy, it would sound odd to my ears were these families to suddenly revert to the Old-World form.

I have the same issue with the distinctly New-World marsupial, the opossum. In the Genesee Valley of New York State where I grew up, these omnipresent critters were known to all as possums, and it still sounds foreign to hear their name pronounced with three syllables. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

White Pine Perils

The tallest trees this side of the Rockies, our eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) is one of the most – if not the most – economically and culturally important species in the Northeast.

Though the current US champion is a North Carolina giant measuring 189 feet tall, early loggers recorded white pines of up to 230 feet. » Continue Reading.


Monday, March 23, 2020

Rethinking the Norway Maple

Norway Maple by Wikimedia user Martin BobkaWhen Norway broke from Sweden in 1905, the newly independent country promised to stay neutral in all international conflicts. However, it has let loose highly successful and prolonged assaults of both the US and Canada on several fronts. To its credit, Norway has managed all this without using the Internet or spending a single krone. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Jargon: Watch Your Language

scientific jargonAt one time or other we all have puzzled over a document which was allegedly written in English, yet turned out to be in a foreign language such as legal-ese, medical-ese, or scientific-ese. Such language sneak-attacks can leave us feeling by turns bored, confused, frustrated and intimidated.

Well, science has now proven that bad things happen when we use big words instead of diminutive ones. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Boxelder: A Tree By Any Other Name

Boxelder leaves and seeds courtesy USDAIf you know someone who goes by a slew of different names, it could be that they want to hide a bad reputation, avoid arrest, or both. In the world of trees, that individual would be the boxelder, a native member of Aceraceae, the maple family.

Boxelder is known by a dozen or more aliases, including Manitoba maple, ash-leaf maple, California maple, maple ash, sugar ash, and river maple. Because it is breakage-prone, grows fast, spreads easily, and can become a nuisance “weed” tree, its name is often preceded by a few choice words not suitable to print.
» Continue Reading.


Monday, February 24, 2020

Black Locusts And Invasive Species

black locust tree courtesy wikimedia user AnRo0002Sometimes I wonder if the Biblical plagues of ancient Egypt have lingered in one form or another. Blooms of toxic algae, which occasionally turn water a blood-red color, are on the increase. Gnats and lice have been supplanted by deer ticks, which I’d argue are even worse, and there is no shortage of hail in season. Frog outbreaks may not have occurred since Pharaoh’s time, but poisonous cane toads imported to Australia are now running amok there, decimating all manner of native animals. And currently, swarms of locusts are causing great hardship in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

Here in the Northeast, we are blessedly free of the kind of swarm-feeding grasshoppers that continue to cause suffering in Africa. Nonetheless, locusts have become such a problem that in 2014 the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) declared the locust a Regulated Invasive Species, meaning it “cannot be knowingly introduced into a free-living state.” In other words, locusts are only legal in an environment from which they can’t escape. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Brine: The Salty Flavor of Road Safety

Flavored ice treats such as the popsicle and its plastic-sheathed cousin the freeze-pop have been around since the 1920s, but until recently the selections have been less than bold; mainly fruits, with maybe a watermelon ice-pop here and there.

But Canada and the northern U.S. have some daring thinkers who were tired of conventional frozen fare. As a result of their innovations, a number of snowy cities now offer cheese-flavored ice, as well as pickle and beet. No lie. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Hetzler: Go Ahead, Paint That Oak Stump

leaf and whole tree symptoms of oak wilt in a red oak treeEach time I present on invasive pests, it begins with a slide of Chicken Little, a character who fomented mass hysteria by convincing other animals the sky was falling. It’s usually good for a chuckle. Inevitably I then proceed to unload a barrage of bar graphs, pie charts, alarming statistics, and photos of mayhem wrought by the featured pest. A final slide shows the position of the sky, with arrows in the direction of gravitational pull at 9.8 m/s/s, proof that the sky is indeed falling. For some reason, fewer people laugh at the end. Go figure.

Threats to forest health posed by invasive species are no joke. Yet I think we educators often come across like Chicken Little, squawking about yet another threat to trees. It would be hard to blame the average person for asking themselves, gosh – how many times can the sky fall, anyway? » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Palmer Amaranth Is Not Your Grandparents’ Pigweed

Amaranthus palmerii courtesy Wikimedia user PompilidAfter having defeated the Aztecs with a fusion of horses, steel, smallpox, and a stunning lack of moral conscience, the Spanish conquistadors wasted no time outlawing amaranth, a grain which constituted most of the Aztec diet at the time. Known to gardeners and farmers these days as pigweed, amaranth has obviously continued to flourish in spite of that military decree.

There are 70 recognized amaranth species, several of which are grown commercially from Mexico south to northern Peru. It is a very nutritious grain, high in protein, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, and selenium, and is eaten roasted or cooked in water. When young, its leaves can be used as a cooked green much like spinach. Amaranth is also grown ornamentally, with a number of varieties available with red, purple, or yellow flower spikes. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Near-Term Threats To Forest Health

spotted lantern flyIf you’re tired of hearing about new invasive forest pests, I’m right there with you. Seems they arrive at an ever-increasing pace, and the harm potential ratchets up with each newcomer. At this rate maybe we’ll get a wood-boring beetle whose larvae explode, which would put things in perspective. As distasteful as it is to peer at the cast of ugly new characters, it’s better to know what we’re up against.

Novel pests put everyone on a steep learning curve. For the species below, key questions remain unanswered, and some of what we “know” will undoubtedly be proven wrong. Still, it’s worth the effort to take stock of the near-term threats to our woodlands. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Give Guiltless Goldenrod A Break

common goldenrod and a pollinating Cerceris waspWhile most plants respond to the shorter days of late summer by starting to wind down their business for the season, goldenrod is a “short-day” plant, the kind that is stimulated to bloom by dwindling daylight. It’s a perennial in the aster family, and is widespread across North America. Continent-wide, we have something on the order of 130 species of goldenrod in the genus Solidago.

As one of the most abundant blooms of late summer and autumn, this native wildflower is for many pollinators, including numerous bee species, a vital source of nectar as well as of nutritious pollen. Unfortunately, this latter item has given goldenrod a black eye among many allergy sufferers. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Harmful Algae Blooms in Context

algal bloom on Lake Erie in 2009 courtesy NASANot only does it form the basis of the aquatic food web, algae can put a lid on bovine burps. It is also made into a substitute for fossil fuels, and is a heathy and tasty food supplement for humans.

But in late summer and early fall, some algae can spread toxins through freshwater lakes and rivers, posing a risk to people, pets, fish, and more. Be on the lookout in northern NY State this season for outbreaks of algae. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

Locals Beat Lily Leaf Beetle

Scarlet or red lily beetle courtesy wikimedia user CharlesjsharpThe lily, native around the world in the temperate parts of the northern hemisphere, has been an important cultural icon for millennia. Depending where you stand on the globe, it can represent humility, purity, unbridled sexuality, the Province of Québec, wealth, or a thriving garden, to name but a few possibilities.

The flower is mentioned in The New Testament, such as in Matthew 6:26: “Behold the lilies of the field: They toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” The message, as I understand it, is that one should not waste energy worrying how to clothe oneself, because even wild lilies are garbed well. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Oak Wilt And Invasive Species Vigilance

leaf and whole tree symptoms of oak wilt in a red oak tree It’s hard to be cheerful in a job where I am expected to keep up on each newly arrived or imminent threat from invasive insects, novel plant diseases, and worrisome trends in the environment. Although I typically deflate everyone’s happy-bubble when I give a talk, I’ve discovered we need not fret that the sky is going to fall.

The National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) is a joint effort of research institutions, government agencies and nonprofit groups; their mission is to monitor stuff which falls to Earth that is not some form of water. Since one of the NADP’s tasks is to study tiny particles of pollutants in the air, they will certainly notice if the sky starts to fall, and give us ample time to take cover. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 30, 2019

Rare Plants Inhabit Adirondack Ice Meadows

Now that the weather has finally warmed up, we can appreciate ice a little more. Among other things, ice greatly improves summertime drinks, and an icy watermelon is hands-down better than a warm one. And in this part of the world, ice also provides us with unique wildflower meadows.

Along stretches of riverbank in the Southern Adirondacks, rare Arctic-type flowers are blooming now in the fragile slices of native grasslands that are meticulously groomed each year by the scouring action of ice and melt-water. » Continue Reading.



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