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


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Call the Dogs off the Lions

Why do we hate lions? For reasons that are beyond any logic I can see, we have been convinced that dandelions are posies non grata in our landscapes. Yet they are a critical food source for native pollinators, vitamin-packed culinary delights, and multi-purpose herbal remedies. I’d say that’s not bad for a “weed.”

In fact, dandelion is so well-respected that it bears the Latin name Taraxicum officinale, roughly meaning “the official remedy for all disorders.” It has many reported health benefits, including as a liver support, for alleviating kidney and bladder stones, and as a poultice for boils. I don’t pretend to know every past and present medicinal use of the plant, and I recommend consulting an herbalist, as well as your doctor, before trying to treat yourself.

That said, the University of Maryland Medical School website says this about dandelions: “Preliminary animal studies suggest that dandelion may help normalize blood sugar levels and lower total cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL (good) cholesterol in diabetic mice. Researchers need to see if dandelion will work in people. A few animal studies also suggest that dandelion might help fight inflammation.”

» Continue Reading.


Kid next to water
Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Good News about a Bad Word

poison ivy

Now that the V-word has joined the list of things we mustn’t say in polite company, I hesitate to bring up the topic. No, I mean the other V-word – vaccine. Even if vaccines give you a headache, there’s a new one on the horizon which you may well like. I realize this claim smacks of a Green Eggs and Ham-style discourse. Not to worry; I won’t stalk you with promises that you’ll like getting jabbed with a mouse, in a house, in a box, with a fox, here or there, in car, or anywhere. Now that I think on it, Green Eggs and Ham was a creepy kid’s book.

This vaccine will never be mandatory, which is the first good reason to like it. Wait – that’s the sort of pitch Sam-I-Am would make. Yikes. Let’s get right down to it: a vaccine against poison ivy will soon be available, but only if you really, really, really want it. Related to mango, pistachio, and cashew trees, eastern poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is native to most of North America east of the Rockies. It grows in a multitude of conditions as long as it has enough sunlight, though seldom above 4,000 feet in elevation. Beyond the warning “leaves of three, let it be,” poison ivy is a sort of chameleon. Its compound, three-part glossy leaves are usually green, though often have a reddish tinge when young. Leaflet edges are notched, except when they’re smooth. The plant may grow as a ground cover, shrub, or climbing vine in various parts of its range. It seems to me it’s more often a ground cover in northern NY State, and a climber when you get south of the Adirondacks.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, April 3, 2022

Climate change and debunking the ‘CO2 fertilization effect’

Young beech trees retain their leaves throughout the winter months

Scientist-like persons hired by the fossil fuel industry have long maintained we should celebrate an ever-increasing level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. This gas, a key building block in the photosynthetic process, can enable plants to grow faster and get larger. It’s been called the “CO 2 fertilization effect.” Many crop yields are projected to increase. And bigger woody plants, the reasoning goes, can amass more carbon, thus helping to slow the rate of CO 2 increase in a handy negative-feedback loop.

In other words, they argue that climate change is good for plants, which in turn will help curb climate change. It’s an elegant win-win situation, and environmentalists no longer have to lose sleep over skyrocketing carbon dioxide. However, as with many supposed “truths,” this argument falls apart upon close examination. It’s like in 1981 when former President Ronald Reagan said “Trees cause more air pollution than automobiles do.” He was referring to terpenols (responsible for the pleasant piney-woods aroma in the forest), which can react with auto emissions to form ozone. In the larger picture, trees reduce air pollution of all sorts – and sequester carbon as well – on a colossal scale worldwide. His statement was “true” in a minor, technical sense for a single pollutant, but it was misleading, and for all intents and purposes, false.

» Continue Reading.


Kid next to water
Friday, April 1, 2022

Get ticked off

deer tickThese days it’s no shock to learn that officials may not always give us the most up-to-date information on a fairly new disease which poses a grave threat to the public. The surprise is that it doesn’t involve COVID-19.

Since 2016, a nonstop avalanche of new findings on Lyme has crushed a lot of long-held beliefs about this disease. It is regularly misdiagnosed, harder to treat than one might assume, and can debilitate a person for months or years. In a few instances, its effects last a lifetime. Lyme is a huge – perhaps the biggest – health risk to farmers, forestry workers and others whose jobs are principally outdoors. In this first of a three-part series, I hope to correct some misunderstandings about Lyme disease, and explore why it’s so hard to diagnose.

» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Counting on Arthropods

Whether one has owned a pet cat, dog, chinchilla or what-have-you, or merely admired the grace and beauty of a horse or deer, most of us develop positive links with at least one four-legged animal. But for everyone except maybe scientists, warm and fuzzy feelings evaporate when you move up to critters with a thousand or more legs. Insects, all of which have six legs, seldom elicit an oxytocin feel-good rush. I mean it’s unusual for folks to get doe-eyed over a mosquito, yellow jacket or cucumber beetle.

» Continue Reading.


Kid next to water
Monday, March 14, 2022

Adorable Acorn Adorners

While my musings about nature generally focus on southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States, there are times when a subject is far too juicy to ignore even if it’s out of this world, like Japanese satellites made from trees. Back home on our little planet, we have a blind, rainbow-hued marine worm which slices fish in half for the joy of it. This “Bobbitt” worm grows to ten feet long and can paralyze a human with its venom.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, February 27, 2022

Indulging Reforestation

As a child in a devout Catholic household I was intrigued by “Indulgences,” a way for sinners to avoid penalties in the afterlife by paying a fee commensurate with their bad deeds. This was years before Heaven went digital, of course, and as a youngster I assumed these bookkeeping adjustments were made in such a way that God didn’t notice the erasure marks in the Eternal Ledger.

When I first heard the phrase “carbon offsets” it reminded me of the practice of Indulgences – if you pay enough cash you can fly your Learjet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun, and through some kind of accounting magic, not emit a speck of CO2. Someone would instantly plant a forest, pump carbon into a deep ocean trench, or build a wind farm for you.

Apparently I’m too cynical at times, because carbon offsets are genuine. But there are limitations. In a July 2021 Denzeen article, Fredrika Klarén, who runs the Sustainability Division at the Chinese electric-car maker Polestar, says “It is impossible to get down to zero [CO2 emissions] with offsets alone.”

» Continue Reading.


Kid next to water
Monday, February 14, 2022

Plan for a Better Spring: Selecting the right species of trees for your property

bur oak trees

Looking for a way to enhance property value, save energy costs, boost mental health, and help the planet in one simple, low-cost step? Yeah, me too. Let me know if you think of something. Seriously, though, a few well-placed trees in one’s yard typically add at least 5% to a property’s value. Having large older specimens (of trees, I mean) around the house can push that figure close to 20%. In terms of energy savings, deciduous trees on the southern and western sides of a house tend to slash cooling costs by roughly one-quarter.

» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Beech Gone Wild: Raging Hormones

American beech

The American beech (Fagus grandifolia) has been slowly dying out for the last 140 years. As a result, beech saplings have overrun many woodlots, making them less diverse, less vigorous, and less valuable.

That’s right – beech decline has led to a beech proliferation so extreme that in some places they are a barrier to forest regeneration. I’d call this an oxymoron, but don’t want to insult the bovine community. Strategies do exist to address this problem, though.

» Continue Reading.


Kid next to water
Monday, January 17, 2022

Synthetic Photosynthesis

Every so often, an obscure technical innovation really lights me up. In mid-October of this year, a team of German scientists published a report on their work injecting tadpole noggins with algae. This enabled the tiny brains (of amphibians, not researchers) to photosynthesize when exposed to light, flooding neurons with oxygen and rendering the frog-babies more intelligent. Or at least not brain-dead, which those tadpoles were before being converted to plant-imals. 

In an October 13, 2021 entry in the journal iScience, lead author Hans Straka of Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich explained that he’d been happily noodling along, measuring how much oxygen that an African clawed frog tadpole brain uses. He doesn’t elaborate on why he was doing this, but I’m guessing it was simply because he found someone nerdy enough to underwrite his efforts. 

The fun part began when Dr. Straka had lunch – and maybe a few drinks, from the sound of it – with a botanist, and a crazy-cool science experiment was born. In Straka’s own words, “For many people, it sounds like science fiction, but after all, it’s just the right combination of biological schemes and biological principles.” Pretty sure this idea was decidedly scheme-heavy, at least to start out. 

» Continue Reading.


Monday, January 3, 2022

Fungal Homes: Much Room, No Mushrooms

shiitake mushroom

For some reason, mushrooms have spawned more than their fair share of puns. As a kid I learned that they’re all fun-guys, and that the only rooms you can’t enter in a house are mushrooms. The last one might not work these days, as entire buildings are now being made of fungus.

Given that mold inside our homes can make us ill, you wouldn’t think that being surrounded by the stuff would be a great idea. But just like so many other things in life, “it depends.” As a building material, fungus is cheap, ubiquitous, and a renewable resource. But that’s not the best part. By dry weight, walls made of fungus are stronger than concrete and have better insulation value than polyurethane foam. They are weather-proof, practically non-combustible, and oddly enough, resist getting moldy. 

» Continue Reading.


Kid next to water
Thursday, December 30, 2021

Where There’s Smoke …

Firewood

An upswing in woodstove use might sound yawn-worthy, but recent findings about the dire health effects of wood smoke might mean the long-term future of wood as a heating fuel is in question.

As someone who grew up with wood heat, I assumed  it was hands-down one of the most sustainable, eco-positive fuels for home heating. Like many other widely shared conventions, it turns out the veracity of that assumption depends on a lot of things.

How many people burn wood in a given locale is an obvious factor. The number of homes using wood heat rose sharply in the years following the 1998 ice storm which left residents without power for weeks on end. Also no surprise, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of wood heat.

» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

All That Glitters Isn’t Green

microplastics

We’re told that diamonds are eternal, but it turns out that glitter, which is just as sparkly and way cheaper, could be equally enduring. Parents, teachers and day-care providers know that despite their efforts to wash the stuff down the drain, glitter will inevitably wind up in their breakfast, their eyes, or on the lapels of their business suit worn to a crucial meeting with the boss.

» Continue Reading.


Kid next to water
Monday, December 13, 2021

Yule Logs

yule logs

The tradition of burning a Yule log has largely fizzled out in most parts of the world. While holiday cards often feature cute, picturesque birch rounds in the hearth, old-time Yule logs in 6th and 7th century Europe were monster tree trunks that were meant to burn all day, and in certain cultures for twelve continuous days, without being entirely used up. 

Apparently, if you didn’t have a leftover bit of this log remaining after the marathon burn, you were doomed to misfortune in the upcoming year. The remnant piece of charred wood was tucked away in the ceiling and was used to light the following year’s Yule log. I assume it was extinguished before being squirreled away in the rafters or some really bad luck would ensue.

While a birch log is charming, it doesn’t compare with many other hardwoods in terms of heat value and how long it will burn. Heat value from wood and other fuels is measured in British thermal units (BTUs), one BTU being the energy required to heat a pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. If you look at firewood BTU-value charts you’ll see that few of them agree exactly. This is to be expected, as the heat value of a given species varies according to the conditions in which it grew.

» Continue Reading.


Monday, November 29, 2021

Honeybees: Posing threats for native bees?

western honeybee

With their marvelous interpretive-dance routines, complex social life, and delicious honey, honeybees are widely respected, but they’re anything but sweet to wild pollinators. In fact, a surfeit of honeybees is a big threat to our native bees and butterflies. 

» Continue Reading.



Kid next to water

Wait, before you go,

sign up for news updates from the Adirondack Almanack!