A retired Ohio State professor emeritus in horticulture, by his own estimate, has planted some 50,000 trees. Daniel Struve may have retired from teaching horticulture but by no means has he given up his horticultural practice. He’s still working to grow genetically superior trees from seeds.
“I’ve always had an interest in trees, especially these monarchs of the forest…the old ones. And although in our lifetime they might appear to live forever there’s a finite life span,” Struve says.
So Struve has been collecting the seeds of some of the most impressive specimens of the forest or wherever he can find them, along the roadside, even on the Ohio State University campus.
“Basically the genetic constitution of those plants is being preserved in other places, assuming that I can germinate the seed, grow a seedling and then that seedling or tree gets planted somewhere in the landscape and goes on to a long and prosperous life,” Struve says.
Struve’s trees can be found at several locations on the OSU campus. He planted rows of oaks by the married student apartments near Ackerman and Fred Taylor Drive. He put in more trees by the 4-H building behind the Schottenstein Center. And there’s an avenue of oaks along the drive just off Kenny at Waterman Farm.
“Right at the entrance are some red oaks and these all came from the seed collected from the same mother tree, so they’re all brothers and sisters along this drive here. There’s probably about a dozen of them and so now we have an alley of red oak,” Struve says.
The seeds for the Waterman oaks came from a tree near Plumb Hall on campus. But Struve makes forays into the countryside to find superior trees to harvest their seeds. Last fall he went to Licking County armed with plastic storage bags, a felt-tip pen and permission of course. His mission: to gather seeds from beech, oak and pawpaw trees. He found a bountiful crop on a beautiful beech.
“This year, this particular tree has produced a lot of seed. Beech does not produce a lot of seeds often. And the fact that this one is really producing a lot is really unique,” Struve says.
As Struve talks he quickly picks beech nut seeds from the reachable branches. He seems to do so by instinct. He’s been gathering seeds so long he says…
“Now the other problem with seed collection is it’s addictive and you don’t know when to stop. So how many is enough? You always want more, is the word,” Struve says.
It makes sense to gather more than you need. Some seeds won’t germinate, some seed casings are empty. Some seed’s coatings are so difficult to break through that they require acid, filing, or the application of boiling water to stir them to life.
Struve knows all the ricks of the trade to start the germination process. In fact he’s developed his own methods of bringing a seed to tree…something he calls the Ohio Production System. Even so, he says, there are no guarantees of success…
“It’s a game of chance and there’s a lot of steps in it and a mistake at any one point in this process … well, you failed,” Struve says.
Just a few days ago, Dan Struve was sowing seeds in a special blend of potting soil in a greenhouse near Delaware…
“Now I’m taking out the individual seedlings and we’re just putting them in the soil, and then after we’re done sowing it’s just hurry up and wait,” Struve says.
The whole process from collection to germination to potential tree takes a year’s time. Struve works with a sense of urgency, because he figures, a horticulturalist has a limited number of years to accomplish his work.
“As a propagator your professional life starts maybe when you’re 20 and you’re done when you’re 65. So you have 45 years, so basically that’s 45 chances to get it right so basically you don’t want to waste any of those chances. So it never gets old,” Struve says.