We’ll do better next time

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The road I’m driving in this cloudy and cold day shows off its ugliness.

The majority of trees are amputated by so-called contractors, hired by so-called administrators of a common good. Also mine.

It is the usual, predictable role-playing game (A: administrator, P: professional):

A: Hi. We decided to prune the ash trees along the road. With all those branches they are really ugly. And also, you know, they cover the billboards.

P: All right, it’s my job. Removal of dry and selective pruning, certified personnel, 15 thousand euros. But … hmmm … they are horse chestnuts 😉

A: Ops … thank you, but we do not have all that money.

P: Ok, we can arrange something a little less accurate. It is 10 thousand.

A: Sorry … no way, yet. But we need to do something, we already put it on the balance sheet.

P: For 5 thousand we can do something quick, in the spare time. We can cut down the main branches and the effect will be visible. Believe me.

A: Done. In case, we’ll do better next time.


It reminds me of an old joke. A gentleman whose mother-in-law died goes to the funeral agency, asking for a nice ceremony (G: gentleman, F: funeral manager)

G: You know, she was a extraordinary woman, she took care of our children for years …

F: Of course. A beautiful mahogany coffin, with a top of fresh red roses. 15 thousand euros.

G: Something cheaper?

F: Yep. Spruce coffin and two baskets of iris, 5 thousand euros.

G: I cannot afford it, sorry. But I have to do something and quickly: relatives are coming.

F: Ok man. Bring me the granny here and we’ll fix her 4 handles. 300 euros.

G: Done. In case, we will do better next time.


Lucio Montecchio

Buy Local

auto legnameApulia is not famous for its coffee plantations, it’s in Italy. Yet it seems that Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium associated with the death of thousands of olive trees, was imported from Costa Rica a few years ago with an infected coffee plant. The landscape and the local economy are paying the costs.

Ceratocystis platani, a microscopic fungus, seems to have been imported from the United States some eighty years ago through crates made of infected wood. Thousands of London planes along both roads and canals in Southern Europe are gone.

Phytophthora infestans seems to have been imported to Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century with a batch of infected potatoes. Since the cultivation of potatoes was the primary source of income and carbohydrates, misery, famine, death (about a million people) followed. For those who had the chance, emigration was the only chance.

The microfungus Cryphonectria parasitica, responsible for the desiccation of branches and stems of sweet chestnut, seems to have been imported from Japan to the United States at the end of the ‘800. In this case, recognizing the important role of the timber market in moving the parasite, in 1912 the US Congress issued the “Quarantine Act”, the first example of an attempt of disease containment by law. Despite this, the same parasite arrived in Europe a few years later.

Little was known yet, but today we do not know much more …

Exchange of goods worldwide cannot be stopped, but the inspection of those that could potentially be dangerous in the place of destination is possible. This is the reason why, sometimes with questionable technical times, the international quarantine regulations are constantly updated.

For Europe, we are talking about an EU Directive in which it is written the plant species at risk, which parts of them must be checked at boundaries, what to control, and so on.

Despite this effort, thanks to the presence of skillful phytosanitary inspectors, a small part of this material delivered from every corner of the world and arriving with a document certifying the lack of infections, is found infected. The consignement returns back home, or it’s disinfected at the harbour or arrival, or it’s destroyed.

A container of tomatoes, azaleas, bonsai or Christmas trees, however, to be inspected under a microscope can not be entirely damaged. For each type of goods there is an official sampling protocol that works 100% in a super-equipped laboratory, but much less in the dark of a container. Furthermore, there may be plants already infected but still with no symptoms, because the incubation times of diseases are long, sometimes years.

Despite this strong organization, therefore, it is inevitable that something escapes from the inspectors’ eyes. Unfortunately, this “something” is increasing year by year.

As long as all of us will continue to ask the grocery, the nursery or the gardener for exotic fruits and plants just because they are less expensive, or because they are more beautiful than the beautiful ones we already have, import of exotic diseases certainly will not slow down. We are all responsible for it.

Last year during an international meeting I said that “the growing importation of exotic pathogens is a bioindicator of human stupidity”.

Someone has taken it badly, but I still think so.

Buy local!


Lucio Montecchio

Just an old poplar

“It’s just an old poplar”, the new owner of that country estate replied, putting the chainsaw down and turning off the tractor. He is about 50 years old, the poplar 150. Both with some life-related injuries.

At first I thought it was because its main roots are rotten, and it could fall on the road. Hoping for a yes, I asked him “but … tell me: do you find honey-fungi or other mushrooms down there?”. “I wish, but it’s like iron”, he replied disappointed.

In the countryside, at least where I live, utility is above any romantic stuff. What do you do with an old, broken poplar if you have not seen it grow?

Shame! When I was a child, all of us lined up and strictly on our dad’s bicycle, we knew that once arrived to that poplar we had to turn left, down the embankment, to find that nice place to play. That tree was the geographic reference for our afternoon meetings.

Just like many of the old trees I’m lucky to work with.

Our soldiers racing off from the Caporetto battle knew that “on the left of those seven cypresses up there there’s the Piave river”. It was 1917, and up on that tall trees were more visible than any bell tower and well drawn on military maps.

Thanks to them our scared grandfathers felt perfectly oriented from afar. Thanks to the current and proud owners, generously caring of them, this can still be done.

It’s mainly for this reason that the most of the older trees in our countryside, flat because it was reclaimed from the sea, have resisted over the centuries. They were road signs and boundary posts.

In any case, beautiful or ugly, straight or crooked, they are part of someone’s memory, monumentum. Like that poplar, they all recall something that deserves to be remembered.

Age and size are not important, it is not a competition, but if these help to protect at least the oldest and big ones, national laws and surveys focusing on this are very welcome.

Initiatives to help private owners to protect such important common goods will be never enough.

Lucio Montecchio

It wasn’t in the menu

vescovoThe young graduate, enrolled in a Professional Order that empowers a sheep-breeding expert to assess the health status of plants, was asked to survey the trees of a park providing position, species, height, supposed age and probability of failure.

The Doctor, however, did not indicate that five of those trees show a lethal and quarantine disease called “Canker Stain of Plane tree” (CSP), whose prompt eradication is required by law, to protect the healthy neighbors from infection via root grafts.

When I asked “why didn’t you report it?” he replied “it wasn’t in the contract”.

Nice job guy …

I remember when, a few years ago, we stopped at a famous restaurant near Trieste, Italy. Among the various appetizers there were local cheeses or Dalmatian ham. My wife asked if it was possible to have a mix of the two, but the waiter replied “no, it’s not in the menu”.

We never came back.

Lucio Montecchio