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Anna, Teacher, writer, biologist
Category: General
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I am asking this of biologist Anna, if possible, as my first

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I am asking this of biologist Anna, if possible, as my first choice:
Can a good arborist/biologist/etc, if he/she were to come to my house, be able to tell
(by examining some tree roots) what kind of tree it is!? Would it mean taking a sample
or two, and sending to a "lab"? Or just by on-site inspection? I googled for "tree root
identification" and got 100s of replies,,,it seems all of them are NOT in the USA!!
(eg UK, Australia, Belgium, anywhere but in California!) Could you yourself do this?
Do you know of someone who could? A few arborists here are great at knowing trees
that are growing and can ID them above ground,,,but it seems to all get mysterious
to have ID just by the roots, of other trees.
Hello and thank you for requesting me. It's quite difficult to identify trees by roots only. Will you tell me more about the situation?

Are the tops of the trees dead?

Are the roots growing into a sewer line and you need to know which tree is responsible?

Any y other detail you can give will be helpful.

Thank you.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I am the guy (earlier JAns with you) with the Olive Tree issue,,,,
the Olive tree is "gone" (!!?) and no sewer line issues, not now anyway! maybe this is
i have now
had it ground three times, the last time with a computer-controlled chipper that got down 1-2 ft
further than the first two! Over a huge area as well. I have tried 2 diff liquid
"root killers" (as you had suggested) as well,,,,the sprouts are still coming back!
The weird thing is: the sprouts are only 6-8 inches long, and are coming from
the root(s), which seem to have RISEN to the top of the ground area! I swear
a month ago, this area (where the roots are now at the top!) was totally devoid
of any roots at all,,,,as if something is "pushing" the roots upward from below!
Is this possible? in only a month? I have a pine tree there as well,,,and it is
hard to distinguish the pine from the olive! they seem to be now "together".
Where the olive tree WAS, to the place where the pine tree IS, is over 8-10 feet
Its all mixed up, so they may be all one kind of tree OR a mixture of pine and olive.
Even with a picture of this new nightmare, it is hard to see whats going on,,,
you have to be here and "touch" as well as see it! I found one arborist who
thinks he can tell but Im sure he will have to make a visit here to see for himself.
Nobody I have talked to can really say what is going on for sure,,,,but that damn
olive tree must be fighting back! I will be removing these "new top roots", but I
wanted someone to see-it-first to be believed,,,as this may be one for the record book! bob

Thank you for getting back to me, Bob. I believe you. Olive trees are amazingly resilient. They can grow new roots very quickly. What also amazes me is that the pine tree hasn't died. Pines are very susceptible to herbicides, and it often takes little to kill them. Many, but not all, pine roots have a reddish brown tint to them, as in this photo:


Olive roots usually have a more gray tint to them. The two kinds of tree can't merge into one, but their roots can certainly become entangled. As long as new olive shoots are coming up, you certainly haven't killed the olive. You may want to try cutting off all the shoots, then lay a thick layer of black plastic over the area where the shoots keep coming up. (Be sure not to suffocate the pine in the process.) It may take a 1 to 3 years, but the plastic should eventually kill the shoots in the area that is covered.

The arborist would probably be able to tell you which roots go with which tree, but I don't know if he will have a solution. He may have access to stronger herbicides, but again, you'll have to worry about your pine tree.

If you want to post a photo, I'd be happy to take a look.


Customer: replied 4 years ago.

The one thing of all this that, s t i l l, amazes me is the following:

Please see (go to my server) the image I created at Shows an area about 12 x 30 ft. the top
of this area is now all dirt/level. Just a month ago, the 2 x 4 (by 2 ft deep)
volume (~ 16 cubic feet), I call B, was "open" (exposed) with nothing 'in it' but air! then was filled with
dirt. Today, the top (just barely underground level) of this 2x4x2 (B) is loaded with
THICK olive and/or pine roots! These are too "old looking" to be "new"; as if these roots were
there for a long time, just several feet further down - then, suddenly,,,,wham!
roots! Is something pushing these from "way down" up to almost level ground, and
relatively quickly!? The same thing happened at 'A' 6-8 months ago, at that time a big
olive tree root, 7 ft long!, was removed. Area 'A' is not a problem any longer,,,its now at
'B' !! the huge root at just underground level, at A, seemed to appear almost overnight!
Nobody believes me! I dont believe this myself anymore! The entire area 'A' was root-removed-ground-chipped-sawed
by a machine 1-2 months earlier. There was nothing left in this area,,,until not long
afterward, this giant 7 foot long olive root appeared!
"Today,,,no roots ----- tomorrow....could be roots galore!" Its as if an empty volumous area
is root-free one minute, then a bunch of roots is in it the next! They cant be moving sideways,
can they!? they must be moving upward,,,,fascinating!? I may write all this up in a white paper,,
maybe I can get enuff bucks for it to pay for all I have spent on this story! PS: I just learned
our city, in their wisdom, is planting OLIVE trees on both sides of a major street near me! I
think its too late to stop them! Or, just a simple "Im telling you so" now will do, then a
"I told you so" later.

Well, I believe you.I looked at your diagram. And I think you'd be wasting your money to have someone identify the roots. Olive roots grow that aggressively, and they are probably pushing up from below, seeking more water. There is more at the soil surface than there is deeper down. It is a shallow root system, often only 2 to 4 feet deep. The roots you see probably didn't have to push up very far to be where they are now. It can extend out from the tree to a distance twice as large as the tree's canopy. That means you could have sprouts coming up even farther from the original tree. I believe I suggested repeatedly mowing off the sprouts as a way to eventually kill the tree. You'd have to be persistent, and it may take a few years. (I know, not what you what to hear). Olive trees don't grow where I live, but I had a similar problem with a small native plum, which also has shallow, aggressive roots. The first season after the tree was taken down, I had hundreds of sprouts to mow off. The second year, they came up even farther from the original tree, but were fewer in number. By year three, there were only a few. This is year 4, and so far, none (knock on wood, lol). When a tree is taken down, the roots will do everything in their power to keep growing. The shock makes them send up more sprouts. Every time, the sprouts are removed, it weakens the roots, until eventually they die.

Various pine tree species have different root systems, but most of them have a thick taproot that extends far down into the soil. They also have shallow roots - many times within 6 inches of the surface - but they don't spread out as far from the tree as do olive roots. In dry areas, they do spread out more in search of water than they do in wetter areas.

I suspect the city has chosen olive trees because they are well-suited to the climate and require little care. City governments are not known for listening to citizens, so you'll probably have to go with "I told you so."

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