DR ALEX L SHIGO
PROFILE - CLOSE-UP
"Reprinted with permission from Irrigation & Green Industry magazine."
DUBBED THE "FATHER OF MODERN ARBORICULTURE," Dr. Alex Shigo has spent
most of his adult life studying, lecturing, dissecting and writing about
“A tree is much more than a chunk of dead wood,” exclaims
Shigo. "Trees are alive; they live all year 'round, not just for a
short time in the summer. They work during the winter, too. Many
people spend time on what goes wrong with a tree; I wanted to study what
Shigo was born at the height of the depression in 1930,
in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. Attending Waynesburg College in South- western
Pennsylvania, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in biology.
Music was also a part of Shigo's life; he plays a mean clarinet.
But his future plans were interrupted by the Korean War; he served in the
Air Force and was in the official Air Force Band. After the war, Shigo
continued his study of botany, biology and genetics, working as a lab assistant
for Dr. Charles Bryner, his biology teacher at Waynesburg College.
Bryner expected quite a bit from Shigo, admonishing him whenever he missed
a question, Shigo recalls. "It helped me become more disciplined,"
Shigo furthered his education at the University of West
Virginia, receiving a master's degree in biology in 1958, and a Ph.D. in
pathology in 1959. He completed the doctorate so quickly because he
started working on his Ph.D research at the same time he was working on his
master's - "a loop- hole the university quickly closed," recalls Shigo.
His career as a pathologist began with the U.S. Forestry
service later that year. "I was a creature of opportunities," Shigo notes.
"Until the 1950s there were only big two-man chain saws; then a manageable,
one-man chain saw was developed. One of my assignments for the U.S.
Forest Service was to learn more about tree decay. So I went
out and started to dissect trees."
Shigo had never handled a chain saw before. Even
so, he wasn't satisfied with the cross-cut or transverse type of dissection
that other pathologists favored. "Such dissection provides only a part
of a tree's story," remarks Shigo.
His idea was to dissect trees longitudinally as well.
As a result, he learned that many commonly-held concepts about heart rot
and decomposition and other theories were wrong. "I could either go
with the book (theories) or go with what I saw in the tree. Either
the books were wrong' or the trees were wrong. I chose to go with the
trees," Shigo says.
"I started to see trees in a different way because a tree
is a living thing," Shigo explains. "When you hit a living thing, it reacts.
When YOU hit a tree, it does something. When a tree is threatened,
it doesn’t just stand there. It establishes boundaries."
With these and other theories that go against conventions,
Shigo admits he has his detractors, but he also has his admirers. Denne
Goldstein, publisher of this magazine, was the founder of Arbor Age magazine.
He developed a relationship with Dr. Shigo in the late 1970s. "Alex is one
of the most knowledgeable people about trees; he is an exciting lecturer.
His enthusiasm in contagious."
Not one to mince words, Shigo has earned the respect of
the foresters and arborists around the world. "Too many people are
working in the field without an understanding of trees and grass," he observed.
"People should know that trees are generating organisms,
instead of re-generating organisms like human beings," Shigo explains.
"Trees generate their own food from carbon dioxide, sunlight and water, while
human beings must intake food from elsewhere. Therefore, tree food
is a misnomer. While such supplements, like fertilizer, provide important
elements, they do not provide an energy source," he says.
Another example: While humans put new cells in old places
countless times during a lifetime, trees continue to put new cells in new
places, Shigo explains. Similarly, a tree doesn't heal, because it
doesn't replace injured cells with new ones.
In his books and lectures, Dr. Shigo disagrees with other
popular theories about trees. Among those theories that Shigo disputes is
the idea that trees are mostly dead wood.
Shigo's understanding of trees comes from his years in
the U.S. Forest Service. He eventually became chief scientist for the
Forest Service and was in demand as a speaker at many conferences, both in
the United States as well as around the world, until he retired in 1985.
Not one to sit back and do nothing, he began to write
and continues to play music. It wasn't long before calls began coming
in from around the world, requesting him to lecture and teach. Shigo
began a second career as a lecturer and author, which continues until this
"The name Alex Shigo has a become a legend.
When he walks into a room, he is the focal point. He has aura that
commands respect," commented Goldstein.
"Dr. Shigo is one of the warmest people I've met, with
a sincere desire to teach what he has learned about trees. 'You
have to touch a tree and feel it,' is one of my favorite Shigoisms."
Since his retirement, he's written and published several
papers, journals, books, and his most recent effort, a compact disk. Trees, Associates
and Shigo is a CD which includes 5,000 slides from his work during the last
40-plus years. Included on the disk are thousands of images of the
insides of trees, some so close up that one can see dust mites on an insect.
While he's reluctant to discuss exact figures, Shigo said
he's sold more than 70 tons of books, enough to cover the driveway of his
home several times over.
Shigo and his wife, Marilyn, live in Durham, New Hampshire.
In the summer, they love to spend time at their summer cottage on a lake
in Barrington, New Hampshire. They have a son, a daughter, and five grandchildren.
Plagued with some health problems, Shigo has curtailed his travel, but he
still looks forward to the future with excitement. He plans to add
DVDs to his collection of publications.
"I'm trying to get people who work with trees to understand them," says Shigo.
“An author, lecturer and
consultant, Dr. Shigo started
Shigo and Trees, Associates
twenty years ago after retirement from the U.S.
Forest Service. He currently resides in Durham, New Hampshire.”
"Reprinted with permission from Irrigation &
Green Industry magazine."
The article was published in Volume 5, Number 12
-December 2002 pg 32-33 .
Text & Graphics Copyright © 2009
Keslick & Son Modern Arboriculture
Please report web site problems, comments and words of interest,