The Central Virginian

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Lake Anna transplant diagnoses tree ailments

Posted on Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Dr. John Skelly uses an increment borer to assess the woody material at the core of the tree trunk. The plug gives indications of disease, rot, age, growth and annual weather conditions.

After 36 years in academia specializing in forest pathology and air pollution effects to forests, Dr. John Skelly retired to Wyndemere Cove at Lake Anna with his wife, Linda, to enjoy the sun, water and nearby relatives.  He brought his years of education, research and publication with him to consult with area residents on hazardous tree evaluations.

Skelly is a graduate of Penn State University, ultimately earning his Ph.D. in plant pathology in 1968.  He taught at Virginia Tech for 14 years before being invited back to his alma mater to head the department.

After four years, he focused his efforts at Penn State on research and instruction.  He traveled extensively for research and consultation for governments, including the United Nations following Desert Storm.

During his academic career, Skelly noted, “I was more field-oriented than lab-oriented.”  Much of his work in the 1970s and 1980s centered on this area, comparing the responses of the same disease in sandy soil of the coastal plain verses the clay soil of central Virginia.

Although he originally planned to be a forester, Skelly’s career took a different path.

“I took the course in forest pathology and absolutely fell in love with the subject and off we go,” he said.

In retirement, Skelly continues to share his knowledge of forestry and plant pathology.  In the early days at the lake, friends learned of his expertise and asked him to look at trees around their homes to see if any posed an obvious danger.

Skelly enjoyed doing this work so he continued to be responsive to friends and to word-of-mouth requests.  He initially consults for for a small fee per house call. If the work is more extensive, Skelly will negotiate a higher fee.

At the start of a consultation, Skelly looks for trees that could pose a threat to an identifiable target, such as a house, parked cars, or a playground.  Other trees might show stress, but if they do not threaten a target, they are of lesser concern.

To read the entire story, see the May 23 edition of The Central Virginian.