Urbana, Ill. — Almost two decades ago a man of advanced years walked into the Wandell Nurseries near here and announced that he planned to do something for the generations that followed him. He would plant two trees that he hoped would provide shade, beauty, and enjoyment for at least a hundred years and perhaps twice that long.
His choice: that all-American favorite, the sugar maple.
Though he was not to know it, the visitor to the nursery did much more than plant two trees for posterity. He sparked the development of a new sugar-maple variety so much improved over its brethren that it was patented.
Willett N. Wandell, who has developed several other shade trees worthy of patents, was so impressed with the man's reasoning that he decided he would search for a truly outstanding sugar maple that people would be eager to plant for others to enjoy.
What a legacy that would be! Indeed, if he found one worthy of the name, he would call it ''Legacy.''
It took 15 years of trials, observation, and selection before Bill Wandell finally realized that he had a winner and presented Legacy to the nursery trade for propagation through chip grafting and T-budding onto conventional root stocks.
The development of Legacy began when seed from a promising parent was sown outdoors in a long row among other varieties. Of the 200 or so seedlings that resulted, Mr. Wandell selected 14 that performed well in the field and appeared to have several advantages over existing varieties. From these cultivars Mr. Wandell took buds, which he distributed to other researchers and some commercial growers for further evaluation in a wide range of conditions and situations.
Over many years all but one of the trees were eliminated, leaving the most impressive specimen from which the grafting buds were taken to start a race of identical trees.
In searching for an improved tree Mr. Wandell looks for a particularly good leaf system. He has found that leaf gloss and thickness are good indicators of a vigorous growing and widely adaptable tree. In evaluating Legacy he found:
More leaves. A heavier-than-usual crown (closer branching within the tree) produces many more leaves than ordinary maples, including a higher number in the interior of the branch structure. The increased number of leaves inside the cooler canopy means that the tree can continue to manufacture significant quantities of food when high summer temperatures (more than 85 degrees F.) lower photosynthesis around the outer edge.
''I can't explain it scientifically,'' he says, ''but the leaves within the crown appear to operate when the others do not, presumably because they are protected from the heat. Chlorophyll production is reduced when it is hot, which is why trees with good leaf production inside the crown do better than trees that form all their leaves at the outer limits of their branches.''
Thicker leaves. Legacy's leaves are more than 11/2 times thicker than conventional maple leaves. This also boosts the food-manufacturing capacity of the tree.
No leaf tatter. Legacy's leaves are almost immune to tearing, breaking, or shredding due to this genetic trait. Unscarred leaves mean better food production and an attractive appearance.
Good color. A thick protective wax coating (11/2 times the norm) adds luster to the tree throughout the summer season. Fall color is a pleasing mix of yellow , orange, pink, and red. Often all four colors are on display at the same time. In some seasons the reds and pinks predominate; in others the yellow and orange leaves are in the majority.
Overall vigor is the almost certain result of such a superior leaf system. Starting out as a slender 7-foot-tall whip, the original Legacy added 6 inches to the diameter of its trunk in just 9 growing seasons.
''Have you ever noticed, '' says Mr. Wandell, ''that the first things folks do when they visit their old neighborhood is to drive past the home where they used to live just to see how big the trees have grown? I reckon you're doing people a favor when you get them to plant a tree.''
Presumably with Legacy you would be doing them a bigger-than-usual favor.
If you're interested in learning more about Legacy and where the trees may be obtained, write to: Wandell's Inc., Route 3, Box 158A, Urbana, Ill. 61801.