Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Eastern Red Cedar : A Tree for Birds

Juniperus virginiana, eastern redcedar

Red cedar barkThis is the bark of the eastern red-cedar (juniperus virginiana, photo at left.) The indigo bunting, a vividly blue bird that I love to see, uses strands of cedar bark in its nest. The gray catbird also weaves cedar bark into its nest. I wonder if the bark has enough cedar aroma to help control mites?

The eastern red-cedar is a native of every state east of the Rocky Mountains. (See this range map.) Wherever it grows, it's a very important tree for birds.

The cedar waxwing eats so many cedar berries that it's named after the tree. Many other songbirds consume cedar berries regularly during the long months of winter -- bluebirds, mocking birds, grosbeaks, purple finches, and mockingbirds just to name a few from a long list. The fruit is also eaten by gamebirds -- wild turkeys, quail and pigeons.

In spring, the redcedar is sought out by various birds as a nesting spot because of the dense cover it provides. I have discovered several mockingbird nests in the cedar trees on our small rural property, and robins, song sparrows and chipping sparrows are also known to nest in cedars.

In winter, redcedars provide a sheltered roosting place for many songbirds, including juncos, various sparrows and myrtle warblers.

Tonight I walked down to the mailbox at sunset, accompanied by our two cats. I was amused when we passed a red-cedar growing at the edge of the neighbor's pasture. It was full of little birds. I knew that by the chorus of breathy little chirps they were making to each other. I think they were sending up a warning about the cats. If they hadn't been speaking, I would never have suspected that cedar tree was so full of birds!

The red-cedar is really a juniper; it's not a cedar at all. Scientists write its common name as "redcedar", but if I spelled it that way,  most people would never find this page with a search engine. That's why I've written its name sometimes as "red-cedar" and sometimes as "redcedar."


Related posts:
A few champion Eastern redcedar trees
Eastern redcedar: Pioneer species
Attracting bluebirds
Large Eastern red cedar tree at Fort Donelson, TN

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Three Fast Growing Trees with Problems

Think twice before planting these trees!

As America gears up for the spring planting season, stores and nurseries across the nation will stock millions of trees. Some of them will be labeled, "Fast growing," and those are words that bring joy to the hearts of tree-planters. Be careful! Here are three fast-growing trees that you may regret planting.

1. Bradford Pear/Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford'

Bradford pear -- prone to problems
Bradford Pear image by Britt Slattery,
US Fish and Wildlife Service.
This tree is beautiful in three seasons --  spring, summer, and fall. It has abundant white blossoms early in spring, and its shiny green foliage turns red in autumn.

In winter, the Bradford Pear is not so attractive because its broken parts are no longer hidden by its leaves. And this tree does typically have a lot of broken parts. The dense branching, narrow branch crotches and weak wood cause it to break in wind, snow, ice -- and even heavy rain!

I have personally seen dozens of Bradford Pears severely damaged by weather events. Often the whole tree splits apart and an entire quarter or half of the tree tears away and falls to the ground.

If the tree lasts more than ten years without a disfiguring loss of branches or a partially dead crown, count yourself lucky. Bradford pears are very short-lived (30 years, max.)

2. Mimosa Tree/Albizia julibrissin

Mimosa or silk tree blossoms and leaves
Wikimedia image by Simon Garbutt (SiGarb)
Mimosa trees (also called silk trees) have fragrant pink blossoms in summer, and their lacy foliage and multi-stemmed growth has a tropical look. It is a very fast-growing tree (3 feet or more per year.)

Mimosas grow all over the southeastern United States, where they have naturalized after being introduced as an ornamental in 1745. They are an invasive species; that is, they reproduce so freely and rapidly in the wild that they displace native species. That alone is good reason not to plant them. Mimosa seedlings and suckers will invade any part of your yard that's not regularly mowed and any flower bed that's not frequently weeded. They will also invade your neighbor's yard and flower beds!

 Besides being extremely invasive, the mimosa is a problem tree because of its weak, brittle wood which often breaks in storms.  It is vulnerable to a number of insects, and it is very short lived (15 to 20 years.)

3. Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra)

Lombardy poplars grow very fast indeed, and their narrow columnar shape makes them desirable for tight spaces. However, they are weak-wooded and very short-lived due to their susceptibility to disease. They send up suckers from their roots in a hundred-foot circle or more. Their rooting system includes extensive surface roots which can make mowing difficult.

Even the "hybrid poplars" that are touted to have a longer lifespan will die young. We planted ten hybrid poplars about 15 years ago, and three have already died. In retrospect, we regret planting them, even though they served their purpose effectively for a few years as a screen from the road.

An interesting history of the Lombardy poplar (pdf) 

Lombardy poplars, fast-growing and short-lived.
Flikr image by wallygrom

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Durable Wood of the Black Locust Tree

Robinia pseudoacacia, famed for fenceposts

Robinia pseudoacacia, by
Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759–1840)

The following paragraphs were published in the magazine, Scientific American (Volume 2, Issue 16), on January 9, 1847. The first part talks about the strength of black locust wood when used in wheels, and the final sentences talk about its resistance to rot.

The following notes relative to the duration of the locust wood (Robinia pseudo acacia,) have been made by M. Pepin, Jardin du Roi, Paris :

A number of trees were felled that had been planted from 40 to 50 years; but not more than one to five of those wheelwrights [makers of wheels] who came to purchase, appreciated sufficiently the locust, the others preferring elm.

Black locust fenceposts, over 60 years old.
Black locust posts. Image by Flikr user
Putneypics, who states that this fence was
probably made in the 1950s (60 years ago.)
Ultimately the locust was sold to the persons who knew its value, at one third higher price than the elm. The purchasers found that spokes made of the wood in question lasted two sets of felloes [wheel rims], and were likely to answer for a third. Under equal circumstances of wear and tear, spokes made of locust wood were perfectly sound, while those of oak required to be replaced.

M. Pepin further states that the ends of locust gate posts which had been in the soil for
upwards of forty years were still not decayed.

This sort of wood employed as feet or supports to chests made of oak, proved sound, although the oak plank in contact with them had been thrice renewed; but oak supports decayed simultaneously with the oak planks composing the chests. Vine props of locust wood are greatly esteemed.

Black locust fenceposts enjoy a reputation of unusual durability to this day. Farmers in some areas have even planted locust groves in order to sell fenceposts. Since the black locust grows 2 to 3 feet per year and sends up suckers from its roots, a small grove could supply a lot of posts.

The trees are extremely vulnerable to damage from locust borers and other insects, so their wood is not often suitable for lumber. It is primarily used for railroad ties and (yes) fenceposts. It also makes great firewood, burning nearly as hot as coal.
Young black locusts in winter
A small black locust stand grows in
a pasture near my home
Black locust blossoms
Black locust blossoms photographed
by Flikr user Rasbak

A young black locust colony, mixed with sassafras, grows in our neighbor's milk-cow pasture along our lane. In spring, the fragrance of the locust blossoms is heavenly.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Wooly Hemlock Adelgids Invading Kentucky

Native hemlocks face a grave danger.

Wooly adelgid infestation, photographed by Flikr user Nicholas_T
The native hemlock trees of eastern Kentucky's mountain regions are threatened by a tiny sap-sucking insect -- the wooly hemlock adelgid, an insect brought from China in the 1920's. The wooly hemlock adelgid is widespread in the eastern United States, but it has only recently been spotted in Kentucky.

The following description of the wooly adelgid problem in the southeastern U.S. was provided by the National Forest Service. (At the time this was written, Kentucky had not yet been invaded)
Hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) is a non-native invasive pest that impacts eastern hemlock and Carolina hemlock. HWA has spread to the Southern Appalachian region of northern Georgia, western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and southern Virginia. Without control, hemlocks typically die within five to seven years after infestation.

Hemlock trees serve important ecological roles in the southern Appalachians. They are a keystone species in near-stream areas, providing critical habitat for birds and other animals, and shading streams to maintain cool water temperatures required by trout and other aquatic organisms. Hemlocks are also prized for their visual beauty in both forest and urban settings, and are a contributor to residential property values.

Source " Emerging Issues in the South: Hemlock Wooly Adelgid" a website of the USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station Headquarters in Ashville, North Carolina. Viewed 2/25/07 at No longer available.

You should suspect adelgid infection of any hemlock trees that have white, wooly deposits on the undersides of the branches. The wool-like appearance of the insect's secretions is the reason it is called the "wooly hemlock adelgid." 

According to a document published by the University of Kentucky, Meeting the Threat of the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid by entymologists Lee Townsend and Lynne Rieske-Kinney, the insect is susceptible to the insecticidal soaps and dormant oils that one can purchase in any garden chemical department. Several treatments are required, and they must be timed to the life cycle of the adelgid. Local county extension agents can advise the best times in spring or fall to spray.

Alternatively, the ground around the tree can be soaked with an insecticide containing imidacloprid so that the tree's roots carry it into the tree. Another method is to inject the insecticide into the tree's trunk. Either way, the adelgid will be killed as it sucks the insecticide-laden sap.

Townsend and Rieske-Kinney caution that the insect can be carried from perch to perch on the feet of birds, so bird feeders should never be placed near hemlock trees.

It seems that this threat is possible to manage in the backyard, but more difficult to control in woodlands. The infestation can be spread by felling an infected tree or by dragging around infected branches. Get advice about treatment, and proceed with care.

A healthy hemlock, white pine and hardwood forest in northeast
Pennsylvania. Photographed by Flikr user Nicholas A. Tonelli

Updated July 28, 2013.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Woodman, Spare that Dead Tree!

Dead trees are very important to wildlife.

Dead and dying redcedars
in a secluded old cemetery.
The usual impulse when a tree dies is to cut it down and get rid of it. Sometimes, it is necessary to do so. The dead tree may threaten a valuable building. Subdivision agreements, city ordinances, etc. have to be respected. But many of us have the option of leaving a dead tree in place for wildlife use.

If you are worried about the dead limbs breaking off and causing damage, you can shorten them or even remove them and leave just the trunk of the tree standing. Don't cut the tree back more than you absolutely must -- the higher the better for snags (standing dead trees).

Figure 9 in the document, Managing Cavity Trees for Wildlife in the Northeast, depicts some bird uses of the snag at various heights.

A vine can be trained to grow up the trunk if you can't stand the look of the bare snag. In Kentucky, vines including wild grape, trumpet vine, and poison ivy will often spring up from bird-dropped seeds and cover the trunk within a few summers.

Hawks and other raptors use tall snags as perches, and in fact, will not live in an area without high perches. A few birds that nest in cavities are woodpeckers, sapsuckers, chickadees, tufted titmice, some warblers, owls, kestrels, swifts and eastern bluebirds.

Tree cavity
A large ground-level tree cavity
Dead trees provide food for insects who in turn become food for birds and small animals. Bats often roost under the loose bark of a dead tree. Wild animals from squirrels to bears will shelter inside cavities.

Here's a peek into a large tree cavity. This hole is at ground level, and the hollow area is big enough that I'd be able to sit in it with lots of room left overhead! Leaves have drifted in and accumulated on the floor. This tree cavity could shelter a small bear, if we had any in Christian County, Kentucky!

We do have bobcats here. They use tree cavities as dens, but they would probably want something higher in the air. Gray fox (a good climber with its hooked claws) sometimes nests in tree cavities off the ground. Raccoons and opossums are also frequent users of both dead and living hollow trees.

Raccoon in a tree cavity
Wikimedia image by BS Thurner Hof

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Tree Revered by the Indians

Seen near the Bitterroot River by an 1840's traveler

Bighorn sheep, photographed in Montana by
Flickr user Jeremy Weber (doublejwebber)

The Bitterroot river valley of southwestern Montana was once inhabited by the Flathead or Bitterroot Salish Indian tribe, so perhaps they were the people who decorated the tree that is described in the following excerpt. This was written by W. A. Ferris in the early 1840's.

On the east side of Bitter Root river, there is a singular curiosity, that I had not before observed, because it is situated under some rocky bluffs, almost impassable to horsemen, the proper road being on the west side of the river: it is the horn of an animal, called by hunters, the "Big-horn," but denominated by naturalists "Rocky Mountain Sheep;" of a very large size, of which two-thirds of its length from the upper end, is entombed in the body of a pine tree, so perfectly solid and firmly, that a heavy blow of an axe did not start it from its place.

The tree is unusually large and flourishing, and the horn in it some seven feet above the ground. It appears to be very ancient, and is gradually decomposing on the outside, which has assumed a reddish cast. The date of its existence has been lost in the lapse of ages, and even tradition is silent as to the origin of its remarkable situation. The oldest of Indians can give no other account of it, than that it was there precisely as at present, before their father's great grandfathers were born.

They seldom pass it without leaving some trifling offering, as beads, shells, or other ornaments - tokens of their superstitious veneration for it. As high as they can reach, the bark of the tree is decorated with their trifles.

By W. A. Ferris. From Life in the Rocky Mountains, originally published in a series of installments in the Western Literary Messenger, Buffalo, N. Y.: J. S. Chadbourne & Co., from July 13, 1842 to May 4, 1844.

About the area today:
The Bitterroot National Forest, part of which borders the Bitterroot river valley and foothills, has had some terrible fires in recent years. One well-known and horific image of deer fleeing a Bitteroot fire in 2000 has been investigated and certified as genuine by the urban legend sleuths,

Biologists say that forest fires are both natural and necessary in the coniferous forest. The lodgepole pine, for example, needs fire's intense heat to release its seeds from the cone.

Clipped from a U.S. Forest brochure about
Bitterroot National Forest's Saddle Mountain

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Forest Floor in Late Winter

Moss, fungi, lichens, and an alien invader

Moss, lichens, fungiHere's a look at some of the life that's thriving in the woods in mid-February, despite the long cold spell we've just had. The moss is lush and green, and the lichens are practically glowing. Beige fungi are digesting the dead branch.

I see a few sprigs of honeysuckle -- the stems with green leaves at left. Honeysuckle vine, a non-native, invasive species, is rampant along the edges of these woods. Here in Kentucky, it's a nearly-evergreen plant. It can climb to great heights by twining and twisting around trunks and branches, and once it reaches sunlight, it forms its own canopy over the canopy of its host tree or shrub, depriving the host of sunshine and subjecting it to a great deal of stress from the weight of the overgrowth. 
Lichens are interesting things. They're composite organisms -- that is, they're made of fungi growing together with something else (usually algae) in a symbiotic relationship. Many of the lichens even reproduce by making a diaspore that contains cells from both partners.

I've noticed that the lichens seem to do very well in winter in Kentucky. Lichens are so immune to damage from cold that they survived unprotected in space in an experiment conducted by astronauts -- thus a few months with temperatures below freezing are nothing to them. The leaves are off the trees, so they get plenty of sunshine and there's usually plenty of moisture too, since we get a lot of our annual rainfall during the winter months.

I don't know what sort of fungus that is, but it seems to be a benign part of the circle of life, just helping that tree branch decompose. However, some fungi can be a big problem to living trees. Heart-rotting fungi may not kill a tree immediately but will destroy its lumber value. Root-rotting fungi make the tree vulnerable to windfall. Then there's the various fungal diseases that can kill trees, such as oak wilt and dogwood anthracnose and many other molds, wilts, rusts, etc.

Another "Tree Note"I love to see green patches of moss in winter. The bit of bright color is a welcome accent to winter's muted palette of browns. Like the lichens, the moss thrives in the damp conditions and cool temperatures of winter and takes its dormant time during the hot, dry months of summer. That sounds good to me! I don't like hot weather either!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

How Fast Will My Tree Grow?

Typical growth rates may not hold true .

Ponderosa pine needles
(2 or 3 per bundle) and cone
The growth rate of an individual tree will depend upon its individual circumstances, even though as a species, general predictions can be made.

I read an extreme illustration of this fact in the October, 2001, Nebraskaland magazine (Volume 79, Number 8). The article, "How Nebraska Has Changed" by James Stubbendieck, showed vintage photographs and modern photographs of the same scenes. In a comparison of two photographs of Harrisburg in western Nebraska, the author comments,

"The ponderosa pines on top of the butte have had limited growth. One of the pair of trees on the left side of the 1911 photograph remains alive, while both trees on the right side of the photograph are still living. One tree is about 12 inches tall in the 1911 photograph... It is growing in a crack in the rocks and the lack of moisture and nutrients available has resulted in the tree growing only an additional 18 inches in 87 years."

Another "Tree Note"As a general rule, the ponderosa pine would grow to 75 feet in height, perhaps even 100 feet, and its spread at the crown might be 50 to 75 feet. However, the stress of this particular ponderosa's extreme circumstances has dramatically stunted its growth and will probably also dramatically shorten its life!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sycamores: Big Trees with White Branches

American planetree, "buttonball," Platanus occidentalis

American sycamore or planetree
Sycamore growing beside a creek

Sycamore at a pond's edge
Sycamores are water-loving trees.
With long white arms flung to the winter skies, the American sycamore is one of the most recognizable and attractive native trees in the landscape this time of the year. It is often found in moist areas such as road ditches, creek and pond banks, or low valleys.

The bark of the sycamore is one of its best identifying features. Mottled below and grayish-white on its upper branches, with some patchy peeling, it can hardly be mistaken. If leaves are not present, look for the sycamore's fruit, the brownish "buttonballs" that appear in late summer. A few fruits will often hang on until the next spring. (I noticed several sycamores today with fruit still very obvious in their upper branches.)

Though the sycamore is a beautiful tree in its natural habitat, think twice about where (or whether!) to plant it in your yard. It often grows up to 100 feet in height and breadth, and it's a rather messy tree, dropping lots of little branches and big leaves all the time. Also, it tends to put out large surface roots that will interfere with lawn mowing. (I am speaking from personal experience.)

Sycamore seedlings
Small sycamores growing in a rock crevice
very near Cumberland Falls (in Kentucky)
We have transplanted two sycamore seedlings in early spring, just as soon as the seedling had a leaf and could be identified. One seedling sprang up in my garden, and we came across the other on a muddy road shoulder. In just a couple of months, look for sycamore seedlings in any mud flat (small or large) where adult sycamores are nearby.

My husband has often said to me jokingly that we see a lot of big sycamores in Kentucky because sycamore lumber is useless. However, I read tonight that sycamore lumber is usable if properly cured to control warping due to a high degree of shrinkage. Perhaps inadequate curing explains the conventional wisdom that sycamore firewood won't burn.

American sycamore is grown in short-rotation plantations primarily for pulp and it also is used for rough lumber. The heavy, close-grained wood is difficult to split and work because of interlocking fibers. It has been used for butcher's blocks, furniture, veneer and interior trim, boxes and crates, flooring, and particle and fiberboard.

Source: USDA Plant Guide (pdf)

Another "Tree Note"Probably the main reason that we see a lot of big sycamores in Kentucky is that the tree is very fast growing. In just 20 years, it can grow 70 feet tall!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Ten Reasons to Plant a Native Tree

Why native trees are a great choice

1. Native trees are naturally adapted to the climate of their area.

Planting a tree2. The native trees of an area are part of its history and heritage and should be preserved and honored for that reason.

3. Native trees provide food and shelter needed by native wildlife.

4. Native trees often have a greater measure of natural tolerance to local insect pests, diseases, and weather conditions thus requiring less maintenance to maintain their health.

5. Native trees have a natural beauty suited to their natural habitat.

6. Native trees help to preserve the authenticity of the landscape.

7. Native trees promote a healthy ecosystem and balance of nature.

8. Native trees are often available free of charge--yours for the planting or transplanting.

Another "Tree Note"9. The planter of a long-lived native tree leaves a lasting legacy and a valuable gift to those who will follow him on this earth.

10. Planting native trees helps to preserve both local and global biodiversity.

Pruning Trees after Storm Damage

Proper trimming helps damaged trees recover.

Today, I read several articles in the national news about tree damage in recent snow and ice storms. I feel a lot of empathy for the tree-owners, because I know how storms can wreak havoc on trees. About ten years ago, we had two severe ice storms back-to-back that did a tremendous amount of damage to our trees.

When cleaning up the mess, considerable pruning of the broken trees will probably be necessary. It's important for the health of the trees to cut any broken limbs cleanly using good pruning techniques.

If you use the correct method of removing a limb you won't rip any bark off the stem of the tree in the process. Be sure you know how to properly remove a limb before you go near your trees with a saw! Here is a good guide with clear diagrams on best limb removal practices: Landscape Manual of Louisa County, Virginia.

It's certainly best to hire a trained and certified arborist to do the pruning after storm damage, but in real life, you may not be able to find or afford a specialist. Maybe you'll decide to hire a chainsaw crew that has come into the area seeking work, or maybe you'll try to do some of the pruning yourself (be very careful!)

Be sure that any chainsaw crew you hire has insurance. And no matter who you get to do your tree pruning, you need to know exactly what you want cut and supervise the workers while they are doing it. Don't assume that the workers know proper tree pruning just because they can climb a tree. Don't hesitate to be really bossy about how you want the branches trimmed!

Whatever you do, don't top your trees! Properly pruned trees will usually recover from storm damage without being permanently deformed, but topped trees will look terrible for the rest of their shortened lifespans! Tree trimmers often push homeowners to do a "good topping", but that's an oxymoron. In my humble opinion, it would be better for your storm-damaged trees to have no pruning at all than to top them!

Another "Tree Note"And one last thing -- try not to be disheartened. If you had seen the sickening sight of our terribly broken trees after the storms, you would be amazed how they recovered, after careful pruning, to be healthy, attractive trees today.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Logging Underway

A private landowner harvests some trees.

Logging underway in Christian County, KY

I don't like to watch the work of loggers. This photo doesn't clearly show all the small trees that the logging crew broke while cutting and hauling out the big trees. Many of the neighbors are aghast at the damage that this careless, sloppy logger is doing to these woods.

I suppose the big trees at the front of the photo are probably enjoying their last days. That's sad to me.

Another "Tree Note"I do understand that if landowners can't have some occasional income from woodlands, they're going to think about bulldozing the trees and planting something more profitable. Every crop has its harvest time. Why do I hate to see the trees cut, but I don't think twice about a meadow that's cut three times in a single summer?

Free Advice about Trees

State university extension services are a great resource.

Browsing around for some information about wild plums tonight, I came across a great page of questions and answers about plum trees (both wild and domestic plums). The website is titled "Hortiscope" and it's a ten-year archive of a newspaper column written by Dr. Ron Smith, a horticulturist for the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

All of the information is written with a North Dakota slant, of course, but I found plenty of things in the tree Q&A pages that were relevant to Kentucky. For example, in answer to a question about how to kill stumps, Dr. Smith wrote, "Spray any sprouts that come up with Roundup. Drill holes in the stump and fill them with saltpeter." I am going to try his suggestion about saltpeter on a pesky mimosa stump in our yard that refuses to die.
Another "Tree Note"
I don't know where to buy saltpeter, but I do know that if I don't find it at the local farm supplies, I can call my local county extension office and ask!

Try this Google search to find a wealth of extension service and other government publications about trees and forest.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

School Leaf Collections Remembered

The best leaf press ever!

My daughter made three leaf collections in school: one each in middle school, high school, and college. My son, who doesn't naturally gravitate toward science classes, made one leaf collection in middle school.

My son was just glad to get his little leaf collection done so he could hand it in, but my daughter (after completing three collections in increasing complexity) learned to enjoy her ability to identify trees and was even quite pleased to receive her own trees field guide as a birthday gift one year.

Fortuitously, just before my daughter was assigned her first leaf collection, my aunt gave me a lard press that had belonged to my grandfather. We transformed it into an incredibly efficient leaf press by removing the can that held the lard cracklings and inserting some fitted boards in the can's place.

We sandwiched the leaves between two sheets of white copy paper and then added layers of white paper towels between each "leaf sandwich" to absorb the moisture. Then the assembled stack was placed between the two boards of the modified lard press, and the screw was applied. The pressure rendered each leaf dry and as flat and thin as paper within just a day or two.

Here is a scan of a few lard-pressed leaves that are still tucked into one of my tree books. These leaves were collected in Christian County and Todd County, Kentucky. In real life, they are brownish in color, but using the magic of image processing, I have restored some of their original coloration. Isn't it pleasant to see some green leaves?

Can you identify them? Here are my answers.

- - - - - - - - - -
Another "Tree Note"
I have also subjected many flowers to the modified lard press, and I find it does an exceptionally good job of flattening them, whereafter they can be used for all sorts of crafts.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bare Root Tree Seedlings Often Do Well

Bare-root and twice-transplanted

Bare-root trees were planted by the thousands during the
Great Depression. (FSA/OWI photo)

When we were doing a lot of planting on our little place, we ordered dozens and dozens of bare-root shrubs from Mellinger's (an Ohio catalog that has now gone out of business, I regret to say.) We also ordered some bare-root trees from Mellingers and several other Midwest-based tree catalogs.

Also we planted a couple dozen bare-root trees that came home from school from our children's biology teacher. He got them in bulk from the state forestry department every spring and passed them out to his students.

The survival rate was not good on the free bare-root trees from the forestry department. They were just tiny seedlings -- a twig with a few strings of root. The poor little trees underwent a lot of rough treatment -- they were bundled and shipped in groups of 100, distributed at school, and carried home on the school bus before they were finally planted. However, we do have some pin oaks and tulip poplars that survived all that abuse and are fine established trees today.

Another "Tree Note"We had mostly good luck with ordering trees and shrubs from catalogs. Most of those mail-order trees were shipped to us as bare-root plants. Many of the bare-root trees we received from catalogs were sturdy little fellows, nicely rooted and branched. The ones that we didn't kill by overwatering did very well and are big trees now.

The best trees were "twice transplanted", which is a good thing to look for in a bare-root plant's description. It encourages the tree seedlings to develop a dense mass of roots rather than just a few, long, stringy ones.

Twice-transplanting has been good nursery practice for a long time. For example, it's mentioned in advertisements by Herbert A. Jackson of Forest City Nurseries, in Garden and Forest magazine in 1896, "Try our Northern-grown Stock. Nursery-grown from seed and twice transplanted." An Irish newspaper, The Armagh Guardian, carried an advertisement from Coolkill Nursery in 1844: "The Proprietor Respectfully Solicits orders for the above Nursery, which contains a very extensive and general Stock of Forest Trees, all twice transplanted..."

Now is the time to order bare-root trees for early spring planting, so don't dawdle.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Old Oak Tree Above a River

An old tree I like

Another "Tree Note"This old oak stands just south of the junction of Highways 1716 and 68/80, east of Hopkinsville, KY. It grows on a ridge with other oaks, but bands of asphalt -- the old, 2-lane highway and the new, 4-lane highway -- separate this tree from its brethren.

I'm always a little worried about this ancient monarch. Every spring, I wonder if it will leaf out again. It's dead on top (perhaps struck by lightning). The bare branches are not as as noticable when the tree puts on its summer foliage.

Above the new highway and below the old highway, other oaks grow. Apparently, a large scattered grove of oaks once dominated the area. Oaks are scattered across many of the ridges that border the Little River valley.

Below is a look at other oaks in this group, farther down the slope and closer to the river bottoms. I believe them all to be southern red oaks, a common native tree in Christian County, KY.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Good Trees for Reducing Air Pollution

White pines, scarlet and red oaks, and bald cypress compared

Because of their size, trees can absorb a lot of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by nature and by man's activities.

U.S. Forest Service researcher Dave Nowak lists the following trees as some of the best for soaking up Co2: "the Common Horse-chestnut, Black Walnut, American Sweetgum, Ponderosa Pine, Red Pine, White Pine, London Plane, Hispaniolan Pine, Douglas Fir, Scarlet Oak, Red Oak, Virginia Live Oak and Bald Cypress..."

Sweetgum leaf, male and female fruits
Sweetgum female & male fruits, leaf
It is interesting to see six of Kentucky's native trees in this list -- black walnut, sweetgum, white pine, scarlet oak, red oak (I assume he means the northern red oak), and bald cypress.

All of these are big trees, so you'd need plenty of room to plant any of them as a lawn tree. I wouldn't recommend the black walnut if you keep a well-manicured lawn. The nuts are a mess unless you really dedicate yourself to picking them up. The prickly seed-balls of the sweetgum could also be a problem. They can blunt lawn mower blades and hurt bare feet.

The bald cypress is the longest-lived tree in this group of Kentucky natives. It can live up to a thousand years or even more in ideal circumstances. It likes damp areas, and it will develop knees if its roots are able to reach water. However, it will tolerate dryer spots if water is provided during long spells of hot, dry weather. It holds up well to wind and ice, but it doesn't do well in alkaline soils. Its wildlife value is very low.

The oaks will be beautiful, weather-resistant trees, and scarlet and red oaks are fast-growing compared to some oaks, adding up to two feet a year to their height. Their acorns are a great food source for birds, squirrels, and other small and large animals. They may live for a couple of centuries in a good site. You will have to watch them for insect infestations, wilts, etc. and perhaps do some spraying. The northern red oak will endure more air pollution than the scarlet oak. Neither tree will do well in compacted soil.
Needles and cone of white pine
White pine needles and cone

White pines are also great trees for wildlife, and they are attractive and weather resistant. They could easily live 200-300 years in good growing conditions. Their growth rate is similar to the red and scarlet oaks, up to 2 feet per year. White pines don't thrive in areas of heavy air pollution and they also don't like salt, compacted soil, or excessive drought and heat. They definitely wouldn't be a good tree to plant along a busy highway.

If I were going to plant one of these trees, I'd choose one of the oaks!

- - - - - - - - - -

Another "Tree Note"To make this comparison, I consulted Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: A Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers, by Gary L. Hightshoe. Published by Van Rostrund Reinhold, New York, in 1988.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Trees in Estes Park, Early 1870s

Isabella Bird's account of "The dense, ancient, silent forest..."

Another "Tree Note"Isabella Bird visited the pine forest near the treeline in Estes Park, Colorado, in the early 1870's and recorded her observations:

WE RODE UPWARDS through the gloom on a steep trail blazed through the forest, all my intellect concentrated on avoiding being dragged off my horse by impending branches, or having the blankets badly torn, as those of my companions were, by sharp dead limbs, between which there was hardly room to pass--the horses breathless, and requiring to stop every few yards, though their riders, except myself, were afoot.

The gloom of the dense, ancient, silent forest is to me awe inspiring. On such an evening it is soundless, except for the branches creaking in the soft wind, the frequent snap of decayed timber, and a murmur in the pine tops as of a not distant waterfall, all tending to produce EERINESS and a sadness "hardly akin to pain." There no lumberer's axe has ever rung. The trees die when they have attained their prime, and stand there, dead and bare, till the fierce mountain winds lay them prostrate.

Horseback riders in Estes Park, late 1800s
The pines grew smaller and more sparse as we ascended, and the last stragglers wore a tortured, warring look. The timber line was passed, but yet a little higher a slope of mountain meadow dipped to the south-west towards a bright stream trickling under ice and icicles, and there a grove of the beautiful silver spruce marked our camping ground. The trees were in miniature, but so exquisitely arranged that one might well ask what artist's hand had planted them, scattering them here, clumping them there, and training their slim spires towards heaven.

Hereafter, when I call up memories of the glorious, the view from this camping ground will come up. Looking east, gorges opened to the distant Plains, then fading into purple grey. Mountains with pine-clothed skirts rose in ranges, or, solitary, uplifted their grey summits, while close behind, but nearly 3,000 feet above us, towered the bald white crest of Long's Peak, its huge precipices red with the light of a sun long lost to our eyes. Close to us, in the caverned side of the Peak, was snow that, owing to its position, is eternal.

Soon the afterglow came on, and before it faded a big half-moon hung out of the heavens, shining through the silver blue foliage of the pines on the frigid background of snow, and turning the whole into fairyland.

--From "A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains," by Isabella L. Bird (1831-1904)
Published in 1873.

One Tree Not to Plant

Weeping willows regretted

Another "Tree Note"I have sentimental memories of a big yellow willow tree that I climbed as a child. Thus, when we got our little place in the country and I saw weeping willows advertised, it reminded me of the tree of my childhood and I decided that we should have a couple of them.

I knew that weeping willows are often listed as undesirable trees because they are prone to ice damage and because they like to run their roots into perforated drain pipes, but for some reason, I didn't think that my weeping willows would be that way.

I planted them in a part of our yard where water sometimes stands in wet weather, thinking they would help dry up the ground. The willows grew quickly there, and within five years, they were big, beautiful trees.

Then an ice storm took a huge bough out of one of them. My husband was gone to the war in Iraq at the time, so the kids and I had to clean it up and we finally finished with it by the end of summer. The next winter, another big limb came out of the same tree. This time, it was nearly half the tree. We finally got that mess cleaned up by the end of the next summer.

And I haven't even mentioned how the willows have their roots all over the top of the ground, making it very difficult to mow around them!

A few days ago, I was out in that part of the yard, and I noticed that the entire side of that same weeping willow tree is covered with shelf fungi. The presence of fungi means that the tree is dead in that area, of course. I expect that the entire tree will be dead in another year or two and then we'll have the problem of getting rid of it.

The other weeping willow is doing fine so far. But I wouldn't be surprised if it starts breaking apart at any time.

Update, July 27, 2013: Both weeping willows are still living despite repeated, extensive damage in storms.

Friday, February 9, 2007

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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