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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Beautiful Holm Oak in Portugal

Evergreen Mediterranean oak, Quercus ilex

A sombra verde has posted some photos of a beautiful Holm Oak that grows in Southern Portugal. Holm oak is an evergreen oak that is native to the Mediterranean regions of Europe. Holm Oak has also naturalized in southern Great Britain.

The photos of that Portuguese Holm oak's evergreen leaves and immense spread remind me of the live oaks of the American South, also evergreen. A spectacular example is the Angel Oak of coastal South Carolina. You can also see some nice images of beautiful live oaks at

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sad when the trees lose their leaves?

Autumn is part of a natural cycle.

I am usually so tired of hot weather by the end of summer that I am truly thankful for autumn when it finally arrives. Some people don't agree. They love the long sun-filled days of summer, and they are sad when the days grow cooler and shorter and the trees lose their leaves.

Feelings of sadness as autumn progresses can be caused by our bodies. As the hours of natural light decrease, we produce more melatonin, a hormone that can produce feelings of depression and generally slow a body down. If you think you suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), talk to your doctor, and try to spend more time in the sunshine or full spectrum light.

On the other hand, some who claim to be sad about autumn haven't given much thought to the life cycles and rhythms God has built into our wonderful world. The following wisdom about the change of seasons is still as true today as when it was written, nearly 150 years ago:

Some persons occasionally complain that this period of the year, this brilliant change in the foliage, causes melancholy feelings, arousing sad and sorrowful ideas, like the flush on the hectic cheek.

But surely its more natural meaning is of a very different import. Here is no sudden blight of youth and beauty; no sweet hopes of life are blasted, no generous aim at usefulness and advancing virtue cut short : the year is drawing to its natural term, the seasons have run their usual course, all their blessings have been enjoyed, all our precious things are cared for; there is nothing of untimeliness, nothing of disappointment in these shorter days and lessening heats of autumn.

As well may we mourn over the gorgeous coloring of the clouds, which collect to pay homage to the setting sun, because they proclaim the close of day; as well may we lament the brilliancy of the evening star, and the silvery brightness of the crescent moon, just ascending into the heavens, because they declare the Approach of Night and her shadowy train.

Source: A First Class Reader: Consisting of Extracts, in Prose and Verse, edited by G.S. Hillard. Published in 1861 in Boston by Swan, Brewer, and Tileston. This passage is from the chapter, Autumn, written by "Miss Cooper, a daughter of the celebrated novelist."

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Passenger Pigeons in Kentucky's Oak Forests

All the forces of nature cannot bring back extinct species

An excerpt from an old book:

... As civilisation advances upon the forest, the wild species retreat; when the forest falls, the wild species are gone. Every human generation during these centuries has a last look at many things in Nature. No one will ever see them again: Nature can never find what she has once lost: if it is gone,it is gone forever.

What Wilson records he saw of bird life in Kentucky a hundred years ago reads to us now as fables of the marvellous, of the incredible. Were he the sole witness, some of us might think him to be a lying witness. Let me tell you that I in my boyhood—half a century later than Wilson's visit to Kentucky —beheld things that you will hardly believe.

The vast oak forest of Kentucky was what attracted the passenger pigeon. In the autumn when acorns were ripe but not yet fallen, the pigeons filled the trees at times and places, eating them from the cups. Walking quietly some sunny afternoon through the bluegrass pastures, you might approach an oak and see nothing but the tree itself, thick boughs with the afternoon sunlight sparkling on the leaves along one side. As you drew nearer, all at once, as if some violent explosion had taken place within the tree, a blue smoke-like cloud burst out all around the tree-top — the simultaneous explosive flight of the frightened pigeons.

Or all night long there might be wind and rain and the swishing of boughs and the tapping of loosened leaves against the window panes; and when you stepped out of doors next morning, it had suddenly become clear and cold. Walking out into the open and looking up at the clear sky you might see this: an arch of pigeons breast by breast, wing-tip to wing-tip, high up in the air as the wild geese fly, slowly moving southward. You could not see the end of the arch on one horizon or the other: the whole firmament was spanned by that mighty arch of pigeons flying south from the sudden cold. Not all the forces in Nature can ever restore that morning sunlit arch of pigeons flying south...

Quoted from The Kentucky Warbler (p. 148-150) by James Lane Allen, published in 1918 by Doubleday, New York.

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Ten native trees with red autumn leaves

Trees that have red foliage in the fall

1. Sumacs—Rhus spp.
2. Red maple—Acer rubrum
3. Tupelo—Nyssa sylvatica
4. Sweet gum—Liquidambar styraciflua
5. Dogwood—Cornus florida
6. Serviceberry—Amalanchier canadensis
7. Hawthorn—Crataegus crus-galli L.
8. Scarlet oak—Quercus coccinea
9. Red oak—Quercus rubra
10. Sorrel tree—Oxydendrum arboreum

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How to collect and plant acorns

Starting oak trees from seed

If you want to collect some acorns this fall to plant oak trees, here are some suggestions I've compiled from my own experience and from the sources listed at the bottom of this post:

1. Collect acorns soon after they fall, or (better) pluck mature acorns from the tree when you observe that the acorns are falling. Don't choose green acorns whose caps are difficult to remove -- their seeds are probably not mature. Don't bother with acorns that have lain on the ground for several days, baking in hot, dry conditions.

2. Collect the acorns in a ventilated bag that will preserve their moisture, such as a perforated plastic bag or a burlap or heavy cloth bag. Use separate bags for different species of acorns.

3. Make a note of the species and the location of the parent tree and put it in the bag with the acorns. When you get home, make a permanent record. You'll be glad you did

4. Avoid exposing the acorns to heat or to unusually moist or dry conditions that might kill the seeds. Keep them in the shade after you collect them, and put them in your refrigerator as soon as possible. Don't allow the acorns to bake in the sun, and don't store the acorns in your freezer.

5. If you're collecting the acorns for yourself, plan to plant them right away. Acorns of the white oak family will germinate soon after planting. Acorns of the red oak family will germinate in the spring. (You can store the red oak acorns over the winter, but why bother when you can plant them in the fall?)

6. Remove the caps of the acorns you're planting. Discard any acorns that are malformed, damaged, or light in weight.

7. In the place where you want your oak tree to grow, plant a group of acorns (10 or so) at a depth of about 1.5 to 2 times the size of the acorn. Keep the acorns several inches apart. Choose an open area that is free of ground squirrel activity. After the seeds sprout, you can choose the best of the seedlings.

8. Mark the spot where you planted the acorns so you won't accidentally mow over it next spring. It's a good idea to protect from wildlife damage by surrounding the area with a circle of hardware cloth (wire mesh), embedded several inches into the ground.

9. Be sure to water the spot where you've planted the acorns every few weeks through the winter, if natural precipitation is lacking.

We've had very good luck with planting acorns in the fall, soon after collecting them. It's not difficult to do. Mother Nature does it all the time. And it's a good thing to do -- by propagating the native species in your area, you help to preserve their genes.

More information on acorn collection, storage, and planting:
How to Collect, Store, and Plant Acorns
Acorn Collection and Handling Procedures
How to Grow Your Own Oak Trees
Grow Your Very Own Oak Tree From an Acorn
Planting Oaks - Restoration (includes good diagrams of wildlife barriers around seedlings)

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

America's Largest Cottonwood Down in a Storm

Champion poplar tree split in two is reporting that America's largest cottonwood tree has fallen, split in half by either lightning or wind in a storm. According to the article, the tree was 36.75 feet in circumference, 85 feet high and 107 feet in crown spread. It grew near Seward, Nebraska.

The photograph that accompanies the article shows two massive trunks on the tree. The man in the picture is tiny in comparison to the tree.

I wrote recently about the big cottonwood (Populus deltoides) trees on my Nebraska country school playground, half a century ago. I remember one with particular affection because several children could hide together behind it in "Hide and Seek."

This fallen champion cottonwood was so big that our entire schoolhouse could have been hidden behind it! Actually, I am not joking. Our little schoolhouse was only 10 or 12 feet wide.

Related site: Nebraska Champion Tree Register

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Free Trees for Fall Planting

Ten free oak trees from the National Arbor Day Foundation

The Arbor Day Foundation will soon be shipping trees for fall planting. If you join now, you will receive ten free trees, and you should be able to plant them this fall. The membership fee is $10, and you have a choice of ten ornamentals, ten blue spruces, or ten oaks. Even if just a few of the little trees make it, the price is right.

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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.

Photos and text copyright © 2006-2010 by Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Do not republish without written permission. My e-mail address is