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

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Welcome, Visitors!

Thank you for reading "Tree Notes!"

Dear readers and subscribers,

Due to other demands on my time and energy, I'm not able to continue researching and writing "Tree Notes" at present. However, I do still read and appreciate your comments here.

You can visit archived articles by scrolling down on this page and clicking on any topic that interests you.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll enjoy your visit here.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yellow pine, a Kentucky native

Pinus echinata: Shortleaf pine, yellow pine

The Commonwealth of Kentucky has four native pine species --
  1. Pinus echinata
  2. Pinus strobus
  3. Pinus rigida
  4. Pinus virginiana

Today, we'll take a brief look at Pinus echinata, and we'll look at the other three in the future.

Yellow pine sapling. Photo by Jason Sturner 72.
In Kentucky, we often refer to Pinus echinata as yellow pine, but it has several common names. The National Forest Service's Sylvics Manual notes that "Depending upon locale, the species is also called shortleaf yellow, southern yellow, oldfield, shortstraw, or Arkansas soft pine."

The names "shortleaf" and "shortstraw" are a bit misleading. The needles of Pinus echinata can grow up to 5 inches long!

Pinus echinata is a native tree of 21 states, mostly in the southeastern United States.  It has been logged extensively, so it is not as common in the Kentucky woods as it once was. Shortleaf pine is used for plywood and wood pulp, as well as for lumber.

Yellow pine on a rocky slope
Photo by cm195902

Pinus echinata can grow up to 100 feet in height or even more, in a favorable location. It doesn't do well in calcium-rich, higher pH soils.

In Kentucky, yellow pine's preference for an acidic soil explains why it grows mostly in our eastern highlands. There it finds a home in well-drained, sandstone-based (sandy) slopes and valleys with mildly to moderately acidic soil. In the Bluegrass region and western Kentucky, our soils are often limestone-based, thus less acidic and less hospitable to yellow pine.

You can identify Pinus echinata by its needles which occur in bundles of 2 (or sometimes 3). Its cones are egg-shaped, up to 2-1/2 inches in length. Each scale on a mature cone of shortleaf pine has a pointy little prickle.

In Trees & Shrubs of Kentucky, Mary E. Wharton and Roger W. Barbour write,
A mature yellow pine is altogether noble in aspect. Its tall straight trunk with a map-patterned bark stands in unquestioned dignity bearing a lofty crown of slender branches. It is handsome in parks and large lawns, and in such places it should be planted more frequently.

W.D. Brush - USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Valuable Willow

Virtues of an under-appreciated tree family

As "yard trees", willows doesn't get much respect from me. They tend to have:
   (1) brittle branches that break easily in high winds or icy conditions,
   (2) water-seeking roots that will clog sewer lines, and
   (3) short lives.

I'm generalizing about the 75+ species of North American willows here, but those attributes should make any sensible homeowner wonder about the wisdom of planting a willow near his house!

Black Willow, Salix nigra. Morton Arboretum
Wikimedia image by Bruce Marlin
Salix nigra catkins
Wikimedia image by SB Johnny.
Nonetheless, willows (Salix spp.) have their good side, especially when kept where God intended them to grow. Many of our North America willows occur naturally in wetlands and on stream margins.  There, a dense mat of willow roots is a good thing. It can reduce erosion and help control floods.

Willows are often a pioneer species -- the first woody plant to take root and grow in a formerly barren area. They are  useful in land reclamation projects, such as land that has been strip mined, old industrial sites, etc. (Willows can be invasive, however, so get advice from your local university extension office before mass-planting them.)

Wherever willows grow, they provide habitat and food to wildlife. They have helped to feed and shelter people too! Historically, young, tender willow buds, twigs, and leaves were a food of some of the indigenous people of Canada and Alaska. And willow, though a soft, weak wood, has served many building purposes when better wood was unavailable. Basket weavers have used the long, supple, young twigs of willow for centuries. Bent-wood furniture making, another time-honored craft, also uses willow branches.

Willow bark contains salicin, a mild analgesic.  It is an ancient remedy, a forefather to aspirin as we know it today. Hippocrates wrote about willow bark tea several centuries before the birth of Christ. Many of the Indian tribes of our continent used bark, leaves, roots, and sap from native willows as medicinal remedies. The European settlers were also familiar with the benefits of willow teas and powders.

Nowadays, most of us buy manufactured pain pills, but willow-bark tea is still an effective, though slower-acting, pain reliever. Many recipes for making it can be found online. If you decide to try it, you'll have to collect some willow bark. Remember not to girdle (cut a strip all the way around) the willow's trunk, or you'll kill it. And remember all the usual cautions about aspirin consumption.

Willows also contain high levels of a plant growth hormone called auxin. You can buy powdered auxin to stimulate the growth of roots on hard-to-propagate cuttings. Or, you can make auxin-rich willow water by boiling small pieces of willow twigs. One method is to stand the cuttings in room-temperature willow water for 24 to 48 hours, and then plant them. Dampen the medium or soil with willow-water after planting, and follow up with more willow-water whenever dry.

With all that auxin flowing through their systems, willows are notable -- notorious! -- for fast growth. That makes them an excellent source of biomass for energy production. Scientists are also looking at some of the willow species for bio-engineering.  Their fast growth and prodigious intake of water may make them good candidates for cleaning up certain industrial contaminants.

Willows are unique and useful plants (despite a few bad traits). They deserve our respect, affection, and appreciation!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Free Tree Information

Tree Info to download

The Education Store on the Purdue University Extension Service website has about 30 pdf files about urban tree care, common urban tree problems, tree-planting instructions, etc. that may be downloaded free of charge. Purdue University is located in Indiana, so some of the advice is most applicable to Indiana and the Midwest. However, much of the information is useful, no matter where you live.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Live Oaks of Bonaventure Cemetery

Historic trees in Savannah GA

Bonaventure Cemetery (Image by reynolds.james.e)

Should I have the opportunity to travel to Savannah, Georgia, I want to visit the Bonaventure Cemetery. It is known for its beautiful live oaks (Quercus virginiana) and for being the burial place of Johnny Mercer and Conrad Aiken. I've been curious about it ever since reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Bonaventure Cemetery overlooks the Wilmington River. The site was once part of a 600 acre farm named Bonaventure, established in 1762 by Colonel John Mullryne and his wife Claudia. Colonel Mullryne laid out an internal road system for the property and planted live oaks at close intervals along the roadsides. Some of these roadways today are the famous "oak alleys" of Bonaventure Cemetery.

An antique stereoscopic view of
an oak alley at Bonaventure Cemetery.
Image from Wikimedia Commons

A family cemetery was established in the 1790s by a later owner of the plantation, Josiah Tattnall. The Tattnall family sold the plantation in 1846 to Peter Wiltberger. The Wiltbergers opened a 70-acre public cemetery (Evergreen Cemetery) on the property and assumed care of the original Tattnall burying ground (Old Bonaventure Cemetery). Evergreen Cemetery was taken over by the city of Savannah in 1907. The entire site, now 160 acres, is known as Bonaventure Cemetery today.

Donald Grant Mitchell wrote about Bonaventure Cemetery in Rural Studies: With Hints for Country Places. This book was published in 1867, so the live oaks were probably about 100 years old at the time of his visit.

Near to Savannah, in Georgia, and upon one of the creeks making into the irregular shores thereabout, is a cemetery called, if I remember rightly, Buena Ventura. In old times, any visitor at the Pulaski used to find his way there, and was richly repaid for the visit.

There was no proper "keeping" to the grounds. You passed in under a lumbering old gateway of unhewn timber; the paths were not carefully tended; there was much of rampant and almost indecorous undergrowth; the tombs were mossy, and the graves, many of them, sunken; but great liveoaks over-reached your path, and from their gnarled limbs hung swaying pennants of that weird gray moss of the Southern swamp lands—festooned, tangled, streaming down—now fluttering in a light breeze, and again drooping, as if with the weight of woe, to the very earth.

There was something mysteriously solemn and grave-like in it. The gnarled oaks and the slowly swaying plumes of gray told the completest possible story of the place. Had there been no tombs there, you would have said that it was the place of places where tombs should lie and the dead sleep. I have alluded to the scene only to show what and how much may be done by foliage and tree limbs, with their investing mosses, to give character to such a spot. (Source)

In A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf, John Muir recalled the days he spent camping in the Bonaventure Cemetery in 1867 while he was waiting in Savannah for money to arrive. Of the live oaks, he wrote:

The most conspicuous glory of Bonaventure is its noble avenue of live-oaks. They are the most magnificent planted trees I have ever seen, about fifty feet high and perhaps three or four feet in diameter, with broad spreading leafy heads. The main branches reach out horizontally until they come together over the driveway, embowering it throughout its entire length, while each branch is adorned like a garden with ferns, flowers, grasses, and dwarf palmettos.

But of all the plants of these curious tree-gardens the most striking and characteristic is the so-called Long Moss (Tillandsia usneoides). It drapes all the branches from top to bottom, hanging in long silvery-gray skeins, reaching a length of not less than eight or ten feet, and when slowly waving in the wind they produce a solemn funereal effect singularly impressive. (Source)

Live oaks at Bonaventure Cemetery, early 1900s.
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs
Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Bonaventure Cemetery
Image by bp6316 is BACK
I doubt if the cemetery is as overgrown and natural a place today as it once was, but its live oaks are still there. In 2004, they were placed on the Georgia Landmark and Historic Tree Register.

The Savannah Department of Cemeteries reports that the live oaks have been in "slow decline" for the last century, after surviving a number of major hurricanes during the 1800s. I hope that some younger live oaks are growing so the unique atmosphere and beauty of Bonaventure Cemetery is preserved for future generations.

Further reading
Quercus virginiana
Live Oak, USDA Forest Service Sylvics Manual
Floridata: Quercus virginiana
Discover the Bonaventure Cemetery
Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah

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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 © 2006-2013 by Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Do not republish without written permission. My e-mail address is