Festival of the Trees #34


We tend to take trees for granted. They’re part of the landscape, but because they don’t move, they don’t often catch our eyes. There usually needs to be something unusual going on for us to pause and take a closer look: the tree is an unusual shape, or is sporting bright fall foliage or spring blossoms, or is diseased or infected, or is exceptionally large. How often do we pause to look at the healthy trees that are part of our local landscape? Or consider their roles in their local ecosystems?

I started this blog with the intention of highlighting the marvelous in nature, all those amazing things that we so often just walk right by without noticing. There are amazing things about every single species that many of us don’t know. So for this issue of Festival of the Trees, I thought I would try to find an interesting fact relating to each of the posts. And then for even more interesting facts (and, in some cases, fiction), follow the links to learn more!


The Backyard Grower – Virginia establishing nature preserve for ancient trees
“Big Mama,” a bald cypress tree standing along the banks of the Nottoway River in Virginia, may have died, but the ancient tree will remain part of the area’s ecology and history for some time.
Fact: Bald Cypress wood is extremely water resistant, and sometimes trees that have been submerged in swamps since prehistoric times are dredged up and are still useable as wood, giving the tree the nickname “wood eternal”.

treehouseLocal Ecologist – Tree Walk: Three types of tree houses
On the origin and history of treehouses and our relationship with trees.
Fact: In My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George the protagonist boy makes his tree house in the hollowed out trunk of an ancient hemlock. The most roomy hollow-trunk home would be in the trunk of a Montezuma Cypress (once it died), which measures 11.62 meters (38 feet) in diameter. My living room only measures 25 feet across!

ottertreeCatapult to Mars
A poem about a unique tree.
Fact: According to Norse mythology, the first humans, Ask and Embla, were formed out of two pieces of driftwood, an ash and an elm, by the god Odin and his brothers, Ve and Vili. (taken from Wikipedia)

treehouse2The Question of the Day – Question of the Day #92
Suzanne asks, what’s your favourite tree? You may find some of the answers quite interesting.
Fact: My favourite tree is the Eastern White Pine. My favourite name for it comes from the Iroquois: the Tree of Great Peace. According to their legends, the cluster of five needles, bound together, represented the five nations that made up the Iroquois, and the spreading roots that reached in all four compass directions were the roots of peace, extending to all peoples.

finlandLiving the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) – Talvimaa
A photo-of-the-day of GrrlScientist’s favourite place to visit in Helsinki, Finland.
Fact:There are an estimated 20,000 urban trees in Helsinki, which have an estimated value of 30 million Euros (nearly 40 million US dollars).

teasWild About Nature Blog – Taste-testing the Evergreen Teas
A different take on enjoying evergreens.
Fact: Not just a pleasant drink, pine tea has also long been used by Native Americans as a prevention and cure for scurvy, as the needles contain 5 times the amount of vitamin C that lemons do.

palmsCreature of the Shade – confronting vegetation: Archontophoenix cunninghamiana
Time spent in the Tambourine National Park just south of Brisbane, in Australia. These rainforests have a simple structure: Bangalow palms everywhere.
Fact: Like all palms (and unlike other trees) they don’t get wider with age. The juveniles look just like adults but shorter, so that in addition to the solid ceiling of fronds above, complete sets of fronds also appear at various heights, slowly rising into the canopy as if on hydraulic lifts. (from Creature of the Shade)

toiletpaperThe Guardian – American taste for soft toilet roll ‘worse than driving Hummers
Although not a blog, an interesting note on how current bathroom preferences are affecting forests.
Fact: One ton of wood pulp will produce about 15,000 rolls of toilet paper. Using mechanical pulping techniques, it would take about 12 average-sized trees to make one ton of pulp.

andrewjacksonStan LeMaster and the Living Legacy Historical Tree Project – Andrew Jackson magnolia – Daviess County courthouse, Owensboro, KY
A descendant of a magnolia brought to Washington, DC, by President Andrew Jackson.
Fact: Magnolia has attracted the interest of the dental research community because magnolia bark extract inhibits many of the bacteria responsible for caries and periodontal disease. In addition, the constituent magnolol interferes with the action of glucosyltransferase, an enzyme needed for the formation of bacterial plaque. (from Wikipedia)

bigoakOpen Space Restoration – Largest Live Oak…Reaching for the Sky
About a massive oak tree, whose canopy is approximately 120 feet across.
Fact: The oak is commonly used as a symbol of strength and endurance. Oak leaves are used to symbolize rank in the US Armed Forces; different colours represent different ranks. In the US Navy, different arrangements of sprigs of leaves and acorns represent different sections of the corps.

poem1Mutating the Signature – Collaborative poetry: arboretum
A “remix” of a poem about trees. A remix is, not unlike in music, where the original poem is reworked while retaining some or all of the original work’s content or flavour.
Fact: Trees have long been a source of inspiration in poetry, appearing in the works of a wide array of writers including Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, JRR Tolkien, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Samuel Coleridge, e.e. cummings, Walt Whitman, and many others.

trailhikeDown the Trail – Day 23 – Glastenbury Mountain
Beautiful photos highlighting a hike along a portion of the Appalachian Trail.
Fact: In the southern sections of the Appalachian trail, lowland forests consist mainly of second-growth; nearly the entire trail has been logged at one time or another. There are, however, a few old growth locations along the trail, such as Sages Ravine in Massachusetts and The Hermitage, near Gulf Hagas in Maine. (from Wikipedia)

quiltKitty’s Heart of Nature – Closely Knit and Talented Family
A lovely knit wall hanging of a “tree of love”, a wedding present.
Fact: Trees are often used as symbols of growing and blossoming love. Perhaps the best tree to be used as such a symbol is the catalpa, whose large leaves are almost perfectly heart-shaped.

birchesWillow House Chronicles – Birches
Reflections on Robert Frost’s poem Birches.
Fact: Birches are among the most flexible of trees. Because of their characteristics as being tall, slender, flexible, and I would add aesthetically appealing, birch trees are often associated with the feminine in many cultures.

peartreesA Tidewater Gardener – Good intentions – bad tree
The ornamental pear trees put on a lovely show while blossoming but hide an ugly truth.
Fact: The Callery Pear mentioned in this post is originally native to China. The fruits are small, less than half an inch in diameter, and woody until softened by frost. They are eaten in the winter by birds, who disperse the seeds in their droppings, helping the tree to colonize areas where it wasn’t intentionally planted.

catkinsTreeblog – Summer’s outrider: flowers & buds & catkins & trees
Signs of spring: larch flowers, alder and hazel catkins, willow buds, rowan leaves.
Fact: Although we typically think of the fruit trees when we think flowering trees, in fact most species of trees flower – we just usually overlook the flowers as being something else. Catkins and pussy willow buds are forms of flowers, for instance. On maples, the buds that we see forming during winter are actually flower buds, not leaves.

osageorangeOsage+Orange – A Hedge in Winter
A row of osage-orange trees, the blog’s namesakes.
Fact: Osage-orange trees are native to south-central US but are now naturalized in many parts of the continent. They produce large, bumpy, spherical fruit that are up to 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter and smell similar to oranges.

pines1Beetles in the Bush – Trees of Lake Tahoe – The pines
Profiles the many species of pine tree in the Lake Tahoe basin.
Fact: As a northeasterner, upon my first visit to the west coast (incidentally to the Tahoe basin), I was astounded by the size of the pine cones. I actually mailed a couple home to my family. The sugar pines produce the most outrageous cones, up to a foot or more in length, looking a bit like spruce cones on steroids. However, even the “smaller” cones of the ponderosa pine were bulking up on something, as they could reach six inches, compared to the usual two inches of northeastern red pines.

otherworldlyDark Roasted Blend – The Most Alien-looking Place on Earth
As the subtitle says: Socotra Island, you have to see it to believe it.
Fact: More than a third of the plants on Socotra Island are endemic and unique, due to its long geographic isolation from the continents. One of the most striking of Socotra’s plants is the dragon’s blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari), which is a strange-looking, umbrella-shaped tree. Its red sap was the dragon’s blood of the ancients, sought after as a medicine and a dye. (from Wikipedia)

marchflowersThe South Florida Watershed Journal – Showing of Green
Warming temperatures and increased sunlight are bringing out the green in South Florida.
Fact: We all know the phrase “April showers bring May flowers” (or in the case of South Florida, March showers bring April flowers), and probably think of it as simple folk wisdom – it’s the rain that helps the flowers grow – but the phrase was actually originally used in the context of unpleasant events often bring better things.

legacyoflunaVia Negativa – The Tree-sitter
A poetic tribute to the book The Legacy of Luna, by Julia Butterfly Hill
Fact: The book is about the author’s experience sitting 18 stories high in a giant redwood for nearly two years. The tree, named Luna by the group who built by moonlight the wooden platform the author sits on, is between 600 and 1000 years old. Although referred to as a she, redwoods are monoecious, neither male nor female.

redmapleNeighbourhood Nature – Good news and bad news: tree flowers
A closer look at the beautiful tree flowers (the good news) that unfortunately inevitably result in tree pollen (the bad news) in early spring.
Fact: Many maples, such as the red maple, are considered polygamodioecious – a big word to say that some trees may be entirely male, some entirely female, and some trees may bear flowers of both sexes (monoecious – from the Greek for “one household”).

lightningtreeOpen Space Restoration – Lightning Strike
A tree that was struck by lightning not once, but twice, now bears a bat box.
Fact: Oak and elm are the types of trees most commonly hit by lightning, but pine ranks third. They have deep tap roots that reach the water table, and typically stand higher than other trees in a forest. In most trees the lightning takes the path of least resistance, which is generally the wettest part of the tree, often outer layers where the sapwood is. This results in a burning of the bark, and possibly the stripping off of a small section of the trunk, but is generally easy for the tree to heal over from. Deeper wounds are more difficult to heal and usually result in the decay and death of the tree.

chestnutTGAW – Legacy and Inheritance on National Land
Reestablishing the American Chestnut on national park lands.
Fact: The American Chestnut is a prolific bearer of nuts, usually with three nuts enclosed in each spiny green burr, and lined in tan velvet. The nuts develop through late summer, the burrs opening and falling to the ground near the first fall frost. Prior to the chestnut blight that wiped out much of the population, the American Chestnut was a very important tree for wildlife, providing much of the fall mast for species such as White-tailed Deer and Wild Turkey and, formerly, the Passenger Pigeon. Black Bears were also known to eat the nuts to fatten up for the winter. (from Wikipedia)

whyWindy Willow – Why?
A photo-of-the-day of a tree caught up with some unfortunate garlands.
Fact: No one seems to know the history behind toilet-papering trees as a homecoming or Hallowe’en prank, when or why it started. Toilet paper is fortunately designed to biodegrade easily in septic systems (and elsewhere), so if any of that paper flung around outside gets missed in the cleanup it should break down naturally. Now just make sure you’re buying recycled stuff when you go to do your toilet-papering.

mothsThe Marvelous in Nature – Feeling birchy
About birch trees, and a couple of diurnal spring moths associated with them.
Fact: The twigs of Yellow Birch, as well as a number of other species such as Black Birch, will, when scraped, produce a mild scent of wintergreen because of the methyl salicylate oil the tree produces.

The next edition of Festival of the Trees will be hosted by Orchards Forever. Make sure you get your submissions in to Peg at amberapple [at] msn [dot] com on or before April 27. The theme of the May edition (at least for us northerners entering spring) will be trees in bloom!


Growth rings


Proving that there’s always more to learn about nature, last week while visiting my parents, my mom shared a tidbit she’d recently read in a library book she was working on. Apparently, you can track the annual growth of twigs on living trees using structural markers, much the same way you could count rings on a stump of a felled tree. Intrigued, I headed outside to check it out for myself.

I had noticed that the buds seemed to be out on the maple trees in the front yard, and wondered whether the warm spell had encouraged them to grow. When I paused to think about it, though, I didn’t really know at what point in the winter buds start appearing on trees. I kind of thought March, but it could be earlier. So I looked it up.

Turns out, trees actually form next year’s buds at the end of the summer. In thinking about this, it makes sense, because deciduous trees are dormant over the winter, going into a low-energy stasis (much the way the Red Squirrel does!). The buds on most trees are formed at the base of the current year’s leaves, but they’re tiny, barely noticeable. It’s during the late winter, as the days start warming up and the sap starts to flow again, that the buds begin to swell and develop. Some early swelling can take place in warm spells mid-winter, and I guess that’s what I’d been seeing.

I’ve also generally assumed these buds to be leaves, but they’re actually the flower buds – the leaves develop in the early spring, after the flowers are blooming. Although Silver Maples have both male and female flowers on the same tree, they tend to produce a majority of one gender or the other, resulting in either very low, or very high seed crops on a single tree.


Back to the purpose of my outing, when I took a close look at the twigs of the Silver Maples in the yard, I could immediately see the rings in the bark that indicated the base of previous years’ growth. In the above photo you can see a number of rings circling the twig just under the bud. The rings are formed at the base of the buds (you can see some rings underneath the little stem supporting the buds in this photo, as well), and the twig’s new growth starts from the terminal buds. As the twig grows, the rings from where the terminal bud had been remain.


The amount of growth from year to year seemed to vary greatly, and the amount of growth from twig to twig was also extremely variable. Here you can see the “growth rings” from the preceding three years (the 2008 rings will be at the tip of the current twig, when it starts to grow this spring, so the rings shown here indicate the base of the 2007 and 2005 growth – the base of the 2006 growth is harder to see because of the knobbly bit). As you can see, the twig grew considerably more in 2007 than it did in 2006 or 2005. In this case, I think in 2006 it started growing a side twig after the terminal twig was broken off, resulting in the funny bend, which may also have reduced its total growth that year.

I was so pleased with the discovery, I had a look at a few other tree species to see if it was as easy to detect. It was. Below is a twig from the Chokecherry in front of the house. The annual growth of this twig was more even between years, but I notice it also didn’t grow as much as the maple did in a year – about 5cm compared to the 15cm in 2007 for the maple.