Friday, October 21, 2016

Meet The "Lombardy Poplar" (Populus nigra "italica)

The Lombardy Poplar - Populus nigra "italica" - is an upright/erect form of the European Black Poplar.  This tree was originally spread by cuttings in the Po Valley of Italy and introduced in Britain in 1758, It's spread continued rapidly through Europe once introduced.   Today this tree can also be found in every state in the United States and throughout Southern Canada.  The roots of the Lombardy Poplar are considered to be invasive, they seek water sources (like drain pipes and ditches) and spread very much like Bamboo. Even when the tree is removed and the stump ground out the root system will remain and often resprout in another location nearby.  

Image Citation: Zelimir Borzan, University of Zagreb,
Description: Branchlet with male catkins (a - f) and a closed terminal vegetative bud of a new leader (k). - 2. Branchlet with female catkins (g - i, l) and closed terminal vegetative bud (k). - 3. Branchlet with developed shoots and with ripe fruit-catkins (a, b). There are numerous seeds in a capsule. Stipules at n. - 4. Seedling with cotyledons and first ordinary leaves. - 5. Winter-branchlet. After Hempel & Wilhelm, 1889. Photos and explanations from the book: Zelimir Borzan. "Tree and Shrub Names in Latin, Croatian, English, and German, with synonyms", University of Zagreb, 2001.

 It has shown notable decline in some regions of North America due to pests and disease, most notably Borers, Cankers and Bacterial Wetwood.  Pest damage to the Lombardy Poplar is commonly seen in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Okalahoma, Idaho and Montana-but is by far at it's worst in Texas.  With the exception of the areas most prone to pests this tree seems to thrive in North America, especially in the Southern Canadian range.  Professional Landscapers, Arborist and Tree Experts are not very quick to recommend planting of Lombardy Poplars because of their relatively short life span, on average only 15 years.  They do however offer a rapid growth rate, perfect for creating a privacy screen in a shorter amount of time then the much slower growing more long lasting Spruce or Arborvitae (for those of us who may be a bit impatient!).

Image Citation: Robert Vid├ęki, Doronicum Kft., 

With their upright nature the Lombardy Poplar tends to begin branching out close to the ground.  When mature they can reach average heights of  40-50 feet tall, but a spread of only 10-15 feet.  In the Spring and Summer their leaves are a crisp green changing to a golden yellow in the Fall. They are recommended to be planted in zones 3-9.
If you like the appearance of this tree but do not want to take on the high risk for the reward, the more pest resistant alternative is the European Aspen - Populus tremula "erecta" it has a similar appearance and growth habit.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sugarberry - Celtis laevigata (Southern Sugarberry or Hackberry)

The Sugarberry - Celtis laevigata is a small deciduous tree that grows upwards of 95 feet, they often flower and fruit when young. The Sugarberry grows in an upright erect form with an open spreading crown. The simple bark is grey in color and smooth when young, becoming marred with cork or wart like ridges / growths. The bark marking is often caused by bird excavating the bark to access the sweet sap, this in turn attracts insects to the wounds. The leaves are simple and alternate usually thin and paper like in texture, lanceolate or ocassionally ovate with a rounded, flattened or asymmetric tip. The upper surface is pale green and hairless, smooth surfaced with visible veins.

Image Citation: Brian Lockhart, USDA Forest Service,

The Sugarberry is a member of the Cannabaeceae (Hemp) family. Sugarberry is usually found growing in sandy loam or rocky soils along streams, bottom lands, and in woodlands. The Cannabaceae Family is made up of 11 genera and 180 species of shrubs, trees, herbs and vines - 14 species are found in North America only 9 are native others are naturalized. The woody members of this family are most easily identified by their alternate simple leaves with 3 primary veins from the base and inconspicuous flowers, and were originally classified as members of the Elm family (Ulmaceae) but recent studies suggest they should actually be included with the Cannabaeceae family.

Image Citation: Chris Evans, University of Illinois,

Sugarberry has long been used for many purposes by a variety of Native American tribes. The Houma used a concentrate made from the bark to treat sore throats and ground up shells to treat venereal diseases. The Comanche would beat the fruits to a pulp and then mixed with animal fat, rolled into balls, and roasted in the fire as food. The Acoma, Navajo, and Tewa all consumed raw Sugarberries for food. The leaves and branches were boiled by the Navajo to make dark brown and red dye for wool.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Sassafras - Sassafras albidum

The Sassafras - Sassafras albidum is a member of the Laurel family. Having only three varieties, two of which are native to China and Taiwan, and the other is native to the Eastern portion of the United States. Spreading by suckers growing from the roots, in it's natural habitat it is commonly found growing along the woods edge and fields or as the under story of a forest.

Image Citation: (Photo 1) USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station Archive, USDA Forest Service, SRS, & (Photo 2) The Dow Gardens Archive, Dow Gardens, 

The fruit from the Sassafras is blue in color when mature starting at clear and red when young. Growing from red stems the fruit grow in an almost ornamental pattern. The fruit/berries are a favorite of small birds such as Finches in the Spring and Summer. Like the Amercian Holly, the Sassafras is dioecious, meaning the pistallate and staminate flowers mostly grow on different trees.

Image Citation: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources - Forestry Archive,

The Sassafras tree has a unique scent that is recognizable even before the tree is in view, the oil that produces the scent is in the roots, the leaves and even the bark of the tree. Teas can be made by steeping the roots of the tree-Native American are recorded to have used this tea to treat many ailments. The oil was also used as the flavoring for traditional Root Beer prior to it's use being banned by the FDA in 1960 because of the Safrole found in the oil was thought to be a possible carcinogen. This banned was reversed partially in 1994 but new restrictions were put into place to be sure that the Safrole was removed prior to human consumption . File Powder, is a spicy herb made from dried and ground leaves. It was traditionally used by Native Americans in the South, and was adopted into Creole cuisine in Louisiana as a very commonly used ingredient.

Image Citations (Left & Right Photos): Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan,

The foliage of the Sassafras is very unique having as many as three varying type of leaves. The leaves can vary from single lobes, double lobed or mitten shaped to triple lobed. They are green in color during the growing season and in the fall put on a very beautiful show. The leaves will vary in color in the fall from Yellow, Orange, Scarlet and Crimson.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

The Crab Apple Trees - (Malus)

Crabapples are small deciduous trees with a broad and open crown. Apples and Crabapples are in the rose family, Rosaceae, in the genus Malus. Crabapples are differentiated from Apples based on fruit size. If fruit is two inches in diameter or less, it is termed a Crabapple. If the fruit is larger than two inches, it is classified as an Apple. The height of Crabapples ranges greatly from 6- 50 feet depending on the variety and the growing conditions, however most average in the 15-25 ft range. There are currently 35 species and over 700 cultivated varieties of Crabapples recorded.

Image Citation (Crabapple in bloom-Left & Right): Dow Gardens Archive, Dow Gardens,

The fragrant flowers are white with a hint of pink or sometimes all pink. Growing in clusters of flowers that appear with the new leaves. Crabapple flowers may be single (5 petals), semi-double (6 to 10 petals) or double (more than 10 petals). Single-flowered Crabapple varieties tend to bloom earlier than semi-double or double-flowered varieties. Actual dates of blossoming can vary each year depending on weather conditions. The length of time in bloom, can range from 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the variety and weather conditions.

Image Citation (Southern Crabapple Flowers Purple and White): Paul Wray, Iowa State University,

The leaves are coarsely toothed and green in color. In the fall the leaves change in color, the colors range from yellow to orange, red to purple. The falling leaves reveal the still attached fruits offering another level of interest.
The Crabapples fruit is small, long stalked and rather sour in flavor. They are yellow-green in color an grow in clusters of 3 to 4. The fruit is rarely eaten raw as it is sour, bitter and sometimes woody in texture. However in some Asian cultures it is used and valued as a sour condiment. There are few varieties that are sweet though not as common as the sour varieties.

Image Citation (Crabapple Illustration): Zelimir Borzan, University of Zagreb,

Crabapple has been listed as one of the 38 plants that are used to prepare Bach flower remedies, an alternative medicine practice promoted for its effect on health. Though this has not been scientifically proven to date.
The Crabapple grows commonly in forest clearings and near streams in the Eastern United States (but not very far North). Ornamental varieties are grown throughout the United States in many Landscapes. Crabapple trees are fairly drought tolerant. They can be low maintenance and versatile landscape plants, and offer more than one season of interest between their flowers, fruit, and changing leaf colors. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Pin Cherry - Prunus pensylvanica

The Pin Cherry - Prunus pensylvanica is one of the most easily identified of all the Cherries because of the red twigs and long tapering lanceolate leaves. It is a deciduous small tree that reaches heights of only 25-40 feet tall at maturity. Growing in an erect fashion with a single slender trunk that produces suckers from the root crown, an open rounded crown, slender spreading branches. It is native to North America from New Foundland west to British Columbia, South to Colorado in the West and South to NE Georgia in the East. This variety of Cherry is fast growing with a short life span of only 20-40 years. Pin Cherry is a member of the Rose family (Rosaceae) and is sometimes referred to as the Fire Cherry or Bird Cherry.

Image Citation: Rob Routledge, Sault College,

The leaves of the Pin Cherry are alternate, simple, thin, lanceolate, often folded upward from the mid vein, curved at the apex. The upper leaf surface is lustrous, hairless, and yellow-green in color, the lower is paler and also hairless. In the fall the leaves turn red, maroon or orange adding interest to the tree. Each leaf blade is 7-15 cm long and about 5 cm broad. The Flower is small only 1-1.25 cm in diameter with 5 white petals and 15 stamens each. Flowering occurs in late Spring to early Summer.  The bark of the Pin Cherry is a reddish-brown sometimes gray-brown in color, lustrous in texture with numerous horizontal lenticels that are well spaced.  At maturity the bark becomes fissured and begins to peel off in paper like plates.

Image Citation: Becca MacDonald, Sault College,
Image Citation: Rob Routledge, Sault College,

The fruit of the Pin Cherry is in the form of a drupe with a hard pitted stone center. Rounded in shape, bright red in color, 6-8 mm each on a slender stalk, the fruit matures in Mid to late Summer each year. Wild Cherries are high in Vitamin C and can be used for many purposes. The pitted fruits/drupe can be used in jellies, jams, juice, tea, breakfast syrup, and desserts. Pin Cherry trees provide food for many species of animals, including Grouse, Whitetail deer, at least 25 species of non-game birds, and many species of Lepidoptera. A recipe for cough syrup can be created using the juice of pin cherries. The flesh of pin cherries can be used as a flavoring for whiskey or brandy and wilderness wine can be created from the drupes (many describe it as bitter to the taste). Pin Cherry stones (the hard center) and leaves of the tree contain cyanide, but the flesh of the drupe is edible. Pin cherry leaves are less toxic than those of most other cherry species. Livestock (primarily cattle) have been known to get sick and even die after grazing on wilted cherry leaves, because they contain hydrocyanic acid. The wilted leaves of the Pin Cherry are more toxic than fresh because the concentration of cyanide is significantly higher.

Unlike most other Cherry woods that are highly sought after for firewood and furniture making, the wood of the Pin Cherry is softer and porous making it much less desirable and of little commercial value. This weak wood could be the result of it's fast growth habit. The fast growth habit of the Pin Cherry is beneficial in controlling soil erosion and minimizes loss of soil nutrients. It is not commonly planted in residential landscapes because of it's short life span.
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Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Cottonwood - Populus deltoides

The Cottonwood - Populus deltoides  - is a tall deciduous shade tree with a large spreading crown, named for its cotton-like seeds. It is part of the Poplar family, this diverse family includes the quaking aspen, which boasts the widest range of any North American tree, and the Plains cottonwood, which was the only tree many early settlers met as they forged westward through America's prairies.  It is also one of the largest North American hardwood trees.

Image Citation: Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service,

Eastern Cottonwood grow from 60 to 100 feet tall.  The leaves are almost triangular in shape, 3-5" long and wide. In the Spring the start as a Shiny Green then turning a bright yellow-gold in fall. The leaves are alternate and simple, with coarsely toothed (crenate/serrate) edges, and subcordate at the base.  Male and female flowers occur on separate catkins, and appear before the leaves in spring. The seeds are within a cottony structures that allows them to be blown long distances in the air before settling to ground.  Their fruit consists of egg-shaped capsules averaging 1/2" long, that mature in spring and split into three parts. Bark is gray, thick, rough and deeply furrowed.  The cottonwoods have a rapid growth rate and are also adaptable to many soils and climates.  They are very resistant to flood damage but do not fair well with wind or heavy ice storms. Recommended for growth Zones 2-9

Image Citations: (Bark-Left) Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, & (Seeds/Cotton-Right) Troy Evans, Great Smoky Mountains National Park,

Cottonwood trunks provided a great material for early timber homes and canoe making. Their bark was used to produce food for horses and a bitter medicinal or healing tea. In regions with few trees, the very noticeable cottonwoods often served as gathering places and trail markers, and as sacred objects for several Plains tribes, they were also a sure sign that water was nearby as when found in the wild their roots almost always are near a water source. Today, Cottonwood's are most commonly used to produce some interior grade furniture, plywood, matches, crates, boxes, and paper pulp.  The lumber is considered weak, soft, light and often warps during the drying process.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Sawtooth Oak - Quercus acutissima

The Sawtooth Oak - Quercus acutissima is most easily recognized by it's fringed acorn cup and narrow leave with bristle tipped teeth, resembling the teeth of a saw. It is a fast growing, deciduous shade tree that can reach heights of 30- 70 feet tall. Sawtooth Oak grows in an erect fashion with a single trunk and dense rounded crown. Originally introduced from Asia, generally found in planned landscapes and is reported to be naturalized in scattered areas from Pennsylvania South to North Carolina and Georgia, South to Louisiana. Sawtooth Oak is primarily planted for wildlife cover and food due to it's abundant fruit and fast growth habit. This species is sometimes used for urban and highway beautification as it is tolerant of soil compaction, air pollution, and drought.

Image Citations (Photos 1 & 2): Richard Gardner, UMES,

Named for it's unique leaf edges, the Sawtooth Oak is a beautiful tree. The green leaves are alternate, simple, oblong or obvate, 12-16 pairs of sharp bristle tipped teeth, parallel veins and a lustrous upper surface and dull pale underside. The leaves add to the visual interest by beginning a brilliant yellow to golden yellow color in the Spring, turning dark lustrous green in summer and yellow to golden brown in the fall. The bark is dark gray in color with light gray scales that become deeply furrowed with age. The fruit is in the form of an acorn, the cup encloses 1/3 - 2/3 of the 1-2.5 cm nut. The acorn rim is adorned with long spreading hairlike scales that form a distinctive fringe.

Recommended for hardiness zones 5-9, the Sawtooth Oak can be found at most larger nurseries within those zones. Sawtooth Oak is also considered to be easily transplanted and hardy making it a wise choice for any landscape with room for a large spreading shade tree. It is similar to the Chinquapin Oak Castanea pumila in appearance, distinguished primarily by the difference in fruit.

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