Friday, October 2, 2020

Rubber Tree - Hevea brasiliensis

 The Rubber Tree - Hevea brasiliensis, is also called Sharinga Tree, Rubberwood or Para Rubber Tree.  It was only originally found growing in the Amazon Rainforest but was planted in more widespread tropical and sub-tropical areas once the demand for it's naturally produced rubber increased.  This tree is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family and has major economic value because of it's milky latex that naturally occurs within the tree.  Recorded uses of this and similar tree rubber/latex products date back to the Olmec people of Mesoamerica some 3600 years ago.  By the late 1800's rubber plantations were established in the British colonies, Java, and Malaya.  Today most rubber plantations outside of the native region occur in tropical portions of South/East Asia and West Africa. Cultivating in South America has not been satisfactory because of leaf blight this leaf blight is a major concern for plantations worldwide as it has not been cured or corrected and is thought to pose a threat to all varieties/clones growing today.


Image Citation: David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

This latex that occurs in the Rubber Tree is the primary source of natural rubber, it occurs in vessels within the bark just outside of the phloem. The vessels spirals up and around the tree in a right handed helix pattern forming an angle of about 30 degrees and occurring at heights of up to 45 feet.  In the wild the tree has been found to reach heights upwards of 100 feet, but this is not very common.  Trees grow at a much slower rate once they are tapped for latex and are generally cut down after about thirty years as they usually stop producing at this point so they no longer have economical value.  When harvesting cuts are made in the vessels but only deep enough to tap into them without harming the trees growth.  In order to grow these trees require tropical or sub-tropical climates, with no chance of frost.  One simple frost event can completely wipe out a plantation and be detrimental to production as the rubber becomes brittle and breaks.  Latex production is not very reliable the amount and quality is variable from tree to tree. When a tree is tapped (the process is called rubber tapping) the latex is collected in small buckets and looks almost similar to the process used to collect syrup from Maple trees.

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Monday, September 28, 2020

Sweet Birch or Cherry Birch - Betula lenta

 The Sweet Birch or Cherry Birch (Betula lenta) is most easily recognized by the combination of fine and sharply toothed leaf margins, wintergreen scent, scales on the cone-like fruit and dark brown almost black bark.  It is a deciduous tree that can reach heights up to 65 feet, but usually does not exceed 3.5 feet in diameter.  The tree grows in an upright form with a generally single erect straight trunk and a rounded crown.  The Sweet or Cherry Birch is native to the United States.  It prefers rich, moist soil, cool forest areas, mountain slopes, Appalachian hardwood forests.  It can be found naturally occurring from New York and Maine in the North to Northern Georgia, Alabama and Central Mississippi in the South.  It is not often confused with the closely related Yellow Birch as the bark is significantly different in not only color but texture as well (Yellow Birch has a yellowish exfoliating bark).


Image Citation: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org


The bark of the Sweet/Cherry Birch is a dark gray brown to brown black in color, it is smooth when young becoming furrowed with age.  The twigs exude a winter green aroma and taste when scraped or injured.  The leaves are alternate, simple, paperlike in texture, obvate and and heart shaped at the base.  The leaf margins are finely and sharply toothed.  The upper surface is a dark green while the lower surface is a more pale green.  The flowers occur in make and female catkins, the male are reddish brown and 7-10 cm long, while the female are pale green and 1.5-2.5 m long both occur in the late Spring.  The fruit is a winged samara born in a scaly erect egg shaped structure that matures in late Summer or early Fall.

               
                                                                            

Image Citation: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org




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Saturday, September 26, 2020

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.



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 American 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, Bugwood.org

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: Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org

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.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Inkwood - Exothea paniculata

 The Inkwood - Exothea paniculata also called Butterbough is an evergreen shrub or small tree that reaches heights of up to 50 feet in height. It is most easily identified by its compound leaves with 4 leaflets. It grows in an erect, upright form with a single trunk and narrowly rounded crown.



(Photo By: Michelle M. Smith, 2018 - In habitat, Ned Glenn Nature Preserve, Florida)

When young the bark is bright, reddish-brown becoming dark gray and fissured with age. The leaves are alternate, pinnately compound with an even number of leaflets, 2-6 in number but usually 4. Each leaflet is elliptic or oblong in shape with a rounded tip and slight notching. The upper surface of the leaves are lustrous and dark green in color, while the lower is a paler green. The flowers are unisex and white with the male and female occurring on separate plants. The flowers contain 5 petals, 5 sepals and generally 8 stamen and occur from late winter to early spring. The fruit is a fleshy berry that is red when young becoming purple or almost black when mature. Fruit reaches maturity annually in Summer.

The Inkwood is native to only the the very southernmost portion of Florida and the Florida Keys. It prefers hammocks and shell mounds. It is a member of the Exothea genus which contains only 3 species all but 1 are native to the Caribbean, the Inkwood is the only member native to the United States.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Pumpkin Ash - Fraxinus profunda

 Pumpkin Ash - Fraxinus profunda - The combination of buttressed trunk base, large pinnately compound leaves with 7-9 dark green leaflets and samara fruit make this species easily identifiable. Pumpkin Ash is a deciduous tree that reaches heights of 35-90 feet tall, growing in an erect form with a single straight or crooked trunk. It is native to swamps, old lake beds, freshwater tidal wetlands, floodplains and wet woodlands along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers from Michigan south through Louisiana and along the Eastern seaboard from New Jersey south through Florida. The Pumpkin Ash is often times confused with the Water Ashes in the Carolina Ash family.




Image Citation: Vern Wilkins, Indiana University

Leaves are opposite, pinnately compounded with blades 20-45 cm long, rachis 8/15 cm long, 7-9 leaflets ovate in shape, narrowly oblong or elliptic. The upper leaflet surface is dark green and hairless, the lower surface is hairy. In the fall, the foliage turns bronze to reddish purple before falling off to make way for the next years foliage.  The bark is light gray with interlacing ridges. The swollen or "pumpkin" like trunk base is visibly apparent on some trees, especially those growing in deep swamp areas in the Southern growth range. The fruit is in the form of a samara 4-7 cm long and up to 14 mm broad. The fruit range in shape from narrowly linear to elliptic, with a wing arising from the base of the seed body. The fruit matures in early Autumn.

Best suited for hardiness zones 5-9, Pumpkin Ash prefers moist to slightly dry soil. It grows well in deep, loamy soil and swamp areas.  Birds and small mammals feed readily on the seeds produced by this tree. It also provides cover and habitat for birds and other wildlife. The larvae of the Emerald Ash Borer feed destructively and can kill this species. Flies and caterpillars also will feed on the foliage.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Elderberries - Sambucus

 The Elderberries - Sambucus are a small genus made up of only 10 species of which only 2 are commonly found in North America the American Elderberry- Sambucus nigra and the Red Elderberry- Sambucus racemosa, a third Danewort/Dwarf Elderberry- Sambucus ebulus is reported to be naturalized in the Northeast portions of the United States. They are deciduous shrubs, small trees or herbs with very soft wood and conspicuous pith.


The leaves are opposite and compound usually pinnate but occasionally bi-pinnate. The leaflets are lanceolate or ovate with distinctly toothed margins. The flowers are small, white or cream in color and generally made up 3-5 petals and 5 stamens. When crushed the flowers produce a sweet yet rancid odor. The fruit is a fleshy round berry like drupe, red or black in color depending on the species, these berries generally occur in bunches.



Image Citation: (Elderberry Flowers)  Ohio State Weed Lab , The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

The Elderberries are mostly found in moist to wet areas, roadsides, ditches, wetland and woodland margins at elevations ranging from 3-3000 m. It is a dominant under story species in riparian woodlands where it persists despite the competition from other species, it does not however grow well in closed story forests. American Elderberries are found from the central portion of the US (Wisconsin to Texas) all the way to the East Coast and as far North as Nova Scotia. The Red Elderberries are found in a more limited area on either coast of the US, from Alaska in the North and Northern California in the South on the Pacific Coast, Sporadically from Northern Idaho to Arizona and New Mexico in the central portion of the country, and from Wisconsin to Nova Scotia in the North East and West Virginia, Northern Virginia, Maryland and Delaware in the Mid-Atlantic/South.



Image Citation: (Red Elderberry) Gil Wojciech, Polish Forest Research Institute, Bugwood.org

American Elderberry is best distinguished by the black fruit, whereas the Red Elderberry has red fruit. Similar species include Box Elder and Ash, which have similar leaves however neither have fleshy fruits as the Elderberries do. The fleshy fruit is edible and has been used by various cultures including Native Americans, Spaniards, Cahuillas, French, Austrians, and Germans for many different purposes. The berries can be used to make wine, jams, jelly, syrup and pies. When dried they can be cooked down to form a sauce (sometimes called sauco by the Cahuillas) that does not require any type of sweetening. The flowers are sometimes added to batters, eaten raw, added to teas, or even fried for a sweet snack. The twigs can be used to tap Maple trees for Syrup collection, basket weaving, flute and clapper stick making, tinder and even homemade squirt guns (when hollowed out).



Image Citation: (Dwarf Elderberry) Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org

Many Elderberries are planted for their ornamental value offering visual interest with both the flowers and the berries, others are planted for the wildlife value as they attract birds, small mammals, rodents, deer and butterflies. They are very a productive, adaptable and easy to establish species. Elderberries also are a very useful ground cover for stabilizing stream banks and other sites that are prone to erosion. Elderberries grow best from seed and are most often sown in the Fall season, cutting from this species are not very successful. This species is recommended for hardiness zones 3-8 and can be found at many nurseries for planting in your own garden.

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Thursday, September 10, 2020

Alder trees -Alnus

 Alder trees -Alnus  are a very small group of trees and shrub, made up of only 30 varieties most of which are native to the Northern temperate areas. Ten of which are native specifically to North America half of these can be grown as either shrubs or trees. As a whole, Alders rarely grown to over 70 feet tall. They are relatively fast growers and are short lived not recorded to live very often beyond 100 years.




Image Citation (Green Alder): Steven Katovich, Bugwood.org

Alders are considered part of the larger Birch family since they are very similar in habit and appearance, however there are two things that set them apart from Birch trees. The first is the fruit of the Alder not only resembles a small cone, but when ripe it becomes hard and woody very much like a cone. The second is that the roots of the Alder grow nodules that house nitrifying bacteria which enables these trees to grow well in bare or poor soils that lack the nitrates the plants need to survive. When the leaves of the trees fall each year and decay they enrich the soil, this enables other tree species to eventually grow in these once uninhabitable areas as well.. Red and Gray Alders are commonly planted along the edges of newly constructed roads and in quarry spoils for this very reason. In its native growth range, the Alder is commonly seen as one of the first signs of new growth in previously burned or logged forests. They are also usefully grown along the banks of rivers and ponds as their root systems will extend down into the water creating a stronger bank and helping with erosion control.



Image Citation (Nepal Alder): John Ruter, Bugwood.org

The Alders wood is durable in water, it is hard and dense in quality. The wood is also used to make charcoal for gunpowder. It has been used for both bank and canal construction.



Image Citation (Hazel Alder): Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org

It is recorded in Welsch Mythology that the Alder fought in the great "Battle of Trees" against the dark spirits of the underworld. When cut the wood of the Alder turns from white to red which is said to signify the tree is bleeding.
Native Americans not only made tools and utensils from the Alders wood but they also extracted and used the red dye from it's wood as well. Twigs, leaf buds, leaves and catkins (both male and female) all have medicinal purposes.