Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"The Tree of Tule" or "El Arbol del Tule" - Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca Mexico

"The Tree of Tule" or "El Arbol del Tule" as it is called in the Mexican state of Oaxaca where it is located, is among one the the largest trees in the world. It is a Montezuma Cypress (Taxodium mucronatum), which was once very abundant in Mexico. Montezuma Cypress are closely related to the Swamp and Bald Cypress.  It is said to be large enough to shelter upwwards of 500 people and requires 30+ people with hands outstretched to circle the trunk.  

Image Citation: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,

The Arbol del Tule has the stoutest trunk of any known living tree in the world. The trunk when last measured in 2005 had a circumference of an astounding 137.8 feet and a diameter of 46.1 feet. The trunk is heavily bustressed which makes it very hard to get an accurate measurement. The height of the tree has been measured at 115-140 feet depending on the type of measurement used. At one point it was thought to be multiple trees that had grown together, though a DNA test proved it is only one tree.   The estimated age of the tree is somewhere between 1200 and 3000 years old.     In 1990, there was a report released that showed the tree is slowly declining because of the heavy pollution and nearby traffic that travels over the roots daily.  The Arbol del Tule is simply put a living & growing wonder of our world!

Image Citation: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,

The tree was once guarded heavily by the Government and was considered a natural wonder in the early 1900's, however security for the tree is now more laxed.  The tree is located on the Church grounds in the town center of Santa María del Tule in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.  It is a very popular tourist attraction and the fee for entrance to get a "closer' look is 10 pesos.  Young children are often used as mini tour guides to help point out the many animal shapes "seen" in the trees extremely rigid and textured trunk.  Santa Maria del Tule can be reached by car by traveling east on Highway 190 from Oaxaca, Mexico. Tour buses travel roundtrip from Oaxaca to Santa Maria del Tule seven days of the week. Local residents celebrate the famous Tule Tree on the second Monday in October, which was set aside as a holiday to celebrate this amazing tree, the celebration is often said to be as large as the tree itself.  Though the Arbol del Tule tree is the most famous because of it's size, there are actually 7 other large Montezuma Cypress growing in this one town that also deserve a visit (if you are in town)!  Learn more or plan you visit at:

Image Citation (Church/Town Center Historical Plaque): Santa Maria Del Tule - Asociación Mexicana de Arboricultura,

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Top ten Christmas tree varieties in the United States.

When visiting a Christmas tree farm, nursery or even the pop up/fenced side of the road lot (you know the one, it has the giant blow up snowman/santa waiting to greet you) one can often be overwhelmed by the selection of Christmas trees available for purchase. There are dozens of options when choosing a tree, we have compiled a list of the top ten trees and a little about each one to help make your choice a little easier. The top five trees are very close in sales numbers based on my research, their position on the list varies based on each particular region.

Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri), is the most popular Christmas tree sold in the United States: it has deep green colored short and flat needles. The aroma is considered by many to be strong and very long lasting. Fraser fir is a uniformly pyramidal shaped tree which reaches a maximum height of about 80 feet and a diameter of 1-1.5 feet. The strong branches are turned slightly upward which gives the tree a compact appearance and makes for good ornament support. Needled retention is very good on this variety. Fraser Fir has been used less for timber then other Fir varieties, because the difficult terrain on which it grows makes it tought to harvest. The wood is soft and brittle and may be used for pulpwood, light frame construction, interior knotty paneling, and crates.

Fun Fact: Fraser fir boughs have often been used for "pine pillows" and bed stuffing. This is a very interesting way of introducing the scent of fir to your home.

Image Citation: Bill Cook, Michigan State University,

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea), is a close second to the Fraser as they are very similar to one another. Balsam grows in an upright pyramidal form. The needles are flat and long lasting. On lower branches needles occur in two rows along sides of the branch, 3/4 - 1 1/2 inches long, spreading in form and not crowded. On older branches, the needles tend to be shorter and curved upward covering the upper sides of the twigs.

Fun Fact: The Balsam was named for the resin (also called balsam) that is found on the bark ridges and wounds, this resin was used during the civil war to treat wounds
Image Citation: Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service,

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), is also very close in numbers sold to the Balsam and Fraser. It is very fragrant with good needle retention. The needles are dark green to blue in color and range from 1 to 1 1/2 inches long. Needles are soft to the touch and radiate out in all directions from the branch. They have a sweet fragrance when crushed.

Fun Fact: The Douglas Fir is not a true Fir (not related), it has it's very own classification (Pseudotsuga).

Image Citation: Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired),

Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens Engelm.), is fourth in the top ten best sellers. It has dark green to powdery blue 1-3 inch long needles. It is well known to be the best for needle retention. The Colorado Blue Spruce is often sold balled and burlaped as a "live" tree to be planted after the holiday and enjoyed for many years to come. When young it grows in a nice pyramidal form, often spreading in form with age.

Fun Fact: The Colorado Blue Spruce is the state tree of both Colorado and Utah.
Image Citation:  Richard Webb,

Scotch (Scots) Pine (Pinus sylvestris), is the most popular Christmas tree in the Pine family and the only to make the top ten. The dark green needles are 1-3 inches long and are retained on the tree even when completely dry. The scent is not as strong as some of the Firs but is very long lasting.

Fun Fact: The Scotch (Scots) Pine is currently the most commercially planted Christmas Tree in the United States.

Image Citation: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), is a favorite in the Southern portion of the United States. It has dark green, shiny needles that are prickly to the touch. The branches are compact and form a pyramidal crown, except in older trees where the shape is more broadened. The leaves are usually arranged in opposing pairs along the branchlets. It is a very popular choice on most "cut your own" farms. The Eastern Red Cedar is a very aromatic option.

Fun Fact: The Eastern Red Cedar is not a true cedar, it is actually a member of the Juniper (Juniperus) family.

Image Citation: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,

White Spruce (Picea glauca (Moench) Voss), is a regional favorite in the North Eastern United States and Canada. It has one of the best "wild" shapes on "cut your own" farms. The needles are a bluish-green in color and are poorly retained by the tree once it is cut. When crushed the needles have a unpleasant odor. The thick limbs hold ornaments (even heavy ones) very well.

Fun Fact: The White Spruce is the state tree of South Dakota
Image Citation: Bill Cook, Michigan State University,

White Pine (Pinus strobus), must be mechanically trimmed to make into the pyramidal shape desired for most Christmas trees. It is most poular in the Mid-Atlantic United States (where it is commonly/naturally grown). The weaker limbs do not hold ornaments very well. This variety is very popular with allergy sufferers who can not handle the stronge aromas of most Christmas trees. Needles are soft, flexible, bluish-green to silver green in color and are regularly arranged in bundles of five. Needles are 2 1/2-5 inches long and are usually shed at the end of the second growing season. The White Pine has great needle retention with little to no noticable fragrance. White Pine lumber is has always been very valuable. The soft, light colored wood warps and checks less than many other species. The wood is used to craft cabinets, interior trims, and for carving.

Fun Fact: Early Native Americans used the inner bark as a food source, later colonists used the inner bark as an ingredient in cough remedies.

Image Citation: Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service,

White Fir (Abies concolor), is sometimes mistaken for a Pine as it has the longest needles of all Fir trees. The narrow needles are around 1 - 1 ½ in. in length and occur in rows. They have good foliage color, good needle retention, and a pleasing shape and aroma. White fir has one of the largest ranges of any of the Western Firs. It can be found from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and New Mexico to the Coast Range in California and Oregon.

Fun Fact: The lumber from the White Fir is used for decking, pulp production, plywood, framing, crating, beams, posts and mobile home construction.
Image Citation: Paul Wray, Iowa State University,

Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana), is the newest list maker and has not been used as a Christmas tree for nearly as long as the others. It is an alternate to the Scotch Pine in the South and has become the most affordable Christmas tree variety in that same region. The needles are a dark green to gray and are supported by stout branches, these branches hold even heavy ornaments very well. They are fast growers and can be harvested as Christmas trees in as little as 3-5 years. Thought they have many benefits that make them popular on downside is they must be mechanically shaped to have a pyramidal form.

Fun Fact: The Virginia Pine is a rapid grower, often times even considered to be somewhat invasive growing in some not very favorable locations. This rapid growth and hardiness gives it an edge when planted on sites that have been recently clear cut or even mined.

Image Citation: Vern Wilkins, Indiana University,

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

What is Mistletoe?

Broadleaf Mistletoe (Phoradendron spp.) is an evergreen plant that is parasitic in nature, it grows freely on a variety of large landscape trees. Some deciduous host trees of broadleaf mistletoe include Apple, Ash, Birch, Boxelder, Cottonwood, Locust, Maple, Oaks Walnut and Zelkova to name a few. Conifers are not found to often be host of the Broadleaf variety, but can host the dwarf varieties.

Mistletoe plants often develop in rounded form and can reach upwards of two feet in diameter. The plants develop small whitish colored berries that are sticky to the touch. Mistletoe plants are leafy and evergreen becoming most visible in the winter when the deciduous host trees have dropped their leaves. The plants are either female (berry producers) or male (pollen producing only). Many birds feed on the berries and excrete the living seeds which stick to any branch they land on. Older and large trees are often the first to be infested because birds prefer to perch on higher limbs. The down side of this is a heavy build up of mistletoe is most likely to occur in these same larger trees as the birds enjoy feeding on the berries of the mature Mistletoe plants. Often times growths in the upper branches will drop seeds to the lower sections below, spreading the growth even more. Dwarf Mistletoe does not spread in the same way as Broadleaf, instead it's seeds are forcibly discharged from the fruit, dispersing up to 40 feet away.

Image Citation: Paul A. Mistretta, USDA Forest Service,

Once a seed is in place the seed will germinate, during this time it will begin to grow through the bark of the tree and into the tree's water conducting tissues. Within the tissues, structures similar to roots form, they are called haustoria. Haustoria will spread as the parasitic bush grows and spread. Young growths are slow growing and may take years before they bloom for the first time, their succulent stems become woody over time at the base of each growth. Even if an entire visible growth is removed from it's host plant, it will often resprout directly from the haustoria that is embedded into the host. On the other hand dwarf mistletoe is not woody when mature and is segmented with small scale-like leaves.

Image Citation: Randy Cyr, Greentree,

Mistletoe can be harmful to a tree that is already weakened but generally does not harm normal, healthy trees. It is possible for individual limbs and branches from healthy trees to become weak or die back. In instances of heavy infestation the entire tree may be stunted, weakened or killed if there are other factors such as disease or drought.

The most effective way to control mistletoe is to remove the infested branches, this will eliminate the haustoria which will prevent re-sprouting. Infested branches must be cut at least 1-2 feet from the base of attachment to be sure you are removing all of the haustoria from the inner tissues of the host. In cases of heavy infestation it may be recommended to remove the entire tree as you can not safely remove more then a portion of the trees crown without causing severe damage or death to the tree itself. If you are not able to prune the tree to eliminate the growth, completely removing the visible mistletoe growth annually will often help limit the spread as only mature growths can produce seeds.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Meet the "Juneberry" - Amelanchier alnifolia

The Juneberry - Amelanchier alnifolia - is a very hardy (to zone 2) medium to tall suckering shrub.  This shrub is native to hillsides, prairies and woody areas in North America, mainly the futher north portions of the Mid-Western United States and prairie regions of Canada.  Juneberry -Amelanchier alnifolia is a close cousin of the Eastern Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), which is found more commonly in the United States as a tall forest shrub.  Our neighbors to the North in Canada call the Juneberry the Saskatoon Serviceberry and even harvest it on farms for wholesale, you pick and fresh market uses.  The Juneberry seems to have several advantages to the more commonly grown/known Blueberry.  While Blueberries prefer well-drained acidic soils, the Juneberry is not so picky and will often thrive in areas where a Blueberry bush would die.  Juneberries are considered an uncommon fruit in the United States, with virtually no commercial cultivation.  In comparison to the market of our Canadian neighbors where Juneberries are grown on almost 900 farms covering more than 3,200 acres.  

The Buds of the Juneberry are arranged in an alternate fashion, when the buds appear they are a Chestnut Brown to Purple in color.  The leaves are a simple oval shape and are serrated to dentate from the mid sections up.  When young the leaves are a grayish color, but quickly changing to a smooth dark green.  In the fall the shrub has a completely different appearance when the leaves shift to a bright yellow color.  The white flowers form in erect racemes appearing only at the tips of the branches.  The bark is light brown in color often shifting to gray with age.  It's hardiness, upright form, and size allow the Juneberry to be planted as a screen, windbreak, landscape border or for naturalizing of an area. Often found growing 6-15 feet tall with a spread of 5- 12 feet.  The Juneberry has a very high wildlife value as it offers not only cover but various food sources. The stems and twigs are eaten by deer, elk and moose. The fruits are eaten by a variety of small mammals and birds. The wood of the Juneberry was used in crafting arrow shafts by the Native Americans.

Image Citation (Flowers): Mary Ellen (Mel) Harte,

Juneberries are very nutritious and are sold fresh, frozen, and even processed.  They are most commonly compared in flavor texture and appearance to the common Blueberry.  An average Juneberry contains 18 percent sugar, and about 80 percent water.   Juneberries have a lower moisture content than blueberries, so they have relatively higher amounts of calcium, fiber, proteins, carbohydrates and lipids. Juneberries are an excellent source of iron, with each serving providing around 23% of the reccommended daily  amount of iron (this is almost double what a Blueberry contains). They also provide healthy amounts of potassium, magnesium, anthocyanins.  The levels of phosphorous. vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, folate, vitamin A and vitamin E are almost identical to that of a Blueberry.

Mary Ellen (Mel) Harte,

If you want to begin your own Juneberry crop, begin by developing your rows well in advance of ordering or delivery of plant material. Rows should be spaced on average 10 – 12 feet apart, planning for about 4 feet between bushes at maturity.  It will take patience as your first crop will not be ready until three years after planting, but you can expect each bush to yield 4 – 6 pounds of berries annually.  Remember that they need adequate water to bear fruit but do not tolerant excessively wet roots so do not overwater.  Great care in establishing your new crop will provide you with a very yummy payoff year after year!

Some commonly cultivated varieties you may find for purchase are:   Honeywood Juneberry (A. alnifolia 'Honeywood'), Northline Juneberry (A. alnifolia 'Northline'), Pembina Juneberry (A. alnifolia 'Pembina'), Smokey Juneberry (A. alnifolia 'Smokey'), and Success Juneberry (A. alnifolia 'Success')

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Meet The Stewartia (Stuartia)

The Stewardia (also spelled Stuartia) is a small genus of only 8-20 species of flowering plants in the Theaceae family. They are closely related to the Camellia. They are mostly native to the Eastern portions of Asia including China, Japan, Korea, Laos, Vietnam Myanmar, and Thailand. There are two species native to Southeast North America, from Virginia and Kentucky to the North and Florida through Louisiana in the South. The Stewardia varieties range in size from shrubs to small trees. As trees they can reach heights of 10-65 feet (Asian Varieties) and 10-30 feet (American Varieties).

Image Citation: Richard Webb,

One of the most recognizable features is by far their beautiful bark. The smooth bark can range in color from orange, yellow, or brown and peels in fine flakes revealing more depth of colors underneath.The Stewardia are mainly deciduous with a few members being considered evergreen, these are sometimes even categorized into an even smaller genus known as Hartia. The leaves are simply shape and arranged alternately. The leaf edges are serrated and the upper surface is usually glossy. The leaves range in size from 3-14 cm long.

The second most identifiable feature of the Stewardia is the showy flowers. The flowers are large ranging in size from 3-11cm diameter. Each flower is made up of 5-8 petals. Flowering generally occurs in the mid to late summer depending on the region. The flowers are white in color with orange centers, the flowers coloring greatly compliments the bright green leaves.

Image Citation: Cynthia Taylor, Elachee Nature Science Center,

The genus was named by Carolus Linnaeus in 1753 to honor John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute. The name Stuart was transcribed incorrectly and instead spelled Stewart, leading to the spelling Stewardia. Many publications have used both versions of the spelling with the "Stewardia" version being the most universal, the Stuardia spelling was used more frequently in the 19th century.

The Stewardia requires full to partial sunlight. It prefers wet soil and is not tolerant to drought. It is a slow grower and makes for a beautiful specimen tree it offers year round interest. The recommended hardiness zones are 5-7( or 5-8 depending on variety).

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Friday, December 4, 2015

Meet The Arborvitae - Thuja

December is a time of year where the often overlooked evergreens begin to get some much deserved attention. Being a cool December day it seems like the perfect time to tell you more about some of the different type of Arborvitae (Thuja) that you can consider for your landscape. They provide wonderful year round color, screening, privacy, wind breaks, focal points and even places to hang our Christmas ornaments! In general they are slow growers so if using them for privacy screening or hedgerow remember it will take time for them to fill in and reach the height you desire. Arborvitae can be planted in full sun or partial shade and grow in most soil types, though they seem to thrive in slightly acidic soil.

The Arborvitae is often referred to as a "Tree of Life", most varieties have a majestic appearance when full grown. Native Americans are recorded to have used all parts of the trees for not only construction reasons but also many health benefits. Baskets, Totem poles, Canoes and vessels were all crafted from the timber. The oils have preservative qualities that help prevent/protect wood from rotting or fading in the sunlight. The essential oils of the Arborvitae are concentrated and marketed to be used for various reasons. The oils can also be applied directly to your skin and used as a natural insect repellent.

Below is a list of some varieties you may find here in North America:

The Arborvitae Nigra "Thuja occidentalis Nigra" is a hardy, relatively low maintenance tree and takes pruning well. It makes an excellent vertical accent, wind or privacy screen, natural fence or hedge.

Image Citation: Richard Webb,

The Arborvitae Golden Globe "Thuja occidentalis 'Golden Globe'" is a Globe-shaped arborvitae for use as a hedge, screen, or specimen plant. It has a more unique and less common Golden yellow foliage.

The Arborvitae Green Giant "Thuja standishii x plicata 'Green Giant" is a large, vigorous, fast growing evergreen. It's natural pyramidal to conical form boasts dense, rich green foliage that darkens or bronzes only a little in the winter. This is an exceptional landscape tree for use as a screen, hedge, windbreak, or even specimen planting. It is tolerant of a wide variety of soils, but prefers moist, well drained soil, sun to partial shade. It is wind resistant once established and withstands heavy ice or snow loads. Under good growing conditions, it can grow up to 3' a year to a height of 50'-60' with a 12'-20' spread.

Image Citation: Jason Sharman, Vitalitree,

The American Arborvitae, "American Thuja occidentalis" is a narrow, pyramid shape makes it a natural choice for windbreaks. Tall and elegant, it requires almost no care when used as a hedge or screen. Pairs of these hardy trees make great accents for doors and garden gates while single (well maintained) specimens soften house corners. Single specimens can grow to 40'-60' with a spread of up to 15' in the wild, but 20'-30' with a 12' spread in urban settings is more typical.

Image Citation: Paul Wray, Iowa State University,

Although most varieties of Arborvitae grow in any climate, certain varieties grow better in each hardiness zone. When you are selecting/purchasing your Arborvitae, research the climate zones where it will flourish compared to the zone you live in. This will make caring for your Arborvitae a much easier process as the tree will require less maintenance.

Arborvitae are beautiful when grown next to each other, they make a great hedge or natural fence, if they are properly spaced when planted. Planting them too close together will prevent them from growing as they should because they will all be competing for the same minerals and nutrients in the soil, while planting to far apart may not give you the privacy you desire. Check your varieties growth habits before planting to see how far apart they should be placed.

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5 Tips for the Perfect Christmas Tree

5 Tips for the Perfect Christmas Tree

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Meet The Willows - Salix

The Willows (Salix) form the largest group of woody plants native to North America with at least 90 species 50 hybrids, and over 300-400 varieties recorded worldwide.  Willow trees are commonly know to be water seekers and are not recommended to be planted near waterlines, foundations, or pools.  This includes the most recognizable of the group the Weeping Willow. Willow trees generally survive or even thrive after major floods where other trees can not.  Willow trees are used in Enkoping, Sweden to clean sewage sludge, reuse waste water, and recycle liquids from landfills.  The town spreads it's waste around the trees, which in turn decomposes and recycles it.

Image Citation: (Above Photo - White Willow) 

Some of the many Willows you may come across include (but are definitely not limited to) Purpleosier, White, Black, Yellow, Weeping, Coyote, Sandbar, Short Fruit, Coastal Plain, Netleaf, Corkscrew, Dragons Claw, Bog, Bebb, Artic, Desert, Diamond Leaf, and Heart Leaf just to name a few.

Image Citations: (Left Photo 1-Coyote Willow & 2-Diamond Leaf Willow)       


Willows are commonly used in landscaping and when planted in an area where there is adequate space can provide a very dramatic focal point.  They are commonly planted along streams, ponds, and River banks.  Willow trees are rarely planted as street trees because of their weak wooded branches.  Black Willow trees are rarely planted but are very common within their natural range. They are often found in or beside swampy bottom lands and are the tallest of all the Willows.

Pomo Indian Tribe are recorded to have boiled the inner root of the Willow to make Tea. This tea was ingested it in strong doses to induce sweating in cases of fever and chills. In the South, the Natchez prepared fever remedies from the bark of the Red Willow. The Willow was given the nickname toothache tree as it was commonly chewed to relieve toothaches and headaches.

Phyllactinia guttata is a type of powdery mildew fungi that is known to parasitize Willows.  Willows are not known to be susceptible to any type of Wilt.  Leaf blight is the most destructive of all the diseases of Willows in the United States, it is almost always associated with black canker.  There are also several types of Aphids that can infest Willows, the most common being Longistigma caryae.

Image Citation: (Above - Purpleosier Willow) 

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Meet the Black Tupelo - Nyssa sylvatica

The Black Tupelo -Nyssa sylvatica, is a large deciduous tree averaging between 30-60 feet in height, with a few recorded to reach heights of 100 feet. It is also commonly known as the Black Gum or the Sour Gum. The most remarkable feature of the Black Tupelo is the non-scissile grain of the wood, it is not only cross woven but inter-braided as well. The wood is almost impenetrable with an ax and can only be cut with a saw.

Image Citation: Richard Webb,

The leaves are hard, glossy and green in color. In the Autumn the leaves change to either entirely or partially red in color. The foliage is considered to be dense, with the crown leaves growing near the ends of the laterals. The most identifiable feature of the Black Tupelo is the dark blue fruit which appear on long stalks with a single large stone on the inside. The flesh of the fruit is thin and oily, sour and bitter. The flowers appear in the early spring and fruits in the fall. The bark is a dark reddish black in color. The texture is thick and deeply furrowed in a rectangular pattern.  The male flowers are greenish in color, tiny in size with heads on long stalks at the base of the leaves, while the female flowers are in clusters of 2-6 appearing on separate trees.

Image Citation: Richard Webb,

The range begins from Maine to Northern Florida in the East and West to the Northern edges of Florida and West to Northern Michigan and down through Oklahoma and Texas. It is most common on the Coastal Plains of the Northern Atlantic state and Ohio Valley. It prefers wet soils, swamp and river edges but has also been known to thrive in upland areas as well.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Meet The Ironwood or American Hop-HornBeam - Ostrya virginiana

The Ironwood which is also known as the American Hop-Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) is a slow growing deciduous tree with leaves resembling the Elm, though it is actually a member of the Birch (Betula) family. The Ironwood grows in a pyramidal form when young with a crown that broadens with age. The crown height is generally 15-50 feet tall with a spread of 12-30 feet. It grows best in partial shade to full sun and is recommended for hardiness zones 5-9.

Image Citation (Mature Tree): Paul Wray, Iowa State University,

The leaves are simple and oval with sharp doubly serrated edges and veins that are forked at the ends. The leaves are green in color above and a lighter yellow-green below. In the fall the leaves change to a brownish-yellow, mid orange or even sometimes red color. The flowers are Monoecious, the male catkins are usually grouped in threes and are green in color. The bloom time ranges from mid to late spring. The fruit is a brownish to tan color nutlet and enclosed in a hop-like sack. The bark is a Grayish-brown color with narrow rectangular strips which are loose on each end. The bark has a shredded appearance that is very similar to the Shagbark Hickory.

Image Citation (Foliage and Flower): Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service,

The wood of Ironwood is hard and durable, in fact the name Ironwood is a direct reference to the strength and durability of the wood. The wood is used for fence posts, fuel, mallets, and tool handles. The bark and inner wood layers were chewed on and made into teas to treat toothaches, sore muscles, coughs, and many other ailments by The Native Americans. The Ironwood also provides winter food for Pheasants, Grouse, Squirrel, Rabbit as well as Whitetail Deer.

Image Citation (Fruit): Franklin Bonner, USFS (ret.),

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Meet The "Silkoak" - Grevillea robusta

The Silkoak - Grevillea robusta is a fast growing specimen tree that reaches heights of 75 feet or more with a 25 foot spread.  Growing in pyramidal to oval shape when young, which eventually develops into a few heavy horizontal limbs with one central thick trunk.  Contrary to it's name the Silkoak is not a member of the Oak (Quercus) family, it is a member of the Protea (Proteaceae) family.  The recommended hardiness zones for the Silkoak are 9B through 11, it is not native to North America.  

Image Citation: T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University,

The leaves are light and fern-like arranged alternately.  They are a grey to green in color with an almost silver shade underneath.  In most climates of the hardiness zone the tree is and evergreen, retaining leaves year round.  Generally the tree loses a large amount of leaves in the Spring shortly before the new growth emerges.  The flowers are a very showy bright Yellow-Orange and appear in the Spring - Fall depending on the region/climate.  For example in Hawaii the flowers can appear from March through October but are recorded as most showy during the Month of June. The fruit is black in color, leathery in texture and does not tend to attract wildlife.  The fruit is sometimes considered a nuisance as it falls and litters the ground.  

Image Citation: Dennis Haugen,

It has been established as a forest tree in some countries and shows promise as a fast-growing timber tree. The Silkoak produces an attractively figured, easily worked wood, which was once a leading face veneer in world trade.  When used as a veneer it is usually marketed as "lacewood".  The wood contains an allergen that causes dermatitis for many people.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Meet The "Chinese Elm" - Ulmus parvifolia

The Chinese Elm - Ulmus parvifolia - is also referred to as the Lacebark Elm. It is a small to medium deciduous or semi-deciduous tree that reaches heights of 30-60 feet tall on average when mature. It is considered a tough landscape tree and is tolerant to sites that are not ideal for other plantings such as parking lots, street/patio planters and even windswept coastal areas.

Image Citation: Michasia Harris, University of Georgia,

The bark is a beautiful combination of greys, reds, and tans that appear in a flaking or lace pattern (hence the name Lacebark Elm). The leaves are small only 2-5 cm long, single toothed and green in color during the growing season. The leaves change to a deep purple-green in the fall. Many Chinese Elms in the United States and Europe retain their leaves into late December or even early January.

Image Citation: Vern Wilkins, Indiana University,
Image Citation: Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia,

The Chinese Elm is considered a very tough wood with interlocking grain. This type of Elm wood is used for hardwood floors, tool handles, cabinets, veneers, and furniture making. The lumber takes well to stains and turns well with wood turning machinery but is not easy to carve using hand tools. The heartwood of the Chinese Elm ranges from reddish brown to light flesh color and the sapwood is a very light off-white. The graining of Chinese Elm wood is very beautiful. Freshly cut Chinese Elm is said to have a peppery/spicy odor which is not a trait of any other Elm.

Though a native of Asia (China, India, Taiwan, Japan and North Korea) the Chinese Elm is hardy in zones 5-9 and is used commonly in landscaping as a shade or specimen tree. It's strong qualities and beauty have made it so popular that it can be found planted on every continent except Antartica. There are many different cultivars available and with each the cold hardiness range could vary. The Chinese Elm is very resistant (but not 100% immune) to Dutch Elm Disease, a serious disease that has devestated others in the Elm family.

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Meet the "American Elm" - Ulmus americana"

The "American Elm" - Ulmus americana" is a medium to large sized deciduous tree that is native to Eastern North America. Found naturally from Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Ontario, Southern Saskatchewan, Montana and Wyoming in the North continuing South through to Florida and Texas. It is an extremely hardy tree and can withstand temperatures as low as -44 degrees F. It's numbers have significantly decreased over the last century due to Dutch Elm disease. The Elm family is made up of about 45 species and are found from Northern and Central Eurasia and Eastern North America South through Panama. Elms are not found in the Rocky Mountains or on the West Coast of North America.

Image Citation: Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service,

The American Elm is the largest and most widespread of all the Elms in the North America. It grows in a beautiful upright vase shape, and was often used as a focal point or large Ornamental planting along Main Streets and Park areas throughout it's hardiness zones. However, in more recent decades it has been destroyed in many areas by Dutch Elm disease. The leaves are broad and flat, with a simple shape and fine teeth along the edges. They are bright green in color during the growing season and yellow-green to yellow in the Fall. The wood is grained in a fine wavy pattern that is remarkably durable when wet. Elm logs were hollowed out and used during Roman times as water pipes, some have even been unearthed in good condition. The wood wears well and takes well to polish. It has traditionally been used in making coffin boards, stair treads, chairs and paneling. The flowers are perect in form and contain both sexes on one flower. They grow in bunches or on long slender stalks in racemes.

Image Citation: Tom DeGomez, University of Arizona,

Image Citation: Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service,

Dutch Elm disease was introduced to the US in 1930 and has been devestating to the American Elm ever since. Dutch Elm disease is recorded in 41 states across the US. The disease is generally characterized by a gradual wilting and yellowing of the foliage, followed by death of the branches and eventually the whole tree. American Elm is also attacked by hundreds of insect species including defoliators, bark beetles, borers, leaf rollers, leaf miners, twig girdlers, and sucking insects. Both birds and mammals feed on fruit and buds, and mammals will chew the bark and twigs of younger trees. Animals and insects are not nearly as damaging to this species as Dutch Elm disease is.

Image Citation: Linda Haugen, USDA Forest Service, 

The Buckley Elm of Michigan, a National Tree Champion was killed by Dutch Elm in 2001, it was estimated to be over 100 feet tall with a diameter of 8 feet.

The Oklahoma Survivor Tree is a very notable American Elm tree. Standing on the site of the Oklahoma City Bombings it has witnessed and withstood the unimaginable. You can learn more about it by checking out one of my previous blogs:

The tallest American Elm on record in New England "Herbie", was located in Yarmouth, Maine. It stood in this location until it too was killed by Dutch Elm disease and had to be removed in January of 2010. Herbie was estimated to be 110 feet tall and 217 years old.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Meet The "Saw Palmetto" - Serenoa repens

The Saw Palmetto - Serenoa repens -  is the only species in the Serenoa genus.  A relatively small Palm that reaches only 7-10 feet tall at maturity.  It does not often grow with straight or singular trunks, but instead grows in low lying clumps or thickets.  It is most common in the understory of Atlantic Coastal Forests or Sandy Coastal lands.  It is considered to be one of the more hardy Palms with some specimens being 500-700 years old.  It's Natural range is quite small, only covering one entire state (Florida), it then hugs the Gulf & Atlantic coasts in the far southern portions only of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina.  It is now found growing in most of the South Eastern United States, especially in Coastal areas but can be found as far inland as Arkansas.  

Tha Saw Palmetto is a fan palm, it's leaves are made up of 20 (+/-) leaflets that originate from the petiole.  The Petiole is covered with sharp teeth or spines, these spines are sharp enough to break human skin.  The leaves are simple in form and bright green when grown inland and a more silver-white green in Coastal areas.  Leaves can range in length from 40-80 inches, and the leaflets are 20-40 inches long.  The fruit of the Saw Palmetto is a reddish-black.  The fruit is very high in fatty acids and phytosterols, it is edible to both humans and animals.  Saw Palmetto is also used as a supplement and can be bought in pill form.  The supplement is rumored to help with some forms of Cancer but this has yet to be proven by any type of FDA research.

Image Citations (All Above):  Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia,

Recommended for hardiness zones 8-11.  Here in Maryland, it can only be grown indoors and may only be available from your local nursery as a houseplant. 
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Friday, September 25, 2015

Meet The "Sweetbay Magnolia" - Magnolia virginiana

The "Sweetbay Magnolia" - Magnolia virginiana - is native to the Eastern/Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions of the United States, with it's highest "natural" numbers occuring in the South Eastern States of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. It grows naturally most commonly in poorly drained or highly acidic soils that are often subject to flooding. This tree has a vase shaped growth habit and generally reaches 10-20 feet tal at maturity. It is considered a medium to fast grower, gaining an average of 12-24 inches per year when young.

Image Citation: Richard Webb, 

Though it is not as showy as it's counterparts (the more commonly planted ornamental Magnolia's) it offers great interest from May - Late June when it is in bloom. After the initial bloom, some flowers will often continue to sporadically appear late into the summer season, disappearing before the first frost. The blooms are a creamy white in color, highly fragrant and 2-3 inches in diameter. The scent of the flowers is often compared to a light lemon or citrus scent. When the flowers disappear the "fruit" appears in the form of red-orange cones often growing in clusters. This fruit is eaten by a wide variety of animals including Squirrels, Mice, Turkey, Quail and many Songbirds.

Image Citation: Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service, 

The leaves are simple oval shape with a slight point at each end (lanceolate). They are a glossy dark green in color with a lighter silvery underside. In some areas of the United States, the leaves are retained throughout the year, because of this it is considered to be semi-evergreen.

Image Citation: Franklin Bonner, USFS (ret.), 

The Sweetbay Magnolia is hardy in USDA zones 5-9. Some cultavars found at local nurseries may include the Southern (australis), Henry Hicks, and Moonglow.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Meet The "Swamp Water Oak" - Quercus bicolor

The Swamp White Oak - Quercus bicolor is an attractive deciduous shade tree. Even though it is named Swamp White Oak and is similar to the White Oaks, it is actually a member of the Chestnut Oak family. It has beautiful fall coloring that ranges from Orange, Gold and Yellow in mid-Autumn. With a broad open crown, rounded form and a short trunk it makes for a sturdy medium sized shade tree. It is considered one of the easiest Oaks to transplant and is tolerant to salt, drought, heat and poor drainage. It has good visual interest in Mid Winter, Early Summer and Fall.

Image Citation: T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, 

The leaves are lobed and have an almost two toned appearance, during the early growing season they are a dark green on top and a silvery white on the underside becoming green all over by the summer months. The leaves grow alternately and are coarsly toothed/lobed with variable margins. The bark is a pale grey with networks of thick course blackish grey ridges, becoming a dark grey when mature. The acorns are 1 inch long and enclosed in a warty cap, this cap often remains attached to the stalk once the fruit is ripe and falls from the tree.

Image Citations (Above Photos Left: Leaves & Right: Acorns) : Paul Wray, Iowa State University, 

It is recommended for zones 4-8 and is available at limited nurseries in it's growth zone. Be wary of soils with high pH as this tree does show signs of chlorosis (yellowing) with high pH.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Meet The "Northern Red Oak" - Quercus rubra

The Northern Red Oak (Querus Rubra) is a medium to large deciduous tree. It is also called Common Red Oak, Eastern Red Oak, Mountain Red Oak, Grey Oak or just Red Oak. It is the Northernmost growing of all the Oaks in the East, with it's native range extending to Nova Scotia. It grows from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec, through Ontario, in Canada downward into Minnesota and South to Eastern Nebraska and Oklahoma; Arkansas, continuing to dip down into Alabama, Northern parts of Mississippi and Louisiana and continuing East to Coastal Georgia and North Carolina. It is an easily transplanted, low maitenance shade tree with good form and dense foliage. It's hardwood lumber is very important to lumber production in North America, it is also used for firewood. The Northern Red Oak is the State Tree of New Jersey.

Image Citation: Becca MacDonald, Sault College,

Northern Red Oak is monoecious, it's staminate flowers are borne in catkins that develop from leaf axils of the previous year and emerge around the same time as the new leaves in April/May. The pistillate flowers are solitary or occur in two+ flowered spikes that develop in the axils of the this year's leaves. The fruit is an acorn or nut that occurs singly or in clusters of from two to five, is partially enclosed by a scaly cup. Northern Red Oak acorns are brown when mature and ripen from late August to late October, depending on geographic location. The acorns of the Northern Red Oak are favorited by many type of wildlife including the voles, mice, squirrel, deer, black bears, and even some birds. The bright Red fall leaf coloring of the Northern Red Oak is one reason it is added to many planned landscapes as a shade tree. In the growing season the leaves are a crisp green. It features alternating leaves that are 4–8" long and have 7–11 waxy, spine-tipped lobes each.

Image Citation (Catkins): DAVID LEE,  & (Full Tree)  Richard Webb, Self-employed horticulurist, 

The Northern Red Oak is recommended for zones 3-8 and is readily available at most nurseries during the planting season. The Northern Red Oak grows to a height of 60–75' with a crown spread of around 45' at maturity. Be sure when planting to plan ahead for the potential size at full maturity - always remembering to plant the right tree in the right place!

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