Posts Tagged 'trees'

Brooklyn Update

PrunusWhen my plane descended into LaGuardia last Monday, there were a lot of gray/brown still-wintering trees in evidence. I’d just come from southern-most Texas, where spring was fully in motion, but things are stirring here, too.Polygonia interrogationisQuestion Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) amid the weeping cherries, which were throbbing with honeybees, and an occasional bumble.Bellamya chinensisThe nacreous heart of a Chinese Mystery/Trapdoor Snail (Bellamya chinensis). Who doesn’t like saying “nacreous heart”?Mergus serratorI don’t think I’ve ever seen a Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) out of the water. Note those large feet, set rather far back, and good for diving. Quiscalus quisculaTotally fell for the Great-tailed Grackles down south, but the Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) still has a place in my heart. Falco peregrinusYou may know that I live between two Peregrine falcon scrapes. (Geography is relative.) There is something going on in the 55 Water Street location, either a youngster already or an adult moving. And there this one — note the band/ring — is perched on the construction site across the street from the House of D. Keeping an eye on the home front amid the grooming.Gownus CanalThe Superfund Gowanus Canal. Habitat.Megaceryle alcyonA male Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) was fishing in that industrial toilet, diving for the little fish that come in with the tide. Prunus

Downy, Honeylocust

Picoides pubescensThe sound was like typist behind a closed door, in an office with thick carpets. It was subtle. In the clamor of the city, we must strive to hear the subtle sounds, and Green-Wood, wind-swept atop the moraine, is a fine place for the subtleties. This Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) was pecking away at Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) pods still hanging on the tree, looking for invertebrates that had burrowed into the pods. The seeds inside the pods reverberated to the tapping, making that pleasing, nostalgic sound.

The red patch on the nape tells us this is a male. Our smallest woodpecker, the Downy is the woodpecker species I see most outside of our greenswards, in the ‘hood itself.

Solvitur Ambulando

“And all the leaves on the trees are falling,” this time of year, some of them enormous. My friend and fellow nature blogger Melissa of Out Walking the Dog sent me a photo the other day of a very large face-covering leaf I thought might be American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). The very next day I was walking (mile 30 of 1000) near the corner of 6th and 6th and found some similar giants underfoot my size 9s. Platanus occidentalisPlatanus occidentalisPlatanus occidentalisNice coincidence. For American Sycamores, though native to the region, are rare indeed on the sidewalks here in NYC, and aren’t even all that common in the parks (extraordinary tree-mapper Ken Chaya found 22 in Central Park, compared to 1,138 London Planes there). They are not on the current list of approved, or even quarantined, city species).

This is a shame, since the Buttonwood, as it’s also known, is quite intimately tied to city history: the stock exchange was founded by 24 brokers meeting under a Buttonwood on Wall St. in 1792, their founding document known to plutocrats and their toadies ever since as the Buttonwood Agreement. In the confusing non-binomial world, this species is also just known as the Sycamore, as well as American Planetree and Buttonball. It’s one of the largest Eastern hardwood species (the range sweeps from the coast to across the Mississippi, with the rich bottomlands of that river and the Ohio being their great fastnesses) and has the largest trunk diameter (there was a record 15 footer). They have a lifespan of 500-600 years, if they’re lucky; but the wood has long been used for purposes from dugouts canoes (Petrides mentions a reputed 65′ long one supposedly weighing 9000 lbs.), barrels, butcher blocks, furniture, etc. Like all our trees, it is host and habitat to many creatures who use it for food and shelter: deer, muskrat, raccoon, wood duck, opossum, swifts, to name just some of the vertebrates who hang with the Sycamores. Platanus occidentalisBut was this 6th/6th tree a Sycamore? It had ample seed balls, one to a stalk (check), and the characteristic dark, scaly lower trunk of a mature specimen (check). Platanus occidentalisThe v. similar London Planetree (Platanus ‘x acerfiolia’) keeps its smooth, pale, peeling mottled trunk from top to bottom as it ages. The London Plane, usually with two (or more) seed balls on the same stalk, is of course a common street tree, both here and Europe, although it is now no longer recommended for NYC because of the threat of the Asian Longhorn Beetle. (Though I have seen some recent street plantings of the “Bloodgood” variety.)

I have a surplus of field guides to trees: Barnard; Little; National Audubon; Petrides; Plotnik; Sibley. (Could be a law firm.) Not one has an example of leaves as above, with the deep lobe at the leaf base. Indeed, according to those books, these leaves look more London Plane-ish, again except for that deep lobe, and the size. Leaves are a bit like snowflakes, no two exactly alike; each individual tree, with thousands upon thousand of leaves, showing variation within the patterns. The leaves at the bottom of a tree can be bigger than those at the top, since they have more shade to work with while trying to capture the sun. A healthy, vigorously-growing twig can have larger leaves than a weak or sickly one. And so on. Every tree is unique. And everyone has its own story. (We hardly live long enough to tell these stories; Tolkien’s very slow-to-roil Ents were on to something.) Still, I’m fairly confident as an amateur tree hugger that I solved Melissa’s leaf mystery (her tree is also scaly barked at the base and the seed balls hang like Goring’s in the patriotic ditty), but shout out if you disagree.

Colors

Pyrus calleryanaQuercusQuercusGinkgoLiquidambar styraciflua

Liquidambar

Liquidambar formosanaI did a double-take over these. They are similar to the pods of the American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua):Liquidambar styracifluabut smaller and with much longer points; these are evidently persistent styles. (The pods look rather Goth after they have opened up and dried out.) Also, the leaves are three-lobed: Liquidambar formosanaOur Sweetgum has five to seven lobes:Liquidamber styracifluaSo at first I thought it might be a varietal; there is one that produces no fruit, for people who don’t really like to have natural — that is, messy — things in their gardens.

Now, Green-Wood has an impressive range of trees, many fine specimens, but they aren’t necessarily local or even native to North America. Bingo! This is Liquidambar formosana, the Chinese or Formosan Sweetgum. Liquidambar formosanaWikipedia says there are five species in the Liquidambar genus, but their fifth example is that fruitless version of L.styraciflua. The genus name, by the way, looking so unclassical, refers to the sweet sap, the liquid amber, of the trees; in the U.S., at least, this was once used as a chewing gum.

A trio of pods sitting on the table soon resulted in a flurry of little seeds.

Green-Wood Harvest

Regulus satrapaGolden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa).g7g6g5Three different hickories, genus Carya. Bitternut, Mockernut, Shagbark? Rana catesbeianaBulllfrog tadpoles (Rana catesbeiana) were still to be seen swimming. A single Common Green Darner was flying. There was also a bee of some kind passing by. Dendroica palmarumPalm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum).Juglans nigraA field of Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra): these were thudderdudduding down in the wind; don’t stand under the walnut tree with anybody, not even yourself.Catharus guttatusHermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus).Diospyros virginianaCommon Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). They smelled absolutely fantastic. But, alas, the very ripe ones were mostly squashed.Diospyros virginianaAlthough they say the fruits need a freeze before they’re palatable. Brooklyn is just beyond the traditional natural limit of this species, but Green-Wood is full of exotica. As in this sprite:woodland sprite

Ode to the American Chestnut

Castanea dentataCastanea dentataCastanea dentataCastanea dentata

These non-blight-resistant trees were transplanted 9 years ago. Read more about them in my earlier post.

Coppicing

Two kinds of woodlands seen along the Dartmoor Way: Houndtor WoodsA conifer plantation, planted mid-last century, looking rather majestic but also, well, rather — although hardly all — sterile. Houndtor Woods, a Woodlands Trust area near Manaton.hardwoodTrees of many trunks in a hardwood forest, looking deeply lush with its attendant mosses and other understory plants. A frequent scene along the Dartmoor Way. Having passed through many a coppiced wood on my recent trip, I’ve been thinking about the practice. Coppicing is a way of harvesting wood by cutting the tree near the ground and then allowing multiple shoots to grow up from the stump into stems. (Pollarding is a similar practice, but here the cuts are at the top, which thickens the tree on its sole bole.) You may have noticed unintentional examples — the natural inclination to sprout — on the streets right here in Brooklyn. Platanus × acerifoliaHere’s the stump of a mature Plane Tree on the Street of Perpetual Renovation. Although cut down, it is still rooted –grinding out the root is a serious task — “not dead yet,” and has sprouted into a three-foot tall bush-like affair. After a number of years, depending on the species, these multiple shoots off the stump, or stool, can be harvested. The process will then start again. Instead of clear-cutting, a profoundly short-sighted strategy, coppicing allows for decades, even centuries of harvesting. Since the base tree never grows up, as it were, but is fully rooted, it may indeed be many hundreds of years old, significantly older than the average single-boled of the same species. Cut trees seem to live longer, as a matter of fact. Coppicing was done to supply wood for charcoal burners, heating, construction (including wattles), and such specialized needs as hop-poles (the blessed hops that give us bitter beer grow very tall indeed) and spars for thatching. The bark of oaks could be used for tanning, a craft turned industry that, for instance, devoured the Hudson Highlands of oaks and hemlocks, to bring things back to this side of the Atlantic again. Coppicing is hardly practiced anymore, except to maintain conservation areas — coppicing opens up woodlands to plant and animal communities that wouldn’t be interested in a monotonous climax forest, increasing biodiversity — and by those few who still practice ancient arts like thatching.treesSome tree species coppice better than others. Willow, hazel, beech, ash, hawthorn, alder, and oak are some of them. There is a thought that these trees evolved such basal sproutings to survive being browsed by mega-fauna herbivores. (Elm, for instance, is evidently delicious, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

I can imagine someone felling a tree, a long time ago, and then giving up on removing the stump — check out a stump grinder some day, or imagine the (literal) horse power necessary to do so — and discovering that it was soon sending thin stems into the air. Hey! Awesome!

300 Year Old Tulip Tree

Liriodendron tulipiferaAt the northern end of Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island is a Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) said to be 300 years old. I would not say it is extraordinarily tall, but it certainly is large-boled. That head on the right is a child’s, three others are hidden behind the tree. Liriodendron tulipiferaTuliptrees can be the tallest trees on the East Coast. They often grow straight up, putting their flowers well out of reach. But the flowers will fall:Liriodendron tulipiferaAnd sometimes a younger tree will be within reach:Liriodendron tulipifera

Juneberry

AmelanchierThe Juneberries (Amelanchier sp.) are nearly ripe, and that means the birds are starting to devour them.Mimus polyglottosA Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Bombycilla cedrorumCedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum). Unexpected. Later I found four in a tree on the mezzanine that is Squib Park. Here’s one of these crested beauties: Bombycilla cedrorum


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