Posts Tagged 'trees'

A Tree for Tuesday

I was circling around St. Michael’s tower in search of the Kestrels that have been frequenting the raptor anvil, as I like to call it, atop the cross up there. These local falcons will be a subject of a future week’s worth of posts. Yes, they have been active!

This excursion gave me an opportunity to revisit an old friend: a gigantic American Elm growing in a Sunset Park front yard. Actually, it pretty much is the front yard of the small row house it dominates. In the picture above, I’m standing next to the fence that pretends to contain this magnificent specimen, and aiming the camera up along the trunks, which look they’re engaged in conversation.

Which, of course, they are.

Ominously, next door is a construction site, and they’re excavating, which means this giant’s roots have probably been compromised.

Sap Fall

A great frozen waterfall of beech sap stalactiting from a massive specimen. The hang here is two plus feet!Gorgeous, but a sign of distress for the tree.


Sap wells drilled by… a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, presumably. The birds will lap up the sap and any insects attracted to the slightly sweet liquid. Other birds may gather at such wells to eat the insects that are also attracted to the sap.

This insect gathering is, of course, mostly a non-winter habit.

This winter, there are damn few other birds in Green-Wood. I haven’t seen/heard a Chickadee or Nuthatch (the latter has been reported by others). On Saturday, when I was in there for four hours, I didn’t even come across any Juncos, although I have seen them this season. It’s Blue Jays, Blue Jays, Blue Jays, with the occasional woodpecker and raptor. Even Cardinals are in short supply.

The Fields of Sweetgum

Just a part of one of the large spreads of fallen Sweetgum balls I’ve ever come across recently.
Not pictured here are the Dark-eyed Juncos that were taking advantage of the windfall. The tiny Liquidambar styraciflua seeds are a big source of winter food for birds.

A Return Engagement

The great elm of Sunset Park on a recent wintery day. To track this tree over a year, I photographed it roughly every month from November 2015 to the end of 2016.

Tree Omnibus

The trees are singing. If only we would listen. Tolkien suggested it might be quite hard to hear them, since they sing on a whole different time scale. David George Haskell is listening with microphones and an acute biologist’s senses. The Songs of Trees was one of last year’s best naturalist books, beautifully written and globe-spanning in reach. If you missed it, go get it.

The fig is absolutely remarkable. Of course, there isn’t just one fig; the Ficus genus has 750 plus members, from the house plant standard to the edible fig to the strangler species which dominate tropical forests. Each one of these species has at least one tiny fig wasp species that specializes in pollinating the “fruits” — which actually aren’t fruits but rather collections of inward growing flowers — in what are essentially suicide missions. I’ve written about figs before. Mike Shanahan has written a short, engaging book on the genus, and the vital role figs play in vast life webs around the world. Go exploring Ficus with Shanahan from the bodhi tree to Wallace to the Rhinoceros Hornbill to the Mau Mau rebellion, with a dozen or so creation myths thrown in. Was the fig the forbidden fruit of Eden? It sure is sexier than the apple, which definitely wasn’t the verboten fruit.

Shanahan notes that a 100 meter by 100 meter piece of old growth rainforest in Borneo (what’s left of it, anyway) can harbor 600 tree species. In Britain, by contrast, there are 36 native tree species. There, in 1664, John Evelyn’s Sylva was published by the Royal Society. This famed work, one of the first English language books about the cultivation of trees, was inspired by the Royal Navy’s worries about the shortage of timber for its boats. An example: the Mary Rose, launched in 1511, required 1,200 trees, mostly oaks but some elms as well; later and larger ships gobbled up 2,000 oaks each. The white pines of North America were a major draw for the journey across the Atlantic.

Now comes The New Sylva by Gabriel Hemery and Sarah Simblet to update things. There are certainly more than 36 tree species in Britain today. Actually, Hemery and Simblet say there are 60 native species, subspecies, or hybrids in Britain. They note that the native cut-off (1492 for us) stretches back circa 8,200 years for Britain, to when the land connection to continental Europe was submerged by the rising ocean. American readers, meanwhile, will recognize quite a few of the species in the transatlantic botanical exchange, species we gave them/species they gave us. Note that this book is primarily about silviculture, or timber-hunger, not the complex ecosystems known as forests, but then the un-human touched woodlands is non-existent today. Which reminds me: shouldn’t we date the Anthropocene back to the killing of Huwawa/Humbaba, the guardian of the sacred cedars, by Gilgamesh?

Simblet’s black and white drawings, from microscopic to landscape in detail, are wonderful. This book certainly works on a coffee table.

Off the subject, but Mike Wallace’s Greater Gotham, which I’m still reading, is majestic. It covers just two decades of NYC’s history, but these were the years the city became a world capital of capitalism. More than a century later, we still live there.

And the new edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein “Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds” turns out to be quite a course in ethics.


Street signs. Wrought iron. Chain link. The trees don’t care. They will absorb the things in their way. Here’s a local Empress Tree (Paulownia tomentosa ), pressing through some fencing as the bark alligators in remembrance.


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