Trees with Seeds

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This time a year it’s easy to spot trees with seeds. Some are very colorful like the magnolias (they remind me a little or red M&Ms)

And the dogwoods.

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Others are mostly brown like the golden rain trees

And maples (some trees shed their samaras in the spring…others, like these at Brookside Gardens, wait until the fall)

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And red buckeyes with the buckeye nut showing where the mottled brown and green husk has cracked.

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Then there are seeds that are still green…that will take more time to mature and dry…ready to be shed next spring. The tulip poplar seed pods are still closed in the fall…the seeds not yet mature. We always accumulate a lot of tulip poplar seeds in our gutters in the spring.

The sycamore seeds will get softer…the balls feeling almost ‘furry’ by the time they break apart dispersing the small seeds in the spring. Each bump on this immature seed ball will become a sycamore seed! When I show tulip poplar and sycamore seeds to preschoolers on spring field trips, they are always awestruck my how small they are compared to the trees!

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Mount Vernon – Part I

George Washington’s Mount Vernon was the location of The Horticultural Consortium of the Greater Washington Area’s volunteer appreciation day last week. I was invited based on my volunteering at Brookside Gardens. After over 1.5 hours on the road to get there during the morning rush hour, it was a wonderful day. The weather was perfect for a day in the gardens….congenial conversations with other volunteers…informative lecture and tours.

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We started out at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington with a talk from the Mount Version Horticulturist. The library is for research and only open otherwise for events. It was a comfortable space for a lecture….and then lunch later.

There were tours with a ‘historical horticulture’ them for 4 areas. The first two were the Upper Garden and Bowling Green. The Upper Garen features a reconstructed greenhouse (close to what it would have looked like when George Washington died in 1799) with wide paths and some formal beds closest to it.

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The contents of other beds are less structured with flowering plants that would have been available in Washington’s day and often with vegetables like okra growing in the center. There is even an area for grapes!

We walked a short distance to the Bowling Green. The house was not on our tour but the scaffolding for the renovation of the façade was evident; the side facing the Bowling Green was in most need of repair and is being completed first…then the work on the river side will commence.

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The view of the Bowling Green and the mansion from the Bowling Green Gate is dramatic. This would be where carriages could stop to view the house before continuing to the road that lead to the paddock, stable and carriage house.  In the opposite direction is the view of the gatehouse (zoomed a little) that would have been where carriages would have entered the property.

Some of the trees that were planted by George Washington have died since we moved to the area in 1983. One that is still around is a tulip poplar that he planted in 1785.

Over time other trees were planted – like this American Holly that was planted in 1812…maybe the oldest holly I’ve seen.

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There is detailed evidence (from his journals) of the trees that Washington planned for the walks on either side of the Bowling Green and a diagram produced for a magazine article from the early 1800s. As the horticulturalists continue their work, the walk will have more and more of the trees that were there in 1799.

I’ll post about 2 more Mount Vernon garden tours tomorrow.

Belmont Field Trips

BioBlitz for middle schoolers and Nature Tales for pre-K – the Howard County Conservancy field trips at Belmont had quite an age range.

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Early in the month before a middle school BioBlitz, a red-tailed hawk sat on the Carriage House roof watching the flurry of preparation below. It stayed until the first groups of students arrived to fly away.

The last field trip of the season was a pre-K group. My station was all about trees. I took a picture of it before they arrived. I’d had pulled some tulip poplar seedlings to show since the nearby sycamore trees that I used to talk a lot about had been cut down (before they fell on a nearby building).  The was the calm before the 56 4-year-olds with their chaperones arrived on 4 buses. I was glad that they came to my station in 4 separate groups rather than all at once! The weather was near perfect…the children thrilled to be outdoors…and a good time was had by all…and maybe they learned a little about trees too. It was a good finale to the spring field trip season.

Mt. Pleasant – May 2019

I arrived at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant before one of the elementary school field trips – early enough to take a short hike and photograph some of the May sights along the trail. One of the first birds I saw was a small flock of gold finches near the Community Garden – eating ravenously.

Earlier in the week, when I was hiking with 2nd graders, we had spotted some caterpillars on a newly planted hickory tree. I never try to photograph things while I have a field trip group with me, so I was going back to try to photograph the caterpillars. The morning was cool…and I couldn’t find the caterpillars on the tree! The walk through the quiet area of new trees – invasive removed – was worth it anyway - a contrast to the noisy enthusiasm that would arrive on the school buses.

On the walk back, I was quite enough approaching a nest box to see the tree swallow at the hole. It looks almost like a plug – a perfect fit!

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There was a feather in the grass beside the mowed path. From a hawk? The feather was large…must have come from a large bird.

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The dew was still on the funnel spider webs. It’s hard to find them after the grass is dry.

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Dandelions had already had a first round of flowers…and gone to seed.

The tulip poplar (also called yellow poplar) had lots of buds…ramping up to blooms. The flowers do look a lot like tulips!

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Tree Bud Project – Week 3

It’s Friday – I’m updating the status of the branches I brought inside 2 weeks ago (previous posts: week 1, week2). This will be the last post. The flowers and leaves are wilting because the small branches can’t get enough water to the new growth.

The cherry blossoms opened but stayed small – then started to show stress – the delicate white petals wilting.

The tulip poplar branch lasted longer with more and more small leaves emerging from the bud.

Four leaves emerged from one bud and one of the leaves unfolded before they all began to wilt.

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The only branch that didn’t seem to develop at all was the black walnut. Maybe it was just way too early for those buds to develop even in the warmer temperature indoors.

Ten Little Celebrations – March 2019

March had increased activity from February – a nice ramp up to the busy months of the spring field trip season of April, May and June. It was easy to find little celebrations all during the month.

A Creative Live course on bird photography – I always celebrate courses that hone what I already know…and show me something new that I want to try.

Getting new glasses – I had skipped getting new glasses last year – thinking that my prescription had not changed enough. It’s worth celebrating to see better again.

Snow on the ground but no on the streets – I celebrated a beautiful snowy day when the streets kept enough warmth to remain clear. It’s one of those instances where you can enjoy the scenery and not worry about hazardous driving conditions.

Cleaning out stuff – We donated two carloads of stuff (a bicycle was a big part of one load. I celebrated making progress on cleaning out accumulated things that we no longer need.

Then there are signs of spring – appearing throughout the month – and celebrated for the breaking of winter’s hold on the landscape:

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Miniature daffodils blooming in the front flower bed that bring back memories of my mother-in-law that bought and planted the bulbs in another garden 30 years ago.

Tulip poplar and cherry buds brought inside and opening a few weeks before the buds outside open.

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Doves mating on the deck railing.

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Frogs eggs in the little pool at Mt. Pleasant.

A spring-like afternoon – full of sunlight and a warmer temperature.

The biggest celebration of the month was the news that both my daughter and son-in-law have faculty positions beginning next fall in the same place! It’s quite an accomplishment for them to both get their PhD and then do a couple years as post docs…then this milestone.  

Tree Bud Project – Week 2

It’s Friday – so I am doing an update on the tree branches I brought inside a week ago. See the previous post here. All of them seem to be surviving in the vase of water. I’ve freshened the water every few days. All the pictures are with the 15x macro clip-on lens and my smartphone.

The cherry buds have opened into small white flowers! At first the buds just looked bigger.

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Two days later, the white tips showed beyond the green of the outer covering.

And the next morning the flowers were open! I took a picture of the back and front of the flowers.

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The plum is slower. Some of the buds have not changed at all and I am wondering if they were damaged by cold temperatures. Some look like they are larger. I hope they eventually will open.

The red maple has bloomed and is now drooping. They are wind fertilized…so won’t make seeds in the ‘windless’ house. At first, they looked very red – like little streamers from the bud.

Then the bigger structure grew.

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And now they seem to be drying out.

The tulip poplar has been changing a lot too. At first more buds opened.

Two days later all the buds were larger, and a tiny leaf had emerged from one of them.

Over the next few days other tiny leaves emerged and began to get larger. I noticed the tiny leaves while they were still folded inside the bud too. The bark of the twig seems to be a deeper color too.

I haven’t noticed any changes in the black walnut branch. If the buds do open it should be spectacular with so many buds on the tip of the branch.

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The sycamore buds haven’t changed much either although they seem to be a little larger and their color has shifted to green with some red overtones.

Stay tuned to next Friday for the next tree bud report!

Tree Bud Project – Week 1

I started a project to photograph tree buds this week by cutting small branches from trees in our yard: cherry, plum, red maple, tulip poplar, black walnut, and sycamore. Unfortunately, there were no branches low enough for me to reach on our oak.

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The plan is to bring the branches indoors (where it is warm) and monitor the buds – see how many of them would open indoors over the next few weeks. Once they do, I’ll check to see what is happening with the buds on the tree outdoors.

I took pictures of the buds with the 15x macro lens clipped to my smart phone…starting with the cherry. The buds are enlarging but still firmly closed. Our tree lags the blossoms down in DC around the tidal basin.

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The plum buds are still very small. They already show the pink color of the flowers. The tree usually blooms after the cherry.

The red maple twig is easy to identify - opposite twigs, red buds. I was surprised that there were so few branches with buds on the lower branches; the deer must be the culprits. It took a lot of looking to find a branch I could reach with buds.

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The tulip poplar already had a popped bud! The others on the branch were still closed. The leaf scars are interesting to notice too.

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The black walnut has a lot of buds at the tip of the branch. This tree was also heavily browsed by deer. The branch leaked sap as I was taking pictures. Hope is it OK with the water from the vase.

Finally – the sycamore buds are still tight. In a previous year, a sycamore bud on my indoor branch opened and a tiny leaf unfurled.

I’ll be posting about the leaf buds about once a week if there is action to report.

Winter Tree Identification – Part 2

Continuing from yesterday -

Seeds that help with identification include tulip poplar (the pods stay on the trees releasing the seeds during the winter breezes to clog up any nearby gutters!),

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Osage orange (that fall to the ground and are only moved around my people these days…they were planted for fence rows after the dust bowl because they are hardy, and the seed balls are easily broken apart and planted),

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Sweet gum (the spikey seeds are a hazard in suburban yards and drive ways), and

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Black walnuts (there are always nuts under the tree but the squirrels may carry then a little further away so look at the shape of the tree too).

Of course – there are trees that are not as easy to identify. That’s why I carry a small book – Winter Tree Finder – when I am hiking in the winter and looking at trees. I found mine at a used book sale, but they are available new from Amazon as well.

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Belmont in January 2019

Last week, I attended a lecture for Howard County Conservancy volunteers at the Belmont Carriage House – arriving early to walk around a bit before the lecture. There was still quite a lot of snow on the ground.

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I stayed on the cleared roads until I made the trek up to the old cemetery.

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The old tulip poplar looks even more ancient in the winter with all the hollows and bark injuries more clearly visible. It had a lot of seed pods from last season just as the younger trees do.

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One of the people I was hiking with pointed out an ash tree on the Patapsco Valley State Park side of the cemetery that had evidence of emerald ash borer (the lighter color on the bark). This tree will have to be cut down before it falls on the cemetery taking down fences and stones.

On a positive note – the hemlocks in the cemetery seem to be thriving. A few years ago they were infested with wooly adelgid but they were treated and it seems have saved them.

The wind must have ‘pruned’ the holly in the cemetery. A branch was draped from one of the headstones – no footprints in the snow around the headstone.

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There were lots of deer tracks in the snow as we walked up to the cemetery and back. We didn’t see any rabbit tracks. Maybe a coyote?

We circled back along the row of white pines. The snow stands out even on a very cloudy day.

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It was time to head back. I stopped near the mailboxes to take a picture of the pond with the bald cypress standing just to the left of it. It does have a classic cypress shape but if I wasn’t familiar with the tree, I’d have to hike down to the pond and see the cypress knees that surround it for a definitive identification.

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Zooming – December 2018

It’s been somewhat cold this month – but no snow yet. I’ve enjoyed photographing our transition to winter using the zoom on my camera to set the frame of the scene and/or to enable me to stay out of the mud (we’ve had lots of rain) or indoors and warm. There is still a little green left…and the sky sometimes seems brighter when its clear and cold. Enjoy the December 2018 Zoom slideshow!

Cold and Blustery at Mt. Pleasant

Last week, the Howard County Conservancy hosted a Weather Conference for representative 6th grade students from 10 middle schools in the county….about 100 students with their teachers.

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It was sunny…but cold with wind gusts up to 50 mph. The plan to have students interact with tree experts while they worked on a large tulip poplar was nixed because of the potential of branches falling with the higher winds.

I was bundled up and outside for most of the conference – directing groups of students to their sessions and directing small groups to the County’s Emergency Services Command Unit. When all was quiet, I took a few pictures. I like the colors of the ferns as some fronds succumb to the cold.

There was a pine cone that seemed to be glowing from within because of the way the sun was shining on it.

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The tulip poplars are releasing their seeds.

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I am always surprised when I see the heron sculpture. I know it’s there but somehow forget.

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There were some small branches torn off by the buses making the tight turn after they let the students off close to the building.

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There were two things blooming: a witch hazel where most of the petals had already fallen (it will be forming seed pods) and some unknown flower that was in the flower bed near the flower pot people. The flower is probably warped by the cold but is still a welcome bit of color in the wintery landscape.

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By 1 PM the students were climbing on buses and the clean up of the big room was underway.

Red Maple

Our red maple has not been as spectacular this fall as it usually is. The rains and temperatures in September and October kept it green for a very long time and when it did start to turn red most of the leaves looked muddy rather than the rich red they usually display. The leaves began to fall before they were fully red.

The leaves on the tree at the very end of October finally changed to red…and then there was a lot of rain on November 2 and most leaves fell.

Now I’m hoping for some dry days to make the leaves easier to rake into the forest….

At least the maple put on a short show. The tulip poplars seem to be going from green to brown rather than putting on a dazzling yellow show as they do most years.

A Few Minutes Observing…a female cardinal

Taking pictures through my office window with my new camera is a bit more challenging than it was with the old camera; getting the lens camp off takes too much time. But there was a female cardinal that stayed perched on the gutter long enough for me to get a portrait.

It was a cool breezy day and the bird’s feathers are fluffed…the crest is a little rumpled too (a bad crest day?).

I noticed some leaves in the gutter; it’s not clogged yet but it could get that way with more leaves flying in the next few weeks.

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Right now – most of the leaves visible from my window are still green…with a few patches of color. The tulip poplar leaves go to yellow and

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The maple will go to red. Eventually.

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And that was my few minutes observing through the window!

Cooler Days – Little Fall Color

Here it is the end of September and most of the leaves are still on the trees and green. The ones that have fallen are brown.

Our oak is a good example of that. Looking at the ground it looks like half the leaves have fall but the tree still looks like it has plenty more. (The ruler in the picture is me learning to take better documentary pictures for trees.)

In the back of our house, the red maple has no red leaves. Usually it starts out with a few that show up surrounded by green. But right now it’s still a wall of green although there are leaves on the ground that are brown.

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The tulip poplar usually has some yellow leaves surrounded by green. Some of the leaves look like they might be turning but even the zoomed image looks like a wall of green.

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There are some green tulip poplar leaves that have fallen in recent heavy rains…but overall the tree still has a lot of green leaves attached.

The sycamore has been dropping brown leaves but still has a lot of green ones on the tree. It’s usual the first to drop leaves. This year some are staying on the tree but there are still more green than brown ones.

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We’ve gotten a lot more rain than usual in September (almost 11 inches rather than the historical average of 4.6 inches) and the trees may be impacted by that. There is a lot of mud even in the grassy areas of our yard.

The end of October is generally the time the leaves fly from the trees, so I am still anticipating fall color. It just seems that there are too many brown leaves on the ground already.

May 2018 Tree Status

All the trees are growing well with the warmer temperatures and rain. The sycamore behind our house has lots of small green seed balls among its new leaves; last year a freeze came at the wrong time and the tree only produced one seed ball.

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The tulip poplar is full of flowers as usual. Its leaves are larger than the sycamores at this point. Later in the season the sycamore leaves will be the largest.

The maple had so many seeds early in the month that they made the tree look brownish…but then the were blown off the tree and the maple looks like is normal summer self.

The sweet gums are starting new seed balls as well. They look like spikey globes among the leaves.

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But the celebration of tree blooms this month is the horse chestnut. The tree I photographed is at the end of the drive up to the manor house. The top fell out of the tree several years ago but the part that Is left is blooming profusely. I stopped one day after I finished hiking and leaned out the open window of my car to take some pictures of the flowers.

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Icy Day

Earlier this week we had about 24 hours of icy coated trees (and streets were impacted enough that schools closed for the whole day). I was glad I had no reason I had to be out and about; I could enjoy the ice through the windows of the house – or open doors to get a clearer picture. I noticed how different the types of trees looked with the ice. The pines droop over very quickly from the added weight of ice coating their needles. The tulip poplars develop little icicles on their more horizontal branches, but the seed pods didn’t seem to accumulate any ice.

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When I first looked at the maple, I thought it hadn’t accumulated ice as much as the other trees. When I zoomed in with my camera I saw that it did have ice accumulation and the buds were already dark red. I don’t think the buds will be damaged by the ice since they are still closed.

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The sycamore had a thin coating of ice and longer icicles. I was surprised that the lone seed ball from last summer does not appear to have ice on it!

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I worried the most about the plum tree in our front yard. It has a lot of small branches that are almost horizontal and tends to be coated with ice rather than icicles forming. It glistened in the morning sun (that didn’t cause very much melting because it was so cold).  Fortunately, there was very little breeze so I don’t see any breakage.

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Birding through a Window – January 2018 (1)

I was at home more in January than December…and saw a lot more birds through the window. I posted about the bluebirds back on the 16th but they have continued to visit our bird bath and deck; most of the time I don’t have my camera but I did manage to photograph one just yesterday – perched on the old weather station pole.

The blue jays are regular visitors too. They come to the bird path, the maple, the sycamore and the tulip poplar…staying still long enough for good pictures.

The cardinals alert me to their presence with their chirps. Both the male and female come to the deck for seed and I often see them in the trees around the yard and into the forest.

When we had the very cold days, the Carolina Wrens were entirely missing; I didn’t see them or hear them. But they have returned now that it is a little warmer. They are heard more often than seen.

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The doves were missing during the cold days as well but now they are back and frequent visitors to our deck.

More birding through the window from this month in tomorrow’s post.

First Snow of the Season

We had our first snow of the season on Saturday and I got up early enough yesterday to catch some color from the sunrise.

It was the non-disruptive kind of snow: melted quickly on the streets and sidewalks but stuck to the trees and grass. On our asphalt driveway, there were clumps of snow on Sunday morning and they all were associated with a leaf!

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It was very cold on Sunday morning, so I took pictures through my office window of the backyard – the sun making the forest look rosy in the background, the pines and tulip poplars holding clumps of snow, a junco comfortably sitting on the snow-covered deck railing waiting for a turn at the bird feeder.

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A few minutes later – I took a few pictures through a picture from another room. The color of the morning light was fading but the pines and forest were still a pleasant scene.

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I opened the garage door and leaned out to take a picture of the milkweed that are still standing in our garden. In past years the plants have lost their leaves before the frost but this year the leaves are still there, and their curls catch the snow.