by Winding Pathways | Feb 2, 2023 | Foraging, Nature, Pests, Trees, Trees/Shrubs
Disappearing Ash Trees
Ash trees are fast disappearing from American forests and towns. It’s tragic.
There are several ash species, including white, green, blue, and black. A Chinese native insect, the Emerald Ash Borer, is killing them all quickly. It’s awful.
Years ago, Dutch Elm Disease cleared cities of American elms, and many homeowners and towns planted green and white ash trees to replace them. Ashes, in general, thrive in the woods and towns. They grow relatively quickly, resist storm damage, and are beautiful. They seemed like an ideal urban tree.
That was true until Emerald Ash Borers were found in Michigan in 2002, although they may have been around at least a decade earlier. Since then, the insect has spread like crazy, killing ashes radiating outward from Michigan.
They reached Iowa years later and have since killed most of the trees in Cedar Rapids, area woodlands, and many other towns.
Salvaging Ash trees
Rich salvages wood from a scrap pile of used pallets. Pallets are made from cheap wood, like cottonwood, poplar, and hackberry, but now he’s finding ones made of ash.
Loggers are salvaging dead and dying ash trees, and the wood is cheap, at least for now. Soon ash lumber will no longer exist.
A Versatile Wood
Sports fans will miss ash wood. It makes the best baseball bats and has been used for gymnastic bars.
Ash also is crafted into gorgeous furniture.
We lost our big ash tree in the August 2020 derecho, but it was already infested with borers with its days numbered. Sadly, we cut the tree up but gave it a second task. It harvested solar energy and used it to make wood. That wood is now being fed, piece by piece, into our woodstove. It’s keeping our home warm, but we’d rather have our tree.
Ash bat on oak floor.
The ash tree anchored our east corner of the property.
White Ash bats will soon be a memory as these elegant trees die.
by Winding Pathways | Jan 12, 2023 | Nature, Trees
Winter trees. We love ‘em even though they don’t sport their cooling green summer leaves or October’s color.
When autumn leaves fall, trees look wonderfully different. Their nakedness reveals sights that are difficult to notice during summer. Here are some of the delights we discover when walking through January woodlands and looking at the winter trees.
Pods, Seeds, Textures
Pods and Seeds: Just what are those long string bean-looking pods hanging from the branches? They are the seed pods of the catalpa tree. Nearby are flattish, twisted, crinkled black pods upwards of six inches long. Some are still hanging from branches, while others litter the path. They’re honey locust pods. Pry one open to find large black seeds inside. Box elders have typical maple helicopter seeds that stay on the trees much of the winter unless devoured by hungry squirrels or cardinals. Sycamore trees hold their round ball seeds on the ends of branches well into winter.
Twig Texture: Elms and sugar maples sport zillions of finely textured twigs toward their tops, while walnuts, box elders, catalpas, and ailanthus have far fewer but much thicker twigs. Ash trees are somewhat in between, but their twigs radiate out at nearly right angles from branches.
Catalpa pods hang on through the winter.
Pod next to size 12 foot.
When you see walnuts look up and note the structure of the tree.
River Birch bark curls.
Bark and Shape
Bark: Young maples, ailanthus, and Siberian elms have smooth bark that becomes darker and more textured as the tree grows. The most intriguing bark pattern is always on hackberry trees. The bumpy bark makes it unmistakable.
Shape: The profile of leafless trees often is a clue to the species. Pin oaks have a central trunk with lower branches that sometimes slope downward or radiate out at nearly right angles. The tree is spruce shaped in great contrast to wide-spreading white and bur oaks. Box elders always seem to be leaning one way or another, while American elms often show a thick buttress close to the ground beneath a vase-shaped upper. Siberian elms shoot straight for the sky.
Pin oaks hold leaves.
The knobby bark of the Hackberry reminds us of fat tires!
Ailanthus coarse twigs and finer twigging of Siberian Elm
Color: Although winter tree bark is mostly gray to black sometimes color comes through. Spot a subtle orange bark and it’s likely a mulberry tree. Large Scotch pines also have pumpkin-colored bark towards the top. Sycamores are distinctive in their pale, flakey bark. And, white birches are easy to identify with their smoother, white bark that tends to curl as the trees age. Their cousin, the river birch, has shaggier bark and often grows larger in damp soil.
Winter trees are always fun to see and often are easy to identify. As we walk through the snow, we love discovering many tree shapes, textures, seeds, and bark. to help identify Google something like shape of (name of tree) in winter. The images will help you identify the trees before you go for a walk.
by Winding Pathways | Sep 23, 2021 | (Sub)Urban Homesteading, Garden/Yard, Nature, Trees
What? Coppicing? That word almost sounds dirty. Well, it’s not. It is a good way to help derecho doomed trees live on!
We recently hosted friends to mark the first anniversary of the August 10, 2020, furious derecho that leveled around 70% of trees in the Cedar Rapids area.
Many people used words like devastation and destruction to describe what happened to trees in both forests and neighborhoods. The damage was truly shocking.
Trimming damaged trees.
All winter we looked on broken trees.
Springing Back from Derecho.
The Giving Trees
We wanted to show visitors a miracle of nature stimulated by the storm. Just east of our house stood a couple of basswood trees. Few of nature’s scents are as delightful as what comes from the blooms of this tree. Bees will fly three miles away to gather the nectar. We just enjoy the scent.
Basswoods have a problem. Their wood is soft and weak. When the derecho hit, they quickly snapped off, leaving a tangle of branches in our yard. Nearly a year later they demonstrated the power of near-perpetual youth.
In the middle our basswood looks like a fuzzy brush.
This basswood wants to live!
Basswoods, along with many other deciduous trees, readily coppice. If a tree is cut or blown down it sends shoots up from the stump. Our basswoods quickly sprouted this spring, and we’re seeing others sprouting from stumps in suburban yards. Many species of deciduous trees also send up shoots. Ashes, oaks, and honey locusts are common sprouters. Evergreens don’t. If a pine or spruce is cut off, the stump dies.
In Europe coppicing is a method of woodland management. A tree is cut down and allowed to resprout. Because the regrowth is coming from a well-established root system, sprouts grow like crazy. The sprouts are managed carefully. The most hearty sprout is kept and the others cut off. Within five to twenty years, or so, the hearty sprout is big enough to cut for firewood, fence posts, or walking sticks. Then the stump resprouts again. Some trees have been coppiced for hundreds of years.
Basswood trees are champion sprouters. Our stumps now look like balls of green leaves from all the sprouts radiating from the stumps. This fall we’ll clip off all but the most vigorous one. It will quickly form a new tree. That’s better, easier and cheaper than grubbing out the stump, then buying and planting a replacement tree.
The Giving Tree
A look at the stems of new sprouts
the original new tree died, but sprouted from the bottom.
Repairs continue as damaged trees sprout.
An Internet search will turn up much information on coppicing. We like the website of the Midwest Permaculture Center.
by Winding Pathways | Jul 11, 2019 | (Sub)Urban Homesteading, Garden/Yard, Trees
Early one May afternoon we arrived home, glanced into the woods past our property, and were astonished to see an enormous red oak on the ground. The tree looked healthy, solid, and unlikely to topple, but it fell on a clear calm day. On its way down the old veteran broke two younger trees growing nearby.
A week or so later we woke to an enormous crash. It was pitch dark so we were only able to search around with a flashlight to learn that nothing had hit our house. The next morning, we discovered a giant elm prostate on the ground about 150 feet from our bedroom on a neighbor’s property. Like the oak, it fell when it was calm. Unlike the oak, the elm had been dead for years and many mushrooms were growing from its trunk.
We enjoy a huge diversity of birds and other wildlife in our yard, in part because we adjoin Faulkes Heritage Woods, a 110 wild forest protected by a conservation easement. The Woods have not been logged for over a century, so many enormous oaks, hickories, and maples live there. Many are dead or in decline, but that’s great for wildlife.
Dead trees provide food and nesting sites
Of all landscape features few are as valuable to as many wildlife species as an old dead tree. Nearly as soon as a tree dies insects, bacteria, and fungus begin the long process of recycling wood and bark back into humus. Woodpeckers drill into dead trees to extract tasty insects and carve out nesting cavities. Often their old cavities are used by chickadees, wrens, and many other cavity nesters. Dead trees are favored perching sites for raptors, perhaps because they are leafless, so the sharp-eyed birds can spot prey on the ground.
We let dead trees stand on our property, as long as they are far enough away from the house so they can’t cause damage or injure someone when they crash down.
Are Dead Trees Dangerous
We’ve been in the right place at just the right time to see big trees fall. Usually, there’s a crack or two before a giant tree crashes down with lightning speed. If someone were underneath it then it would be hard to run fast enough to escape injury.
The odds of a person being hit by a falling tree while walking along a trail are infinitesimally small. It almost never happens. Most injuries and fatalities occur when people camp, picnic, or sit under a tree. The risk comes because they are under the tree for hours while sleeping or in a position where they can’t run and escape quickly.
Look up when placing your tent near trees.
Before setting up a tent always look up and never pitch it under a weak or dead tree that could fall in the night.
How to Tell If A Tree Is Likely to Fall
It’s a wonder this tree stood as long as it did.
Determining if a tree is likely to fall isn’t always easy. Sometimes seemingly healthy strong trees fall over, but often one gives notice that it is in decline and weakening. Here are visible signs that a tree is vulnerable to falling:
- It’s dead. No leaves. Branches occasionally dropping off. Bark sheathing off.
- It’s alive but increasingly branches are dying and are bare of leaves.
- Mushrooms are growing from the wood.
- Little piles of sawdust at the base show that insects or woodpeckers have been at work.
- It’s old. As trees age, they stiffen and eventually, their wood weakens. Young healthy smaller trees are more flexible and bend back and forth in heavy wind without damage. Wind can crack the wood of old stiff trees.
- All trees eventually fall down but some have notoriously weak wood that breaks easily. Silver maples, black locust, and Siberian Elms often shed big limbs or break during storms.
Should I Have A Tree Taken Down?
Log ready to be bucked up to firewood.
Losing a beautiful old tree is painful, but there is a time when the tree should be removed to prevent an injury, death, or damage. At Winding Pathways, we let even old weak trees stand as long as they are well away from the house or places where sit. But if the tree could fall and hit a parked car, house or barn we call a tree service and have it repurposed into firewood.
This Youtube video provides an excellent overview of live and dead trees, saving or cutting the appropriate trees. My Woodlot.
by Winding Pathways | Mar 7, 2019 | (Sub)Urban Homesteading, Garden/Yard, Trees
While subzero cold enveloped Winding Pathways we discovered delightful seed and nursery catalogs in our mailbox. Leafing through their photos of rosy ripe tomatoes, peaches, and sweet corn made us dream of warm days as the frigid wind whistled around the house. Catalogs also made us think of our upcoming cherry tree crop.
We love our cherry trees and are happy to have two types growing at Winding Pathways. Most are the wild native Black Cherry, a member of the Rose family and common throughout the Eastern half of the United States.
Black cherry juice was mixed with brandy or rum to make “Cherry Bounce.”
Early pioneers sometimes called this tree the Cherry Bear because bruins would walk for miles to feast on its juicy fruit. Bear cubs learned how to climb trees by following their mother up the trunk to reach ripe fruit.
Birds love wild cherries. They’ve helped spread this tree far and wide by feasting on a cherry dinner here and then flying there to poop out the seeds. In many areas, the American Black cherry is almost an invasive species, but one with many attributes.
Thomas Jefferson’s Cherry Tree Wood
People today rarely bother eating the bitter small fruits, but pioneers made Cherry Bounce by mixing the juice with brandy or rum to make a bitter, but flavorful, cordial. Most people today enjoy this tree for its beautiful cabinet wood. When newly cut it is goldish in color, often with an intricate grain pattern. The wood darkens with age. Visitors to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia, often wonder why our third president loved such dark paneling. They don’t realize that when he lived there the newly installed wood glowed with cherry’s warm texture. Two centuries of aging have darkened it.
In our mail recently came the newsletter of the National Arbor Day Foundation with an amazing story about today’s popular Bing Cherry. That’s the delicious fruit often sold in grocery stores to be eaten fresh. In 1847 Henderson Lewelling, of Salem, Iowa, loaded his eight children, pregnant wife, and 700 of his prized cherry tree shoots packed in dirt-filled boxes, into wagons for the long trek to Oregon. They endured freezing temperatures, scurvy, and dysentery but made it and established the Pacific Northwest’s cherry industry.
Today, two types of domestic cherry are readily eaten by people. They are distinct from the American Black Cherry and are native to Europe and Asia. One type is called Sweet Cherries with the Bing variety best known. They are delicious when eaten fresh. Sweet cherries thrive in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana but don’t like the upper Midwest’s harsh winters. Ironically, Bing cherries got their start in Iowa but don’t grow well in the state today. We don’t have any at Winding Pathways.
Tart cherries make great pies.
We love our sour cherries. They thrive here despite winter’s cold and summer’s inferno, yielding an abundant crop in June. Most commercial sour cherries are grown in Michigan, but they love Iowa. Our favorite variety is the Dwarf North Star. It resists bugs and diseases, and even the deer leave it alone. In some years our cherry crop is almost sweet enough to eat fresh. We love them best blended with mulberries in a pie or mixed into oatmeal. A handy cherry pitter removes some of the tedium of evicting the big seed from each fruit.
Tart cherries come ripe in June.
Planting a sour cherry in the yard yields delicious fruit for a family to enjoy. Dwarf varieties can be bought from many nurseries. They like full sun and don’t take much space. In contrast, plant an American Black Cherry and eventually, it will produce fruit savored by birds. The tree needs plenty of space. It can grow to 100 feet tall and likes full sun.
Two Great Sources to Learn About Trees
Elegant lodging awaits at the Lied Lodge.
The Arbor Day Foundation, arborday.org has a wealth of information about trees and sells dozens of species at low cost. A few years ago, we enjoyed a delightful visit to Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska. We overnighted in the Lied Lodge on the property and wandered trails while enjoying tree lure. Adjacent is the home of J. Sterling Morton, Arbor Days founder.
A wonderful old book on tree natural history is a two-volume series called A NATURAL HISTORY OF TREES OF (Eastern or Western) NORTH AMERICA. If you find one at a used book store…….buy it!
Most northern states honor Arbor Day on the Fourth Friday of April each year, but many southern states celebrate it at seasons more appropriate for planting in their climate. Arbor Day dates for all states are listed on this link.