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 | Jun 9, 2022 | Nature, Trees
Harvesting Iowa Wood is sustainable.
When we tell people that Iowa is a major producer of some of the world’s most beautiful hardwood, they think we’re nuts. After all, we live in the corn state, where it’s possible to drive a hundred miles viewing only crops.
“Iowa is the sweet spot for the highest quality walnut lumber. Further north it’s too cold for the trees to get big enough and down south they grow so fast the logs contain much white sapwood and wide growth rings. Local walnut is of the highest quality, and it’s beautiful and abundant,” said Thomas Hunt as he led us through the Kendrick Forest Products Mill in Edgewood, Iowa.
Black walnut has been a favored hardwood for paneling, cabinetry, furniture, and gunstocks for hundreds of years. Its dark heartwood has a complex grain pattern that glistens with beauty. It is easy to work with, holds finish well, and is used to create furniture prized for generations.
Log ready to be loaded.
Walnut trees are abundant in Iowa, especially in the tightly wooded valleys of the Driftless Area. Trees grow relatively quickly and produce annual nut crops that squirrels bury by the thousands each fall. They only find some for winter snacks. The rest sprout into new trees. When carefully logged walnuts, along with oaks, hickories, ashes, and basswoods produce crops at long intervals and just as sustainably as well-managed farm crops.
Logs are shipped to Kendrick’s mill and sorted by species. During our visit, workers were transforming sugar maple logs into boards. No doubt some will end up flooring beautiful and resilient basketball courts.
Logs enter a huge machine that removes the bark and any dirt clinging to it. They then enter a powerful bandsaw. We watched Zippy operate hand and foot controls that fed each log into the blade that squared off a side. He then flipped it over and cut three more times to create a massive squared-off hunk of maple that next moved to another saw. It cuts the log into one of many things. Sometimes they make railroad ties. We watched the saw create inch-thick lumber.
Boards then go to the “green chain”, a room where workers sort them by grade and stack them up. From there they are cured in the open air and eventually in a kiln that removes moisture.
Finished products are shipped to customers far and wide. Walnut is especially valued overseas. Anyone who loves finely-crafted cabinetry, paneling, or flooring may have Iowa-grown wood processed at Kendrick Forest Products. Iowa’s more than a corn state!
Want to see the mill in action? Kendrick’s offers tours. Information is on their website at kfpiowa.com/take-a-tour/. Can’t get to Eldridge? Enjoy a video tour on their website. And, learn about Monday Mulch!
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 | Oct 15, 2020 | Nature, Trees
Winding Pathways is partnering with Cornell College, Indian Creek Nature Center, Peoples Church, Prairiewoods, and Trees Forever to present Treasuring our Trees.
Join us via ZOOM to honor and remember the fallen trees in the Cedar Rapids and surrounding areas following the Derecho of August 10, 2020. Sunday, October 25, 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m. Learn more at www.prairiewoods.org.
Join using Zoom meeting ID 829 4883 0080 & password 056503.
ZOOM invitation to honor our trees.
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.