Archive for the 'Winter Weeds & Trees' Category

Jan 09 2016

Yo-yo

Flowering cherry tree in snow, 4 Jan 2016 at Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

Flowering cherry tree in snow, 4 January 2016 in Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

After a month of warm weather, these cherry trees were fooled into blooming in early January at Carnegie Museum.

Then last Monday the temperature dropped into the single digits and hit everything that couldn’t get out of its way.  Nothing could protect those delicate pink flowers.

Unlike plants, birds can get out of the way and some of them decided to leave this week.  In my neighborhood, there were many American robins in December but most of them have left since the cold snap.  Did your robins leave, too?

Meanwhile, don’t be fooled by today’s warmth.  Here’s a graph of Pittsburgh’s actual and predicted morning low temperatures for the first two weeks of January.

Graph of morning low temperatures in Pittsburgh, PA, actual+forecast for January 1-14, 2016 as of 1/9/2016 (graph uses NWS data)

Actual+forecast morning low temperatures in Pittsburgh, PA, January 1-14, 2016 (graph uses National Weather Service data as of 1/9/16)

It’s a yo-yo.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Dec 26 2015

From A Different Angle

Bare trees from a new angle (photo by Kate St. John)

Bare trees from a different angle (photo by Kate St. John)

When my camera couldn’t capture this horizontally, I turned it sideways to photograph the trees.

I like them this way better than in the “normal”orientation.

Put your left ear on your left shoulder to see what I mean.

 

p.s. I took this photo four years ago but didn’t label it.  Based on their bark I think these are sugar maples … but their branches don’t look right.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Mar 18 2015

Listening To The Secret Sounds Of Trees

Woman listening with headphones (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In early May when the trees leaf out we’ll once again hear the soothing sound of rustling leaves.  Did you know trees make sounds we cannot hear?

Last year an article by Sarah Zhang in Gizmodo caught my attention.  Eavesdropping On The Secret Sounds Of Trees describes the art and science of a Swiss research team who’s recording the internal sounds of trees.

The project, fittingly called trees, attaches sensitive microphones to trunks, branches and even leaves, then records the sounds and analyzes them in light of simultaneous environmental factors such as drought.  Click here and scroll down to hear the clicks, pops, hisses and taps made by a Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

Closer to home our trees are getting ready for spring, the sap is running, and it’s maple sugaring time in North America.

Maple sugar bucket hanging on a tree (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And so I wonder …

If we had those special microphones could we heard the sap rising in the maples?  Or is it so loud that we can hear it by putting our ears to the trees?

I’ll have to see.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

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Mar 08 2015

It Was Pretty

Snowy view on 5 March 2015 (photo by John English)

Snowy view on 5 March 2015 (photo by John English)

Yes, last Thursday’s snow was pretty.

It coated the trees like a winter wonderland outside John English’s apartment window (above).

And I found close up beauty in Schenley Park.

Snow in Schenley Park, 5 Mar 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

One leaf  (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Snow on Queen Anne's lace, 5 March 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Queen Anne’s lace (photo by Kate St. John)

 

In December I’d be thrilled by snow but within a few hours I was heartily tired of this beautiful event.

Fortunately it will go away this week.

 

(photo of snowy hillside by John English.  Closeups by Kate St. John)

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Nov 01 2014

Just Beechy

Golden beech leaves in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Golden beech leaves in Schenley Park.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Oct 29 2014

Mitten Leaves

Published by under Winter Weeds & Trees

Sassafras leaves in three shapes and two colors (photo by Kate St. John)

These very different leaves came from the same tree.

Sassafras turns red and yellow in the fall showing off its unlobed leaves, two-lobed “mittens” and three-lobed “paws.”  All three shapes grow on the same tree including both right and left-handed mittens (I checked).

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a medium-sized tree native to eastern North America from southern Maine to Florida to eastern Texas. In Pennsylvania it grows everywhere except on the central high plateau of the Northern Tier.

The tree’s roots, bark, shoots and fruit were used directly in many foods, drinks, perfumes and medicines (think “root beer”) until the essential oil, safrole, was discovered to be carcinogenic and outlawed by the FDA in 1960.  Sassafras by-products can still be used in food and cosmetics as long as they’re certified safrole-free.  Safrole is used in pesticides.

In Europe people plant sassafras as an ornamental for its aromatic scent and unusual leaves.

I found these in the wild in Harrison Hills County Park.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Oct 27 2014

Witch-hazel Blooming

Witch-hzel blooming in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

American witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is blooming in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Look for small yellow flowers clustered on the stems of a shrub or small tree.

Its four petals resemble lemon peel and are slightly hidden by the leaves right now but they’ll persist into November when they’ll be easier to see.

Witch-hazel blooming in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Witch-hazel is the only tree I know of that blooms in the fall, September to November.  It has other odd traits, too.

  • Though it blooms in the fall, it doesn’t set fruit until the following August, nearly a year later.
  • Just before it blooms the old fruit explodes, dispersing seeds up to 20 feet away.
  • Witch-hazel can find water. Its branches are used as divining rods.
  • It’s no coincidence that this plant has the same name as the astringent “witch hazel.”  The topical treatment is an extract of witch-hazel’s leaves and bark.

I found this one blooming in Schenley Park along the Lower Panther Hollow Trail.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Check the comments for Sally’s question about pollination and the fascinating answer.

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Nov 30 2013

Late November Signs Of Life

Witch hazel blooming in Schenley Park, 28 Nov 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

Though it’s been cold and snowy I found signs of life in Schenley Park on Thanksgiving Day.

Above, witch hazel is blooming along the Lower Trail.  The yellow flowers don’t stand out but once you notice them you’ll see several trees sporting lemon-peel petals.

Below, bush honeysuckle stands out green against the snow.  This out of synch condition reminds us that this plant is from another country.

nvasive plant out of sync with our seasons (photo by Kate St. John)

When you see green deciduous plants in the snow, check them out.  They’re often imports.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Oct 27 2013

Wild Hickory Nuts

Shagbark hickory nuts (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s something I literally stumbled on in Schenley Park:  shagbark hickory nuts (Carya ovata).

The big round balls, which cradle easily in the palm of my hand, are husk-covered nuts.  They’re green when ripe but turn brown with age (bottom right).  Their four sections naturally come open as the nut ages and sometimes burst when they hit the ground.

I didn’t need any special tools to open the husks, just my fingers.  At first I didn’t realize they were merely husks so I thought it was odd that they didn’t protect the nut but…

The nutshell is another story (center of the photo).  Irregularly shaped and slightly larger than a quarter, I tried to open it by cutting and other gentle means but it was impossible.  The meat inside is reputed to be sweet but I had to destroy the nut to taste it.

Hmmm.  Get out a hammer or hire a squirrel.

I got out the hammer.

The first nut had very shriveled meat inside.  Perhaps it had been attacked by a bug.

The second and third nuts looked promising except that the meats resembled dried Chinese wood ear mushrooms and they tasted like nothing.  (My photo doesn’t do this justice.)

Shagbark hickory nuts, hammered open (photo by Kate St. John)

Either I was doing something wrong — quite possible — or these nuts are not as good as described.

I wonder how many nuts the squirrels spend time opening only to find that the meat inside was not worth it.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Oct 26 2013

Twisted Trunks

Black cherry and red oak twist around each other, Moraine State Park, Oct 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last weekend I found these twisted trees in Moraine State Park.

It’s unusual to find trees like this — even more unusual when they’re two different species.

A black cherry (left at base) and a red oak (right at base) germinated next to each other.  At the ground their trunks touched and melded. As they grew they twisted around each other.

Amazing.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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