May 2011 Archives

stem stuff

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There's some pretty cool stuff under all those gorgeous green leaves! Because that one little leaf broke off in the rain, I can actually get a good look at the stem below.


The stem is definitely longer now than in was when I first started measuring it. Back on May 10th, it was about 1 1/2" long. Now it's definitely 2" from where the top leaf stems (petioles) branch off to the tip of the original twig. I wonder how long it will keep growing!


What really fascinates me are those bumps on the stem right at the points where the new petioles grow out of the main shoot. Take a look straight down the stem...


That is amazing! The new growth (the light green stem with leaves attached) goes right into the old twig (the gray below), and those bumps look just like the old buds farther down the twig. I am guessing that they are the new buds for the next season. Can you believe that they're growing now in May?! I'm beginning to see how this works. The buds grow just above the petioles and when the leaves fall off in autumn, they'll leave leaf scars just like I saw on my twig all those months ago: directly under a bud.


And check this out: here's a close-up of the bud right between the petioles of the top pair of leaves in the cluster.


Darn if that ain't a new terminal bud! For some reason, this discovery makes me giddy.

gains and losses

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Yesterday, I showed you a picture of the cluster of leaves growing at the very tip of the twig closest to my living room window.


This cluster seems to be growing really strong. It doesn't have any other leaves blocking its sunlight and it doesn't seem to mind a few aphids having an occasional snack. Since I noticed last week that the leaves I'd been measuring seemed to stop growing, I decided to start measuring these leaves instead. I chose to watch the development of the newest and smallest pair. My first measurement was done on May 23rd, when the littlest leaf measured 1 1/2".


After some impressive rain storms that night, I awoke the next morning to find that only one half of the leaf pair was still there! Oh no.


It may have lost its mate, but that didn't keep it from growing! By the next day, May 25th, it was 1 7/8" long.


That's when the weather got good. Real good. Two more days of sunshine (coupled with well saturated ground from the two weeks of rain we'd had previously) and the leaf grew to 2 1/2" inches by May 27th!


Whoa! And by May 29th, it was 3" long!


Double whoa! It doubled in size in 6 days. I wonder if losing its opposite leaf has had any effect on how quickly it's grown.

Just for good measure, I checked in on the tiny leaf that wouldn't grow. It's still tiny. And lookie, it lost some leaves too.


Down to three.

ash trees are yummy: part 2

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Last week when I peeked out my window to check on the progress of the leaves on my twig, I noticed that several of them were curled and twisted.


It had been raining for days and the previous night's storm was pretty windy, so I thought maybe the leaves had just been blown out of place. I tried to flip one over, only to find that my fingers were covered with sticky stuff! The leaf had this thin layer of white sticky stuff that was causing it to curl.


I figured this was the work of some sort of bug, became totally grossed out and ran off to wash my hands thoroughly. Once I felt clean again, I did a little searching on the internet and determined that the buggies on my twig might have been aphids. Apparently the aphids suck plant juices (sap?) out of the leaf, which can cause the leaves to curl. While they're eating, the aphids kind of poop this white liquidy stuff called honeydew, which stays on the leaves making them sticky. This all seems very yucky (and has ruined honeydew melon for me forever), but apparently some other bugs love the honeydew. Some bees produce a special type of honey from it and some ants actually collect it directly from the aphids. Eww. Here's a gross picture of a couple of ants collecting honeydew from feeding aphids. You can see some honeydew bubbles on a few of the aphids.

picture from wikipedia

Luckily, I haven't seen any of these bugs on my tree and the curled leaves returned to normal by the next day.


But just this morning, I spotted another little patch of honeydew.



field trip!

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It's the most wonderful time of the (school) year... field trip time!

My daughter and I have visited the Chihuly exhibit at the MFA Boston three times already, but I still can't wait to go back and see it again. It is amazing what he and his fellow artists can do with glass! Many of the forms Chihuly creates are evocative of organic forms in nature such as trees and flowers. So, I thought today, we'd take a field trip to the MFA to see some of these incredible artworks.

The first of Chihuly's works that you see is in the new atrium. It's an awe-inspiring 42 foot high Lime Green Icicle Tower, which looks like the most beautiful cactus you've ever seen. Except it's made of glass!


The variations in the colors of the over 2,000 individual glass pieces are what make it seem so real. How many colors do you see?


Check out this video of how they installed the piece at the museum!

The exhibit itself begins with a collection of flower-like shapes that Chihuly calls Persians. The name, says Chihuly, "conjured up Near Eastern, Byzantine...smells, was...exotic."


What else do these shapes remind you of?

Farther on in the exhibit, there is an empty room where the ceiling is covered with a kaleidoscopic collection of Persians.


All different hues of light stream down into the room from above. I love the unique perspective on the artwork here. It reminds me of looking at trees. You have to take a moment to look up and see the beauty that is high above your head. You might even want to lay down and play a little "I Spy" with your friends.


In the middle of the exhibit, you arrive in a fantastical undersea world full of weeds and flowers and trees and creatures, all in the most vibrant colors you can imagine.


This installation is enormous! The group of figures fill a space that is 58 feet long and the tallest pieces are 11 feet high! Chihuly calls these installations Mille Fiori, which means "thousand flowers" in Italian and is also the term for a type of glasswork used to make colorful vases and jewelry. Some of the forms that Chihuly includes in his Mille Fiori installations are called Reeds, Herons, Towers, Pods, and Seal Pups. Can you find them?

The final piece in the exhibit is called Neodymium Reeds and is a simple and subtle combination of lavender glass rods and birch tree logs.


Those are real tree trunks! I find it so intriguing that the trees here are horizontal and the rods are vertical. Have the trees fallen? Are these reeds growing out of decaying trunks? Or are they a new order of trees, overtaking the old? They're so perfect and bright, while the birch bark is so flaky, uneven and dull. What do you think about the combination of real items from nature and these surreal glass forms?

Chihuly enjoys this juxtaposition, often placing his works in the outdoors. He installed Amber Cattails in the narrow gardens that separate the MFA's new atrium from its original building.


They look like they're just growing right alongside the trees and shrubs. And yet, they're so strange. Do you think they look like they belong in nature or not?


In recent years, Chihuly has put on dozens of installations at Botanical Gardens throughout America and abroad. Let's take a peek at one installation he did at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. I love this little home made video. It gives you a genuine feeling of what it's like to walk through an outdoor installation like this. Keep an eye open for the glass works - sometimes it's hard to tell what's nature and what is glass!

I love thinking about the fact that it will rain or snow on these things. Just like real trees, real flowers, and real reeds, they are delicate and magical things that must survive the weather every day. How strong do you think these glass pieces are? How strong do you think the trees and the flowers are?

Chihuly's works really impress me in that they seem to have the capacity to excite children as much as adults. It's no surprise that a children's museum has actually dedicated permanent exhibit space, complete with hands-on activities, to one of Chihuly's works.

Fireworks of Glass at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis
picture by Intiaz Rahim

Back in Boston, as we make our way to the lunchroom at the MFA, we are in for one last little - no, a big - surprise. An enormous tree mural!


This is the product of the museum's community arts initiative, in which young students from several Boston-area Boys and Girls clubs worked together with artist Raul Gonzalez. They looked at images of family portraits from the museum's collection and set about making their own.


The kids added treasured items to their displays and put them all together into a wonderful family tree connecting many families and many traditions. What would your family tree look like? What kind of a family tree do you think Chihuly would make?

Perhaps when we get back to school, we'll draw some trees, some fantastical and some familial. For some more inspiration, check out this blog about drawing trees: How to draw a tree. It is full of amazing images, capturing the colors and shapes and wonder of trees. I can't stop reading it!

how slow can you grow

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Okay, so you know the leaves I've been watching? They've stopped growing. Oh, all the other leaves are growing, just not the two I'm measuring. What up with that?!

Here we go. Middle leaf, May 18th: 2 1/8".


Middle leaf, May 23rd: 2 1/8".


Middle leaf, May 25th: 2 1/8".



Little leaf, May 18th: 5/8".


Little leaf: May 23rd...


No, not that big one on the top, the tiny one below. Hey, why is the other leaf in the pair so big now? They started out the same!

Little leaf, May 25th: uh, 5/8".


Grrr. Well, at least the big leaf is growing...

Large leaf, May 18th: 6 1/8".


Large leaf, May 25th: 6 3/4".


Alright! That's what I'm talking about!

So apparently my other two leaves are on vaca or something. What gets me is that all the leaves come in pairs and the other leaf in each pair is growing strong. Are these on the wrong side (the house side instead of the street side)? Are they getting less sun? I refuse to be worried, though, because there is so much overall growth on my twig that I actually have trouble finding my leaves these days!


Can you believe that's the same twig that we met back in February?!


filling out

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My tree may still look sparse from across the street, but the view from inside my window is filling up with green!

Here was my view of (and through) one section of the tree back on February 15th.


Two months later, on April 25th, flowers and the very beginnings of leaves added dots of yellow-green to my view of the houses across the way.


By May 2nd, the leaves on my tree and the tree across the street had started to hide the neighbors' windows from view.


Dramatic changes came fast after that. By May 6th, the leaves were large enough to hang over the branches and cover the buds they'd popped out of.


And on the 12th, I could barely see the sidewalk anymore.


Then the green just got thicker. (May 18th)


And thicker. (May 23rd)


Bye neighbors! See you in the fall.

girl stuff

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As we know, my ash tree is a boy. He's made his pollen-y flowers and I'm guessing he's all done with his part in the flower-fruit-seed process. Since he doesn't have much to tell me about the other half of the process, I thought I'd take a walk down the street and visit the girl ash tree to see what she's up to.

When I last took some pictures of her flowers (on May 3rd), they looked like little green tadpoles - round head, skinny tail - with curly tongues coming out of them - which I assume was some female flower part reaching out to catch pollen.


Two weeks later on the 17th, the female flowers looked like this:


Some of those tadpole heads now have a single short green leaf growing out of them. Even the flowers on the bottom right of the picture look like they are starting to elongate, with a tiny leaf tip beginning to protrude from the circular head. I think the tadpole head is really the ovary of the flower and these new leaves are actually the fruit of the ash tree. I remember from the tree id book we looked at last month that the fruit of the ash tree is a single samara (the maple tree fruit is a double samara, so think half of one of those!).

Thumbnail image for thetreebook4.jpg

This looks about right. Long finger-like flowers (which frustratingly seem to be mislabeled here as the male flowers) develop into the long single-winged samaras. The book says, "It looks like a tiny airplane propeller and grows in clusters on female trees." Here are the propellers just four days later on May 21st:


And some new ones starting to develop:


The close-up pictures reveal a sort of ugly, brown blob at the spot where the round head/ovary of the flower is swelling up. The fruit seems to be growing from the side or from under this. Here are some just breaking out of these brown shells.


Ick, they're starting to look like bugs to me! I'm sorry to say this to my girlfriend ash tree, but whole bunches of these really are kind of nasty looking.


I hadn't expected fruit development to look so messy. At first, I thought there was some kind of dirt or gunk stuck on the flowers. Maybe it was the pollen? But the samaras in the top right of the picture look much cleaner and neater. I guess the flowers/fruit in the front are simply in that awkward tween stage.

a springtime walk among the trees

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Back in February, I took a walk through the neighborhood to look at trees. I saw interesting bark and different types of buds and a lot of snow. This weekend, we had our first non-rainy day in about two weeks, so I popped the camera in my pocket and set off on a springtime neighborhood tree walk.

I spotted the kooky honey locusts, finally starting to green.


And discovered a group of birds flitting about in them. Apparently, they do not find the twisted, gnarled twigs as spooky looking as I do.


Speaking of birds, I spotted this in a tree by our parking space.


A nest!


I haven't seen any birds around it yet, but the car has been covered with their droppings in the last couple of weeks. I actually get kind of excited each time I come to the car and see new bird poop on it. I start searching up in the trees to see if the birds have returned to their nest!

The trees by our parking space are an interesting bunch. There's the Norway maple that I've been watching and the tree with the incredibly long roots. The root tree looks almost bare among its green neighbor trees.


But if you follow the branches up, they end in lovely orange-y leaves.


I have no idea what kind of tree it is. It seems to have compound leaves similar to my tree's, but they're so high that I can't distinguish any of the details.

Closer to the kids' school, there is another tree that has intrigued me for the last couple of weeks. I don't know what kind it is either, but it has heart-shaped leaves all along every branch.


I have to admit that I originally thought leaves would come out everywhere on a tree, but now that I've looked closer at trees, I can see that they are usually on the tips of the branches, leaving the bark bare. This tree, with its almost vine-like covering of leaves, reminds me of an extremely hirsute man with hair where it shouldn't be. Each of those leaves is directly attached to the branch with one stem. The tree seems to have no need for twigs at all!

Another tree that amazes me is this one, with enormous leaves the length and shape of my foot and huge clusters of flowers that hold themselves straight up on the twig.


The flowers have pretty little red and yellow dots in the center.


I think this might be a Horse chestnut tree. It is magnificent.

On my way back home, I was surprised by the full canopy on this ash tree just a block away from my house.


This ash is a good two or three weeks ahead of the others on the street. It looks fully developed, whereas mine definitely looks like it's still just getting started.


Now that the leaves are arriving, I can tell just how many of the branches on my tree are dead. There are whole sections, maybe a third of the tree, that remain completely bare.

I wonder if my tree will ever fill out like the ash down the street.
I wonder how the honey locusts will look when they have all their leaves.
I wonder when the horse chestnut will lose its flowers and begin to drop chestnuts all over the street.
I wonder when the birds will return to their nest and when they will leave it again.

from seed to maple tree

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This week I went looking for a book to help me answer some of my questions about the keys on my maple tree. I found From Seed to Maple Tree by Laura Purdie Salas, which is one book in a series of books for kids on different life cycles, including From Seed to Apple Tree, From Seed to Pine Tree, From Caterpillar to Butterfly, and From Tadpole to Frog.


I found the book in our local library. It's one of a dozen or so kids books that explain the basics of how trees develop. I found the pictures most appealing in this book. Jeff Yesh is the illustrator for the entire the Life Cycle series and his pictures are big and bright, filling the whole page with color.

Salas begins by telling us that trees have life cycles too just like the animals.


Every tree starts as a seed.


The maple tree, she tells us, grows about 1 foot each year and is called a seedling until it is 2 meters tall. After 30-40 years it becomes a mature tree. Its growth slows down and it begins to produce flowers. (Note: the maple tree in this book is a sugar maple, so its flowers look a little different from the bright green flowers that appeared on my Norway maple.)


From Salas's description, it seems that the sugar maple is a monoecious tree, which means that one tree will have both male and female flowers. In fact, one flower may have both male and female parts. (After doing a little research, I found out that the Norway maple is like the ash tree and can be either monoecious or dioecious.) However the boy and girl flowers are arranged, pollen from the male parts is brought over to the female parts, with a little help from the birds and the bees, and you get fruit!


The book confirms that these little winged helicopter thingies are indeed the fruit of the maple tree. In the sugar maple, you can really see the two seeds in the large green section of the samara. The Norway maple fruit is a little different. It's all green and, as we discovered a couple of weeks ago, has a wider wingspan. Here's a picture one of the hundreds that have recently fallen off of the tree in front of my house.


Salas explains that the maple fruit ripens on the tree and should fall from the tree in the fall. This makes me think that the samaras falling from all the Norway maples around me aren't ripe yet. Someone should tell them that, because they are everywhere! Apparently, the seeds need to hide in the fallen leaves to keep from being eaten by squirrels and birds.


The book also explains that the seed has a better chance of developing into a new tree when it flies away from the parent tree. It seems to me that most seeds just fall straight down and so I've often wondered why there aren't just a million little baby trees under each mature tree. It turns out that the parent tree is using up all the nutrients in the soil right there, so the seed needs to travel somewhere else to find a place with enough water and food to grow. And then the cycle can begin again.

And now I've got to share with you the coolest website I found while looking for some info on tree flowers and fruit. It's Bob's Brain on Botany and is full of amazing, close-up pictures of tree flowers, including the sugar maple and the Norway maple. There's also a whole page with pictures of tree droppings (Yay, I love tree droppings!). Finally, he has an amazing section on tree flowers and fruit...

from Ohioense: Bob's Brain on Botany

... which includes everything you ever wanted to know about flower sex and an overview of a variety of different tree fruits -- all with cool roll-over graphics! I'm off to learn more....

just how many of these are in there?

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On May 3rd, I started watching a small leaf develop on the twig closest to my window. Back then, there were two pairs of leaves in the cluster (each only about 3/4" long!) and -- something I hadn't noticed before -- also a thin bundle of green in the center.


That little bundle in the center has now developed into a new pair of leaves in the cluster.


I wonder how many pairs of leaves are going to be in one cluster. How many leaves can there be in there?!

Let's start at the beginning. Twelve days ago I discovered a new leaf cluster just starting to open. On that day, there were two leaves (each about 1/4" long) and a pair of smaller microleaves. 


I think these little microleaves are the "wings" I'd noticed stretching out the buds when leaves first started to appear on my tree in April.


I don't think these have developed into leaves. Maybe they're like the strange leaves that I saw on my son's bean plant that came out first but didn't ever turn into true leaves.

bottom right: the lighter, poorly formed "leaves" that appeared first

The book A Seed is Sleepy also showed these strange first leaves on a bean plant at 4 weeks.


I think these are cotyledons, which are sort of embryonic leaves. So, these may be a kind of starter leaf for the plant.

Sure enough, twelve days later, those microleaves haven't developed at all, while the other leaves have almost tripled in length. 


But look! In the very center there is another little tiny green tongue starting to peek out! Will that be another bundle for another pair of leaves??

When I look at the largest leaf I've been watching, I can see that it is in a cluster with five pairs of leaves.


When I started watching it, it had three pairs and a small bundle in the center.


Looking really closely at the newest set of leaves, I noticed something else...


They look like little buds right at the spots where the leaf stems branch off of the main shoot.


OMG, what are they?!

maple keys

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There are no more maple flowers to be found on the Norway maples around our house. At the beginning of the month, I noticed that as the leaves were starting to grow, the flowers were dropping and turning into the little winged helicopter keys we associate with maples. Now, in the middle of May, there are only maple keys hiding under the large canopy of leaves.


They look almost like bats all huddled together, hanging from a green ceiling. Last week, the ones on the lowest branches looked like they were ready to fly.


And once the rain began, fly they did.


Straight down.

So what are these keys? My guide to all things tree, What Tree is It?, referred to the keys when distinguishing maples according to their fruit. So, that means that the keys are the fruit of the tree. Wait a minute. Apparently you don't have to be a fruit tree to make fruit! By watching the trees, I've come to realize that all trees make flowers (even if some of them do look like koosh balls) and now it seems that all trees make fruit. What sort of fruit is this though? It's clearly not the kind of fruit you can pick and eat. I think it's more of a "be fruitful and multiply" type of fruit, as in it's all about reproduction. As far as I understand it, the female part of the flower, once pollinated, turns into the fruit, which holds the seed. So does that mean that pollination is all done here? Are these seeds all set to make new maple trees? Already? In May? A mere month after the flowers even appeared? That seems fast to me. Hmmmm....
This spring, I've been watching the slow awakening of deciduous trees, you know, the trees that lose their leaves in the fall and grow them back in the spring. But there are some trees that stay green all year round: conifers. Back in my second post, I mentioned that all I know about conifers I learned from They Might Be Giants. I knew that conifers didn't lose their needles in the fall, but I hadn't really thought about what happens to them in the spring. Until last week, when I walked by some bushes and noticed that they had developed bright little light green tips.


How cute is that?! It's like highlights! This must be new growth. You can even spot some little brown bud-like bits at the base of the new growth. I wonder how similar their development is to the deciduous trees I've been following?


Elsewhere in trees-that-do-not-behave-like-the-ones-I've-been-watching are the weirdest trees on my street: the honey locusts. At least I think they are honey locusts. They have been the slowest trees to start blooming around here and are just starting to get their leaves now. At the end of April, when my tree was full of pollen-covered flowers and the Norway maples were bringing bright green to the whole neighborhood, they looked like this...


The honey locusts have these uneven zigzag branches that make them look super creepy. They remind me of the spooky forest that Dora the Explorer constantly has to tiptoe through to get to the other side. In the winter, they looked almost pitch black.


Honey locusts are actually even creepier than this. Regular honey locust trees have thorns. And not like little rose thorns. These are big, menacing thorns that look like something from the age of the dinosaurs (which they very well may be!).


The variety that is planted for shade in the city is thornless, however. Earlier this month, I spotted a honey locust a few blocks away that had started developing its leaves a little earlier than the ones on my street and noticed that it too had thorns. Only on the branches though, thank goodness!


Even if they aren't growing thorns out of their trunks, the honey locusts around me are growing small twigs (like the one above) and flowers and leaves directly out of the trunk. Here's one honey locust a block away from me back at the end of April.


The little buds are coming straight out of the trunk! They seem to be coming out at spots where there are these knots. I wonder if they have created the knots by repeatedly sprouting here or if they are growing here because the bark is somehow different here. And it's not just this tree. All the honey locusts have these buds growing on the trunk. Even the youngest one.


Three weeks later, the little buds have developed into leaves and flowers.


These are the same leaves and flowers that are growing up in the branches. I just can't get over the fact that they are growing down here as well. There's something about this kind of tree, it seems, that just wants to grow wacky stuff out of everywhere.

The honey locust has long compound leaves with what looks like 15 or so leaflets and I know from my kids tree id book that it makes the crazy long seedpods (up to 18" long!) that we see all over the sidewalks around here in the fall.

It's a weird tree. For more about the honey locust, check out this post from BiologyDude.

growth charts

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When we last checked in on our leaf, on May 8th, it measured 1 1/2" long. On the 10th, it was just shy of 1 3/4".


On May 12th, it measured just over 1 3/4".


And on May 14th, almost 2".


Today, it's just over 2".


That's amazingly steady growth -- about 1/8" every two days. But it's slower growth than I noticed last week, which was about 1/8" every day. Wanna see how it's slightly slowing down?


Judging from this leaf, I might guess that a leaf's growth slows down as it gets larger, but when we take a look at the large leaf right by my window, we see something different. This big leaf was 4 1/2" long on May 9th.


And 5 1/4" on May 12th.


It grew to 5 3/4" by May 14th.


And was 6" long this morning.


Wow! Let's see that in a graph!

Again, my measuring system isn't exactly precise, but there's no doubting that the big leaf is getting bigger faster than the smaller leaf. Interestingly, both seemed to slow down in the last few days. You can see the slopes on their graphs aren't as steep from the 14th to the 16th in particular. I wonder if everything on the tree slowed down in the last few days because the weather changed to cool temps, clouds and rain. Look at this awesome graph that I found at of Boston's weather in the last week ....


Maybe not the most inspiring weather for growing leaves. Could this have caused that slowdown in leaf growth?

I wonder how a tree deals with long periods of clouds anyway. Doesn't sun mean food? But clouds mean rain, which is also important....

ash leaves are yummy

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I wonder who has been munching on my tree's leaves?


A very hungry caterpillar?


I haven't ever spotted any critters, but they must be there somewhere!


I'm assuming that this is all completely normal. I don't see why a few holes on a few leaves should cause a major problem for the tree. And these leaves don't look sick, just munched on. I'll be keeping an eye open for more signs of hungry insects in the tree and their impact on its leaves.


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This Saturday's storybook is Poetrees by Douglas Florian. I love Florian's many books of poems and drawings for children! They are usually themed around a type of animal (like his Insectlopedia and Dinothesaurus) and contain brief, witty and often insightful poems accompanied by colorful and evocative paintings. I wondered if Florian had ever done a book on trees, so I looked online and, sure enough, he did, just last year!


Florian has designed this book to be read vertically. The cover actually opens up to reveal his painting for a poem on leaves.


All the poems inside are arranged on the page this way. Trees, Florian seems to be saying, cannot be depicted in the standard horizontal format. I agree. His long, vertical paintings give his trees the sense of height that is such a huge part of our actual experience of trees. One beautiful example is on the table of contents page.


Florian often uses a lot of fun word play in his poems that kids enjoy. This book is no exception. Almost every poem contains a joke or tree pun, which he sometimes emphasizes in bold or italics. Here is a cute example from the inside book cover.


Look for the word play in the following poems! The first two recall trees we saw last week when we read Celebritrees. There's a Giant Sequoia.


"Never destroy a / Giant sequoia."

There's also a Bristlecone Pine, like Methuselah, the world's oldest tree.


"For fifty cen-trees I'm alive."

And then there's my favorite in the book, the Yew.


"Yews are spooky; gloomy too. / Yew've got one behind yew-- / Boo!"

I love the glowing colors around the sequoia and the squiggly lines that define the pine and the yew. They reveal the vitality and movement in trees that we tend to overlook. On his website, Florian describes his own work in terms that could also refer to this secret aspect of trees: "My drawings are movingly still, but still moving."

More than just fun, his poems always cleverly convey some real information about their subjects. This book even contains a "glossa-tree" (glossary) at the end with more tree facts.


Check out a couple more poems from the book on Florian's blog: Paper Birch and Dragon Tree. And then check out some more of his books. They're tree-mendous!

ash tree opposites

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how do your ash leaves grow? part 3

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Last week, I noticed that my tree has compound leaves, which means that each leaf is made up of several leaflets. In fact, I said that each leaf was made up of seven leaflets because the leaves that came out first all seemed to all have 7 (as seen in this picture from May 1st).


So I thought my tree was a 7-tree, making leaves with 7 leaflets. I don't think that anymore. As I've been measuring specific leaves on my tree, I've noticed something. Let's take a look at a picture from May 3rd, when I started measuring leaves.


The leaf I'm measuring only has 5 leaflets!  The other leaves in this cluster also only have 5, except for the one at the bottom left, which has 7. Now I'm starting to notice more and more leaves with 5 leaflets.


I can't really discern a pattern. Sometimes the 5-leaflet leaves are the inner/smaller leaves on a shoot, sometimes they're the outer/larger leaves.


And they aren't always in pairs. Sometimes a cluster will have just one leaf with a different number of leaflets.


I suppose they still might all develop into leaves with 7 leaflets, but I'm beginning to doubt that all the leaves on a tree will have the exact same number of leaflets. Now I know why the tree id books and sites talk about "5 to 9" or "7 to 11" leaflets. Here's a description from a leaf tree key found on this site.


So, since my tree has leaves with 5 and 7 leaflets, does that mean that I have a white ash tree?

how do your ash leaves grow? part 2

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As we saw yesterday, the leaves on my tree are growing longer, about 1/8" per day. While I was wondering about the growth of the leaves, I was also wondering about the shoots. Are they also getting taller? I mean, the branch is supposed to get longer each year, right? So, can I figure out how much taller it's growing? Let's see...


On May 3rd, the shoot at the end of the twig closest to my living room window measured about 2" tall from the tippy top of the center leaves back down to the twig. Two days later, on May 5th...

shoots_grow5_5.jpg looked to be about 2 1/2" long, although I'm not quite sure I was holding the measuring tape at the same spot at the top. (I do my best to get the tape in place before I get the camera, but it's tricky doing all this hanging out my living room window.)

The very next day (May 6th)...

...I measured it at 2 3/4" from the top point of the leaves to the base. And two days later, on the 8th...


...3 3/4"?! Hmmmm, that seems like a lot. Suddenly, I'm wondering if I'm measuring the growth of the shoot or the growth of those leaves at the top. I may have to approach this question a little differently....

If I look back at the pictures above and focus only on the section of the measuring tape that is between the spot where the highest leaves branch off from the shoot and the top of the twig, I think I can actually discern some growth in the shoot itself.


In the picture from May 3rd (above), I count four 1/4" segments, so 1" total height. In the picture from May 6th (below), I can see five 1/4" segments, so 1 1/4" total height.


That's 1/4" difference in three days. And two days later, I count six 1/4" segments, which means another 1/4" of growth!


If this is in fact the growth of the shoot, it would mean that it is getting taller about about the same rate (1/8" per day), or perhaps a little more slowly, than the leaves are getting longer.

I will keep measuring this shoot to try to verify this estimate. But I wonder how long the shoot will continue to grow? I assume that the leaves will reach their full length at some point in the summer, but could the shoot keep growing beyond that? When does all this growth stop and the tree start to shift to fall?

how do your ash leaves grow? part 1

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Since the flowers have fallen off my tree and the leaves have started growing, it just doesn't seem like anything very dramatic is going on out there anymore. It's a little greener; it's a little leafier. But how much greener is the tree each day? How much leafier?

In order to answer this question, I chose a leaf to measure regularly to see how fast it was growing. I looked back at the pictures I'd taken of other leaves and noticed that I'd actually caught a glimpse of this leaf as it started opening on April 29th.


I started measuring the leaf four days later. (Note that this requires a precarious balancing act of me hanging out the window dangling a camera and a measuring tape 15 feet above the sidewalk, so it's a little imprecise. But I think the growth is significant enough for me to get an idea of how fast things are happening.)


On May 3rd, my little leaf was already 3/4" long. So, since it was still closed on April 29th, that's 3/4" in its first four days.

Two days later, on May 5th, the leaf was 1 1/8". That's 3/8" of growth in two days!


And on the next day, May 6th, I struggled with wind while photographing, but was able to measure the leaf at 1 1/4". That's another 1/8" growth in one day!


On Mother's Day, May 8th, it was 1 1/2" long.


That would be another 1/4" in two days, or 1/8" per day. Pretty steady growth! I'm guessing that the quicker growth at the beginning comes from the leaves first pushing straight out a good 1/4" in a single bud before the leaves even begin to open.

I actually managed to get some pictures of this initial growth elsewhere! As I was taking the picture on the 6th, I spotted a bud below that was just beginning develop. Some of the tiny buds on the tiniest twiglets haven't done anything so far. At this point, I'd kind of assumed they weren't going to do anything, so I was surprised to see that this one was actually starting to push up it's little brown cap and send green leaves out after all.


That was taken at noon on May 6th. 25 hours later, at 1pm on May 7th, it looked like this.


Look at the little bud cap just ready to fall off! A mere 6 hours later, at 7pm on the same day...

...the leaves were wide open and measured 1/4"!

That is cool!

Lots more measurements coming up tomorrow....


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Good morning! It's a beautiful sunny day here in Brookline and every tree I can see from my window is covered in green leaves! It's a perfect day to celebrate trees with a story. Today we'll read about some famous trees in Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World by Margi Preus.


is a cute book about famous trees from all over the world (and beyond!). It starts with a little introduction: "Trees are the oldest, biggest, and tallest living organisms on earth.... Here are fourteen Celebritrees, trees so beloved they have earned names for themselves.... Each tree has a story to tell."


The first tree is Methuselah, "the oldest known single living organism on earth." Preus tells us that at 4,800 years old, it has seen over 1.75 million sunrises and was already 2,000 years old when the work on the Great Wall of China began! That's old. In order to protect the tree, there are no pictures of it. It lives in a grove of many similar trees and is not identified.

Next up is "the biggest inhabitant of earth," the giant sequoia General Sherman. (Follow this link to see a picture that really gives you a sense of how enormous the tree is!) 


At over 2,000 years old, it's no spring chicken either. Preus explains that many of its branches are bigger than the biggest trees in the Eastern US. It weighs as much as 10 blue whales and, she adds, is still growing!

The Tule Tree in Tule, Mexico is supposedly the widest tree in the world. (Follow this link to see a picture of its trunk which is as big as a house!) Its trunk is covered with fascinating knots that resemble animals and monsters.


The other trees in the book have interesting histories. The Bodhi Tree in Sri Lanka is about as old as General Sherman but it is not famous for being large.


"Bo" is the fig tree under which the Buddha sat when he gained enlightenment. There are actually several Bodhi trees. The original tree was in India. A cutting from that tree was brought to Sri Lanka and is still alive today. (This website has some pictures of the tree as it looks now and some thoughts about it.) A cutting from the tree in Sri Lanka was brought back to India and planted on the site of the original tree in Bodh Gaya. (Follow this link for a picture of this younger version of the Bodhi tree.)

Next is the Major Oak in the Sherwood Forest of England. It's trunk is large enough to hold 18 people and it may have even provided shelter once upon a time to Robin Hood and his merry men! But today, due to soil compaction and weakening limbs, it is off-limits. (Check out a picture of it here as it is now, with many poles supporting it.)


The Chapel Oak is the most curious of the celebritrees, having been turned into a chapel.


It is approximately 1,000 years old. In the 1600s, it was struck by lightning, which hollowed out the trunk. (Preus tells us "Never stand under an oak tree during a lightning storm. The oak is struck by lightning more than any other kind of tree.") It became a shrine and then a chapel. (Pictures of the Chapel Oak and some of its history can be found here.)

Preus details several other oak trees with fascinating histories as well as the Boab Prison tree of Australia. But the final trees in the book are out of this world!


The so-called "moon trees" were grown from hundreds of seeds from five different types of trees that were brought by astronaut Stuart Roosa on a trip to the moon in 1971. (Here's a little bit of info from NASA about the moon trees.) They have been planted all over America, including at NASA and the White House, and seem to grow like any other earthly trees. There's even one in Massachusetts!

More photos of many of these trees and others mentioned in the book can be found on this web page: 10 Most Extraordinary Trees in the World.

boy meets girl

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Although Brookline's town tree inventory says that only about 4% of the town's street trees are ash trees, there are about 10 of them in the two blocks around our house.

my tree with three more ashes across the street

A few weeks after I first started to watch my tree, I began to suspect that these other trees were the same kind of tree as mine. Once my tree started to produce its little purple flowers however, I became doubtful. Only about half of the trees I'd identified as also being ash trees had these flowers. The others seemed to be growing some other kind of leafy something, most likely a totally different kind of flower. But now that the true leaves have started to grow on all these trees, I can see that they are indeed all ash trees. So why the different flowers?

To explain, I have to return to the mystery of the sticky burrs (those crazy brown popcorn-looking balls that I had originally spotted on a few of the other ashes and then discovered on my tree). The sticky burrs turned out to be galls, which are growths caused by a tiny mite that lays its eggs in the male ash tree flowers. Some ash trees, like mine, produce only male flowers. The male flowers are the purple pollen-producing clusters that were all over my tree.


Down the street, there is an ash tree that has entirely different looking flowers. The bark on this tree is the same as mine. The leaves are the same. The structure of the twigs and the pattern of growth are all the same. The only difference is the flowers.


These have to be the female flowers! They are like long fingers reaching out to catch the pollen on tiny red tips.


Another sign that this is a female ash tree is the fact that there are no droppings under this tree like there are under the male ash trees. The male trees like mine have recently shaken off all of their pollen-laden flowers and covered the sidewalks beneath them with little brown tree poops.

male ash tree surrounded by droppings

But if there are no pollen-producing flowers on this female tree, where does she get pollen for fertilization? Well... from the tree in the very next sidewalk cutout: a big all-male ash tree. Awwww, they're a couple!


After I discovered this little couple, I decided to take a closer look at the ash trees right around mine (there are 5 directly across the street). You can spot the female right away from how clean the sidewalk is beneath her. She's the one without a ring of poopy-looking flowers underneath her.


But here's the really fascinating thing. Of the five ashes across the street, 2 are boys like mine, there's the 1 girl in the middle, and the other two trees are -- get this! -- both.


They have obvious male flower clusters still hanging on some of their twigs but they also have tons of the finger-like female flowers. How cool is that?! I've said this before, but it bears repeating: trees are weird.

(I found this website really helpful in identifying the different ash tree flowers.)

maple leaves

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One week ago, Bud - the little maple tree in front of our house - was just starting to sprout leaves. I was surprised to see them come out of the same buds that had produced all the fabulous tiny green flowers.


A few days later, I took a peek at the maple down the street where we park our car. It's generally been about a week ahead of Bud, so I was hoping to find some real leaves. And there they were, all shiny and new. They've got that classic maple leaf shape too!


So I knew there would be lovely maple leaves on Bud this week. This morning I went out on the balcony to get a close look at Bud and was not disappointed.


Not only is the leaf fully formed, but the flowers have started to sprout or change into the maple "key" seeds (you know, those helicopter shaped seeds that spin down from the tree). I wonder if all of the flowers will produce these keys?

I was curious about other maples, so I went back to visit a maple I'd spotted on the playground a couple of weeks ago. It's not a Norway maple like Bud or the tree by our parking space. I knew this because it was so red! It still looked like a maple though. The buds looked exactly the same and the flowers were very similar. But where Bud is bright and cheery in lime green, this reddish maple was simply stunning.


Two weeks later and it looks like this:


Oh my, all the red's gone. There's a definite maple leaf though and some maple keys. Right next to this maple was another with gorgeous winged keys coming off of bright red stems.


A quick look at the What Tree is It? site (can you tell that I love that site??) helped me see the key difference (ha, ha, I made a tree pun) between these two types of maples: the distance between the two wings of the key.


The Norway maples have wings that are widely separated, whereas the playground maples have wings that are quite close to one another. What tree is it? says that would make my mystery trees on the playground bona fide red maples!

the anatomy of an ash tree leaf

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Now that they are finally here, just what do my tree's leaves look like?


Each leaf is made up of seven smaller leaves. These smaller leaves are oval shaped, tapering to a point at the tip and have little ridges along the outside edges near the top. They are arranged, like everything else on this tree, in pairs opposite from each other. You can see above how two are growing left and right and another pair are growing at the top and bottom. And the next set of leaves in the center is repeating that pattern.


The same pattern is also visible in the shoot below.


There's a pair of stems coming out, then another pair offset 90 degrees and so on. I noticed this exact pattern in the twig of my tree when I first started watching it back in February. I'm now even more convinced that this growing green shoot will be the extension of the twig for this year.

I returned to the What tree is it? website to see if I could identify my ash tree just based on the leaves. I learned some nifty vocabulary along the way. My tree's leaves can be classified as broad and flat (as opposed to having needles or scales), compound (as opposed to a simple, single leaf), and pinnate (which means all the little leaflets are at different spots on the one stem instead of all coming out of the top), with toothed margins (which means that the edges are serrated not smooth). I hadn't even noticed that last one until I got up to that question in the key. I had to look out the window and take a picture!


The fact that the leaflets are all the same size and are arranged in an opposite (symmetrical instead of alternate) pattern finally gets me to Ash trees. Hooray!


But what kind of ash tree is it? (There's green, white, blue, and black.) The following questions in the key involve looking at the size of the leaves as well as some finer structures on them. Since my leaves are not yet fully developed (the largest I can reach is still only 2 1/2" long), I'm going to wait until they are all done growing to continue with the leaf id. To be continued...


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Since I've been watching the leaves open up on my tree, I've been feeling a little disappointed because I haven't really felt like there was that much change going on. The leaves aren't becoming exponentially larger each day or anything. But then I realized that the leaves were moving farther and farther away from the tips of the twigs.

When the buds began to open last week, they were coming right out of the terminal buds on the tips of the twigs. Look at how they were stretching the bud open!


Two days later (just before all the flowers fell off), they had begun to pull apart from each other and away from the bud.


The next day, they weren't much more open, but they seemed a little taller. And the bud had completely disappeared! Perhaps it was stretched too far and fell off along with all the flowers?


On Sunday, I noticed a clear difference in the height of the leaves.


They were much farther away from the tip of the twig than before. And in the center, I could see one thick shoot that all the leaves were branching off from.


Is this how the twig grows longer? Will that thick green shoot in the middle be the continuation of this twig?


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This week, instead of Saturday story time, we have Sunday game day! We're playing Max, a cute little co-operative game for kids 4 and up.


My daughter got this game for her 4th birthday and the whole party ran off to play the game as soon as she'd unwrapped it.


Max is a cat, sleeping on his mat on the porch. At the tree stump a few steps away, three little critters -- a chipmunk, a mouse and birdie -- have just noticed Max. And Max has just noticed them. The goal of the game is for the kids to get all three critters to the safety of the big tree before Max gets them!


On your turn, you roll two dice. Each green dot lets you move one of the critters one space toward the tree and each black dot lets Max move one space closer to the critters. You can see the problem here: three critters to move, but just one Max. He sneaks up on them very quickly. 


When things get dicey for one of the critters, the kids can decide to put a yummy treat out on the porch for Max, which lures him back home so he has to start from the beginning again. But there are only four treats available to tempt Max back to the start. Once they're gone, there's no stopping Max.

The game is full of simple logical decisions for kids to make: which critter would be best to move now? how close can Max get before we have to send him back? Sometimes a critter has to be sacrificed to save the others, but more often than not, the kids get the satisfaction of seeing all the cute critters arrive safely in the tree. And there is much rejoicing.


Hooray for the tree!

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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