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just a trim

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You might want to sit down for this....

Are you ready?

So, when I woke up the other morning, my kids tell me that something happened outside. With the tree. Apparently a couple of men came. With a long pointy stick. And they cut off everything that I've been watching, measuring, and photographing for the last six months. I can't reach a single twig now.


It seems that the men with the long pointy stick came to cut off the dead branches that were hanging down precariously from the lowest limb (I've marked those spots with black circles in the picture above). When they were all done, the kids overheard them say something like, "it's up against the house, cut those too." And they cut off the two thriving branches marked by green circles above. The one on the left was actually five or six small branches that I'd photographed repeatedly to gauge the progress of leaf growth. And the one on the right was the one long branch that had all the twigs on it that I'd been watching.

They even cut off the antlers.


I'm trying to be okay with this. I mean, it probably is way better for the tree. Those dead branches really had to go. They could have come down on someone in a storm, anytime. And I understand why they want to keep things clear of the houses. But I'm still sad about all that beautiful green gone.


June 16th and today.


And I'm sad I won't get to watch my branches continue their change through fall and back to winter. How am I going to see what happens to the leaves when they change? How am I going to see what happens with the buds? How am I going to see what is left behind when a leaf falls off? I have got to come up with a plan B.

Hey, wait a minute, I think I know what happened to the new growth on the ailanthus tree.

long time, no see, tree

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Alright, it's been over a month since we've taken a look at the tree. Has anything changed?

Well, the leaves have continued to darken and wither. They were already starting to look older and a bit wrinkly in June. At the end of July, when we returned home from our vacation, they looked like this.


You can see the toothed edges so clearly now! I remember having difficulty noticing that when I was first trying to identify the characteristics of the ash tree leaves in May. And the green is so dark now too. You can really see the structure of the veins: almost perfect opposite branching off of a central vein. Typical for my tree.

Looking below the leaves reveals the real dramatic change of the last month.


The new growth from the spring has changed color! The new section of the twig, where the leaves have grown, has changed from green to a light brownish/gray. What a surprise! I was not expecting that!


Here's the scar where the new growth for this year began, growing out of the terminal bud at the tip of last year's growth. You can see how the color of the new section is changing and will eventually look like that from last year.


And the buds at the tips of this year's growth look much more fully formed than they did a month ago. You take those green stems away, and it could totally be my twig back in February! In fact, this twig seems to have a strange nail-looking ridge beneath the terminal bud just like I saw on one of the twigs I was watching in March. Now that I see it here, green, next to stems holding leaves, I think I know what it is! It looks just like the base of a new stem for a new leaf, doesn't it? That would be exactly the spot for a new pair of leaves too: off-set 90 degrees from the previous set of leaves, right? So I guess this last set just didn't develop. Maybe it kind of started and then stopped. Or maybe that's something that the twig does to sort of seal up the terminal bud.

Okay, I feel like this tree has done all the growing it's going to do. I mean, those buds will probably grow some more and the new growth will probably darken, but there's not going to be more growth or more leaves. So what is the tree doing now? Is it making food for winter? Does it even need to do that? Is it just being a tree: providing food, shelter, shade and oxygen for animals? I wonder when the leaves will start changing colors? Will the ash be an early color-changer or late? What will the scar look like when the leaves do fall off? I feel a little like I did in February, like things are sort of stable now and I'm just waiting, waiting for any signs of the big change to come. Fall is going to be exciting!

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.

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?!

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....

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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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?

from flowers to leaves in one day

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On the very first day of spring, the buds on my tree began to open as if on cue to reveal purple flowers. Today, on Arbor Day, the tree shook off the last of those flowers and transformed itself into a green leafy tree just like the maples that bloomed last week.

Only yesterday, heavy, wilted flowers still hung from all the twigs.


Small leaves had just begun shooting out at the tips.


After a rainstorm yesterday evening, the road and sidewalk were littered with the flowers.


And in the sunshine this morning, the twigs were bare save for stunning open leaves at every tip.


They're so lovely, they're almost more flowery than the flowers ever were.


A good day for a tree.

watching the leaves grow

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(All pictures taken yesterday, April 26, after a week of warm weather, including three days of rain.)

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