Recently in galls and sticky burrs Category

plan b: other ashes

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The question still remains, what I am going to do now that the men with the pointy sticks have cut down all the branches and twigs from the tree that I've been watching since February. I can't reach any of the twigs on the tree outside the window any more and I can't see anything up close. Fall is coming and I want to watch!

My first thought was to take a look at some of the other ash trees in the neighborhood to see if any of them had some low branches that I could actually reach and examine closely.

Most do not.

But the girl ash tree across the street does have a few branches I can get to.


Interestingly, some of the features on her twigs are quite different from those on the twigs of my boy tree. The first difference I noticed was that this year's growth (the lighter colored bark extending up from the tip of the twig down to the first "knuckle" or ring-like bud scar) is much longer. Like four times as long! I wonder why she managed so much more growth than my tree did. Does it have something to do with the side of the street? Does this side get more sun? Or is this tree maybe healthier? Or is it because it is a female ash tree?

Another thing I noticed was that the developing buds on her twigs are much smaller than they were on my tree's twigs. Just try to find the lateral buds on the female ash tree! The lateral buds should be developing right above the spot where the leaf stem joins to the twig. 


Um, where are they? My tree already had big, fat buds that I speculated were close to being done developing. Look, here's how they looked on July 21st, when we came back from vacation.


See! Is this a boy/girl thing too? I'm thinking it might be. Last week, I picked up a twig that was blown off of another boy ash tree down the street during Hurricane Irene and look at the buds on this guy!


Apparently while the girl ash trees are making like 5,000 samaras and seeds, the boys are developing these big fat buds.


Hmmm, maybe the boy buds and girl buds are just different. I mean the boy buds have to make those flowers and all that pollen, so if the girls don't have to do that, maybe they don't need to make giant buds like this.


Speaking of boy stuff, remember how I found those sticky burr things on my tree way back in February and figured out that they were galls created by tiny mites growing in and feeding on the male ash tree flowers? Well, I never saw any new ones develop on my tree, but during my examination of the other ashes in the neighborhood this week, I discovered that a couple of the other boy ashes developed some new galls this spring.


See how they're green instead of the brown that the galls were on my tree? They're this green color in the season when they first develop. Then they turn brown and stay on the tree for a year or two. It's kinda gross to think that this tree had (has??) tiny bugs in it that made these. Ewwww. I wonder why there were (are??) so many of them on these trees across the street but not on my tree.


One more fascinating thing about this discovery. The tree that I found these on is a boy and a girl tree. Some ashes are like that, producing both girl and boy flowers. So this tree has areas where there are lots of samaras and then also areas like this where there are galls (which develop only in male flowers). And, if you look real close, you can see that the twig that these galls are on has big lateral buds growing right where the leaf stems attach to the tree. Well, I'll be darned!

sticky burr: adventures in burrwood forest

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Story time! This week on the tree blog I asked a lot of questions and made some amazing discoveries about the mysterious sticky burrs on my tree, so I thought it'd be appropriate to read a story about a sticky burr. This week's book is a comic book that my two 9 year-old boys love: Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest by John Lechner (which has a sequel Sticky Burr #2: The Prickly Peril).

sticky_burr_book1.jpg  sticky_burr_book2.jpg

The first book opens with the definition of sticky burr. Finally! I keep using that word because that's what the flower galls in my tree looked like to me, but I couldn't quite say exactly what a sticky burr was.


The story is about one sticky burr in particular, the aptly named Sticky Burr.

Here he is to tell us some more about sticky burrs.


Turns out sticky burrs are prickly in more than one way. They also argue and some of them like to be mean and snag on things to annoy other animals. Sticky Burr, however, is a good burr.


So this is the story of Sticky Burr, who has an adventure. He and his dragonfly friend, Draffle, fly to the legendary Maze Tree.


Cool tree, huh? Sticky Burr's friend, Walking Stick, will now tell us a little something about trees.


So Sticky Burr gets lost in the maze of holes and tunnels in the maze tree, but he's a clever burr, so he manages to find his way out and rescue a group of lightning bugs along the way. They, in turn, come and rescue Sticky Burr when mean old Scurvy Burr tries to kick him out of the forest. Hooray. Turns out Sticky Burr got into a sticky situation with a tree once before.


Oh yes, there's music for this song too! In fact, the music is in the book. And there's a TON of other things on the Sticky Burr website. There's a map of Burrwood forest, a series of comics, which were the inspiration for the book, a journal written by Sticky Burr, some activity sheets like this one of sticky burr in the maze tree....
And there's a movie! It's so cute. You gotta watch it. Seriously, go now.

So, that's the whole Sticky Burr empire. Who comes up with a whole sticky burr empire? The author, John Lechner, is obviously unbelievably creative and all his work seems to focus on the natural world. Check out his own blog, the Untended Garden, where he explores nature in books, art, films and new media.

the gall

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After my declaration on Monday that my tree is an ash tree, I started looking around on the internet for pictures of ash trees and ash tree twigs just to make sure. When I found this photo on the blog of a naturalist photographer, I was sure I had the right thing:


It's the sticky burrs! She called them ash flower galls and said that now that she knew what they were, she was seeing them everywhere. OMG, she knows what they are! Here it was, the mystery of the sticky burrs, almost revealed. Okay, are you ready?!

Well, I was right in my last post to suspect that the sticky burrs were not, in fact, signs of new growth, but, rather, something left over from the year before. But they are not shriveled up leaves from last year. Oh no, it's way weirder. Galls are growths caused by tiny bugs (eriophyid mites) feeding on and laying eggs in the developing flowers. (Ew.) This causes the flowers to sort of overproduce and you get this swollen growth. (Yuck.) They do not harm the tree. (Phew!) And they can hang around for a couple of seasons, which explains why they look so brown and dried up and why my tree probably has fewer than some other trees. This site gives some more details on ash flower galls and this one is a more scientific look at the galls and the mites. But I like this little entry from a lawn & tree company in Kansas City that reassures ash tree owners (and watchers, like me) that the galls are really just a cosmetic problem. (Hey, who you calling ugly?)

The discovery of the ash galls led me to learn another fascinating thing about my tree. I have a BOY ash tree. Who knew that trees were boys or girls?? Apparently, ash trees are dioecious, which means a single ash tree will produce either only male or only female flowers. And these little mites only eat and grow on the male ash tree flowers. So, not only was I wrong about the sticky burrs, but I was also wrong to declare my tree a girl back when I introduced her, um, him to you.

Well, consider my little tree-observing world rocked.

the mystery of the sticky burrs

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I search my tree every morning for more sticky burrs. So far I've found about 10, but all of them are too far away from my window to really get a good look at. I took a few moments the other day to draw a few that I could see the closest. They seem to come in three different varieties: on the tip of a twig, on the side of a twig, and on a stem on the side of a twig.


Here are the best photos I could get of the sticky burrs on my tree. This one is on the tip of a twig.


The one is on the side.


These have tiny little stems.


And these seem to be growing between two branches.


Overall, these sticky burrs remain a mystery. What's frustrating me is that I don't really see the ones on my tree developing into anything. And I haven't discovered any new ones in a while. So I'm wondering if these maybe aren't quite what I thought they were. Is it possible that these are just leftovers from last fall? Perhaps they're not the beginning of anything, but the end. They could be withered leaves. Which might explain why some of them have stems. And why they are all brown and dry looking.  (Because I would expect new, spring leaves to be green.) Hmmmm...

I wish something else would happen to give me a clue!


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With the help of my husband, I've figured out how to take some really close-up pictures of the buds on my tree and they look much more complex than I had perceived before. What appeared to be one simple bud on the tip of a branch now reveals itself to be made up of several different parts.There's a sort of center bud and two darker-colored, um, let's call 'em wings, on either side. Each bud seems to have this structure. Did these wings used to cover the whole inner bud? Are they pulling away from it? Or are they growing alongside it? Or were they always there and I just hadn't been able to identify them before now?


What amazes me is how this whole bud system seems to arrange itself in threes. I've already noticed that the branches coming off the twigs come out in pairs - that is to say, there'll be the center branch of the twig and then two branches coming off of it in opposite directions. Like this: \ I / . Three. Furthermore, the tip of each twig has a center bud and then a bud on either side of it - 3 buds. And now I see that each bud itself is made of 3 little parts, the inner bud and the two wings. Three. It's a magic number. Is that the key to understanding this tree?

Coincidentally, the buds on my tree seem to be in three different stages. I took a few minutes to draw them.


Some of the buds on the tips of the twigs of my tree still look like one single pointy bud (#1 above), but most of the ones I can see near my window look like #2. I'm assuming they're opening. Bud # 3 is the only one of its kind I can see on the tree and it is amazing! From my window it looks like a bud that is either cracking open or being pushed to the side and has something resembling the sticky burr texture inside or behind it. But with the camera, it is even more intriguing.


And the super, mega, ultra close-up is insane.


OMG, What is that stuff in the middle?! Is that the sticky burr thing uncurling? Is that growing from the inside of the bud? And what is that long thing on the side of it? A leaf? Some part of the twig? Did it come from the bud or was it already there?

Wow. And I thought they were just buds.

it's a popcorn tree

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I've been stuck thinking about that one tree I saw on my Valentine's Day walk with all the sticky burrs.


What struck me besides the fact that the tree was crazy looking with all those prickly balls on it, was that it looked so much like my tree, just covered with sticky burrs. The bark was very similar and the branches seemed to grow the same way as well. But my tree didn't have any of those, uh, things on it. Or did it? After a day of thinking about it, I wasn't so sure, so I decided to really search my tree.  And sure enough...


I found two!


OMG, are more on the way? Is it going to be filled with those things like the other tree?

Now, I was so curious about the sticky burrs and what they might be, I started looking for some hanging low down on another tree somewhere where I could get a better look at them. The other day, I hit the jackpot.


Turns out that up close, they look just like sticky burrs. But then there's this little leaf popping out of them. Could this be how the buds open up? Are they like popcorn kernels that just burst open all at once? I kind of thought that buds would unfold all lovelyly like a flower opens. This does not look like it does that. (Note: This tiny twiglet is only about three inches long and each of the little popcorn buds is about a centimeter big.)

So I run upstairs to tell my husband that I think I've discovered something about my tree. I tell him about the sticky burrs and that I think my tree will soon be covered in these popcorn buds. He thinks for a while and then says "oh yeah, it does that."

That. Is. So. Cool.

In the three days since I took these pictures of the first popcorn buds on my trees, I've found six more. They're small and hard to find, but I swear there's a new one every day! It's been really sunny recently. Lots of light. And we had a little warm spell on Valentine's. I wonder if that's why my tree is getting started with its popcorn buds now.

But why was the other tree already covered in them when my tree only had two? (Not that I'm jealous or anything.) Why does one tree get ahead of another? It's across the street. Does it get more light? Is it not about the light? Maybe there's better soil in the sidewalk cutout over there. Maybe it's older? Younger? Maybe every tree is just a little different like kids learning to walk or talk.

I'm so excited that something's happening!

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the galls and sticky burrs category.

fruit is the previous category.

girls vs. boys is the next category.

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