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my tree in the fall

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It occurred to me that in the midst of all this leaf-watching, I hadn't taken a nice picture of how my tree is looking with the change of the season. So....

September 26th

September 27th

It's a little less green and has a few fewer leaves every day. (Not that it ever had that many!) The leaf pile below is certainly growing.


And my view from inside is getting yellower:

September 25th

September 28th

I wonder just how long it'll take for all the leaves to fall. A month? Longer? Start the clock!

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.

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?

are you one? are you two? are you three?

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Today I looked for terminal bud scars on my twig. (See my last post for some info on these.)


Wow, there it is. Rings right above where these two tiny twiglets branch off. Here you can really imagine how the center bud broke through the end of the twig right there.

I had to kind of hang out the window to get this next picture, but I managed to get most of the entire twig in the picture. I found four spots where there were terminal bud scars.


The tip of the twig is right up by my hand there. Going down from there, there are three scars about an equal distance apart and then the next is waaaaay down the twig (the perspective here makes it seem shorter, but the twig is growing directly towards the window, so that part of the twig is much farther away from me). After that scar, the twig bark gets much thicker and then it joins to a branch. Since each of these scars indicates where new growth began in the subsequent year, I'd say that my twig is maybe five or six years old. And from the relative growth, I'd conclude that four years ago was a good year for my tree! (For what it's worth, the National Climactic Data Center says that 2007 was the 10th warmest year on record for the US!)

what the rain revealed

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It snowed again here. And then it rained. I stuck my head out the window during a momentary pause in the rain today to get a close look at my tree. I was surprised to find that the rain has brought out some of the different features of the branches. The moisture has darkened the bark and I can see more details on it than I could when the tree was dry. I noticed one thing in particular.


Little white dots on the bark of my twig. I had actually been looking for these for a while. They were sort of one missing bit of information that I felt I needed to identify my tree confidently. Having found them, I'm going to go out on a limb (sorry!) and declare that my tree is an ash tree. Apparently ash trees also have these smiley face bumps under the buds. I can see these more clearly on my branch today as well. I have a smiley ash tree. Grin.

PS - I love this photo because I can see my twig so well, including all of its fabulous little reddish brown buds, but also I can see the main shape of my tree in the background. It has two arms that reach out horizontally and then two that go up. My twig lives on a branch off of the long horizontal limb on the left.

who are you? who, who, who, who?

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I've been curious about what sort of tree my tree is. I don't have any idea how to identify trees, except that acorns fall from oaks and chestnuts from chestnuts. But I don't remember ever finding any acorns or chestnuts under my tree, so I'm going to need some help.

Most sites I've found help you identify trees according to their leaves, like this one at the website, this one from Virginia Tech, and this site from the Ohio Public Library, which looks really fun.


But what if your tree looks like this?


Can you tell anything from a trunk and some twigs? Turns out you can. There's bark texture and color and branching patterns and bud shapes and sizes. Check out how to use these markers to identify trees and this guide to identifying winter trees. This Illinois website also has many helpful pictures of branches and seeds and twigs.

With the help of these sites, I think I may now know what kind of tree I have. Here are some clues taken from things I've noticed about my tree in the last two weeks. 1) The bark of my tree is brown with white and mossy green patches. 2) The bark of my tree has deep ridges. 3) The twigs on my tree seem to come out of the branches symmetrically, with two coming out in opposite directions from the same area. 4) The buds are small, round and orangey-brown.


Who am I?

top and bottom

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Today I went up to the boys' room upstairs to get a different look at my tree. I can see the very top of the tree here and can look down and get a good sense of how many major limbs there really are. In order to capture this, I decided to draw another picture.


I noticed A LOT of new things about my tree. First, I noted that there were four major limbs coming off of the trunk. One of them has split into two similarly wide limbs a few feet up. The next set of branches go off in all sorts of directions. Some have grown downwards, some horizontally, some started growing up and then curved down. What was really interesting, though, was how there would be a stretch of branch with no smaller branches coming off of it and then, bam!, it's like an explosion of new branches all growing out from about the same area. I tried to capture a few of these in my drawing. They looked like the streaks that fireworks leave in the sky, all bursting from the same spot. And, in fact, they are very reminiscent of the original four limbs all bursting out of the main trunk at around the same height. I can see this same pattern repeated in some of the smaller branches too. Fascinating.

Also fascinating was the fact that all of the next set of thinner branches (the ones that are covered with buds) all reach up towards the sky. Even though the branches they have grown off of may be horizontal or even hanging down, their little branches curve back up toward the sky. Neato. Is this to get the leaves up to the sun? How is it then that the larger branches and limbs don't also reach up to the sky? Weren't they the little branches at one point? Did they change direction as they got bigger?

Up here I could also see that the branch that is at the tallest point of the tree has broken, probably either from the strong winds or heavy snow we've had this winter. It looks like something large broke off, a whole branch with smaller branches perhaps. Maybe we'll find it buried under the snow beneath the tree someday. Near that big break, there is a smaller branch that has been ripped off the main branch but is still hanging on. I'm curious to see how this branch develops in the spring. Will a broken branch grow the same way the others do? Will the cut heal itself?

When walking by my tree later in the day, I noticed - I'll admit it, for the first time! - a set of small, thin, smooth, obviously young branches growing out of the main trunk much lower than the main limbs. I'd estimate that the main limbs branch off around 11 or 12 feet up, but these new branches just pop out of the trunk at about 7 feet up. They're so weird!


It's like they were just stuck on there, like funny antlers. There is nothing else growing around them. Big question of the day: Why on earth would these start growing here?

a closer look

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Okay, let's just get this out in the open. I'm not good at drawing. When my three year-old daughter comes to me and asks me to draw a dog or a lion or something, I honestly tell her that her drawing of it will be much better than mine. Her pictures seem much more meaningful. She draws what she's understood about the thing. Maybe that's just the face of a person, so she draws a giant face and adds a few stick legs and arms. (The Germans have a name for this that I love: Kopffüssler, or Headfooted). When I draw, I have no idea where to start. In some ways, I know way too much about dogs to ever draw a picture of one that is meaningful. In other ways, I know way too little. When was the last time I really looked closely at a dog?

For my investigation of my tree, I am supposed to do some drawing. The idea of these science drawings is to take a closer look, to "see" more. Our science textbook suggests that the primary benefit of drawing in science class is "simply that it takes time. It keeps children in the company of an object long enough for them to become familiar with it."[1] The point of this journal is for me to practice the type of science I'd like to teach, therefore, I'm going to draw. Like my daughter does. What do I see? What makes sense to me? I am encouraged by these words: "Freed from the imagined burden of having to create aesthetically pleasing pictures...focus on the subject at hand and learn about it through drawing."[2]

Alright. Here's a sketch of a small section of my tree, as viewed from our living room window.


There's really a lot going on in just this tiny bit that I drew. The bark on the trunk and the large horizontal branch is really rough and mossy looking. It looks like it's full of cracks like paint peeling. The long ridges in the bark run along the length of the branch like poorly built parallel streets, rarely straight, but rarely crossing or meeting.

As a part of my tree-watching assignment, I am supposed to pick one specific twig on my tree and watch it particularly in order to get a close up look at the changes that are happening. Sometimes you can't see the twig for the trees, you know! In order to get to know my twig well, I chose to draw it. It extends towards me off the branch I've drawn above at the point I've labeled with a teeny tiny asterisk.


One thing I noticed while drawing this was just how symmetrical the little branches are on this twig. I couldn't get the perspective right, but there'll be a pair coming out on either side from about the same point and then the next pair will be coming out opposite from each other and usually 90 degrees offset from the first pair. I wonder what causes branches to grow like that. Our textbook suggests that through drawing, "children begin to realize what they know and what they don't know."[3] I don't know why branches grow the way they do. Is it totally random? I did notice that most of the tips of each tiny branch of my twig seem to have three buds - one at the very tip and one on either side. This seems like it could be the reason for the symmetrical branching. The center bud continues the main center branch and the two on the sides become the two new branches going off in opposing directions. So what happened where there aren't two opposing branches? Was there no bud there for some reason? Why are there some branches with just one or two buds at the tip? Did something happen to the second or third buds there? Did they start growing and then break off?

Now, in case my drawings haven't been quite as meaningful to you as they were to me (my textbook comforts me here a little too: "the sloppy or incomplete appearance of a particular science drawing may belie the role that creating it played in helping [one] to learn"[4]), here's my twig in multicolored megapixels for you.


The photo really captures the different color of this branch from the main one. It is also amazingly smooth. I am guessing that it's because this branch is newer and younger. As you move away from the main branches, the smaller branches get smoother and lighter in color. Will they look like the larger branch there in ten years?

(You might notice that I'm highlighting my questions as I'm writing about my tree. I might want to come back to them, so I thought it would be helpful to make them easier to find in a post.)

[1] Doris, E. (2010). Doing What Scientists Do. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. p. 113
[2] Doris, p. 128.
[3] Doris, p. 113.
[4] Doris, p. 128.

more tree math

We estimated how tall my tree was yesterday, but just how big is all that branchy stuff on top (aka, the crown)?


Hmmm, if I could just pop one of my boys up on the roof of that white truck in front, then I could measure one big boy unit in this picture.


Through the magic of Photoshop, I've moved one boy from the sidewalk to the top of the truck, and it turns out that one big boy unit is pretty much the distance from the top of the truck to the top of the trunk where the branches begin. Result. Now, we pop the boy ruler into the other picture, adjust so he's the right height, and...


The crown of the tree is 14 big boys around! (He makes a nice tree, doesn't he?) Seriously, that's pretty big. I never realized how wide our tree is.  That's probably because only about 2/3 of the tree is actually in front of our house.

Of course, this is the tree's most impressive side. Because of the street and the house, she hasn't been allowed to branch out the other way. I wonder how big all that branchy stuff would be if I looked down at the tree from above. Well, I don't have a blimp and Google's satellite picture looks like it's from the spring or summer.


 So that won't work. We'll just have to measure the width of the crown from below.


Luckily, I've got two boys. One boy under the farthest reaching branch on one side, one boy under the farthest reaching branch on the other side, tape measure in between. The width between the branches on the wide side came out to be about 35 feet - that was two 16 foot tape measure lengths plus another 3 feet. Our next task - measuring the skinny side - required that someone go out into the street, so I let the boys hold the end of the tape measure on the sidewalk at the side of the house under where the branches almost touch it and I walked backward into traffic holding the tape measure. I got one 16 foot tape measure length out and then saw that I was hindering rush hour traffic too much, so I looked up, estimated that there were still about 3 feet to go and ran back to safety. 16 feet plus an estimated 3 feet of no-man's land makes the skinny part of the crown 19 feet wide. 


Just one last measurement to take.


Her trunk is exactly 3 feet around. Well, that was easy.

(Pop quiz: How observant are you? Without looking back, do you remember how fast you're allowed to drive on my street?)

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the meet the tree category.

maple is the previous category.

oak is the next category.

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