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how does 2011 measure up?

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Well, after a couple of days, the twig I found on the ground and brought in the other day has started to look pretty sad. With the leaves drying out and curling up, I found myself noticing the twig itself more and remembered that I could tell how much a twig had grown each year by looking for the rings or knuckles (they're actually scars from the old terminal bud).


The current growth ends at the tip (the top circle) and goes down to where the green stem ends. That's the first ring on the twig. Going down to the second ring, we can see that last year's growth was just a bit more than the twig managed to grow this year before it was blown off of the tree. The two previous years both look to have been years with smaller growth. And then, four years ago, the growth was much bigger. I recall that when I looked for rings on my twig before, I noticed that the growth from four years ago - 2007 - was like three times a long as the other years. I remember looking up the weather for that year and seeing that it was one of the warmest years on record. Having noticed the same growth pattern on this twig, I thought I'd take a closer look at the temperature that spring. I looked up the high temperatures from April 18th, when I first spotted green tips sprouting from the terminal buds on my tree, through June 9th for 2007 (blue) and 2011 (red). I made a little graph so I could see exactly how much warmer 2007 was than this year.


You can see that there are barely any points where the 2011 graph is above that of 2007. And it looks like it was significantly warmer for a long period in early May of 2007. From watching the development of my tree, I'd guess that that is a key period for early leaf and shoot development. That might account for the difference. But still, 2011 doesn't look too bad actually. I wonder if 2011 could end up being a big growth year after all. Who says these stems are done growing?

I snapped a picture of the twig closest to my living room window so I could compare the new growth this year with the previous year's growth. 


This year's growth ends where the green ends and last year's growth ends at the ring at the bottom of the picture. Judging from the photo, I'd say it hasn't yet grown as much as it did last year. 


I pulled out the tape measure to be sure. Last year's growth measures about 3 1/2" and this year's growth was 2" last time I checked. Is this stem really going to get 1 1/2" longer? The leaf cluster already has five pairs of leaves. If it keeps growing, will the shoot grow more leaf pairs or will these grow farther apart from one another (like the leaflets seem to be doing)?

A quick look at another twig near my window also shows that 2011 hasn't yet lived up to 2010.

And a look at the temperatures would suggest that 2011 won't live up to 2010 either.


Again, that blue line is constantly above this year's red line! I wonder if this is coincidence or if the warmer temperatures in these crucial weeks really did make the difference.

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.

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?!


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 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....

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?)

meet my tree

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This is my tree.  It's just a standard city tree, planted in a little cutout of the sidewalk. It tends to lean out over the street like most city trees, probably because they are pruned to keep away from the houses and power lines. This lucky tree doesn't have any power lines to contend with (unlike its neighbor to the left there). I chose this tree because we have such a good view of it from inside the house. I can observe its changes directly from our living room window, as well as from the windows in the kids' rooms. In the summer, our windows always seem filled with green, like we're living in the treetops. In the winter, however, the tree almost disappears as we look right through the naked branches to see how much snow there is outside today. (I posted a picture of our current view of the street and tree in my first post.)

So just how tall is this tree? I called upon a few little helpers to figure it out.


Okay, the tree is much bigger than a little girl (my almost 4 year-old daughter, to be specific). But how much bigger?


Ah, that much bigger. So my tree is almost 7 1/2 little girls tall. It is also...


...almost exactly 6 big boys tall (that's my son B there).

Oh, you want that in numbers? Well, each lg (little girl unit) is 42 inches and each bb (big boy unit) is 55 1/2 inches, so that puts the tree somewhere between 315 and 333 inches, or 26 1/2 to 27 3/4 feet tall.

Fun fact: The world's tallest trees measure over 370 feet tall! That's 80 big boys and over 100 little girls high!

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

sycamore is the previous category.

trees are weird is the next category.

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