Recently in trees are weird Category

stoplight trees

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Every time I walk or drive down the street, I am amazed at the sight of the three ash trees across from my house. I've started calling them the stoplight trees.

September 23rd

I've been following their progress for a couple of weeks now. The girl ash tree on the left is still way ahead of the other two. Her leaves are mostly orangey-brown and a ton of them have fallen off the tree. The middle tree, which we recall is both male and female, looks just like the girl tree looked two weeks ago. It's leaves are mostly yellow and the fallen leaves are starting to pile up below it.


And the male ash tree on the right has still barely begun.

September 26th

A quick check today:

September 28th

I am still blown away by the fact that these are the exact same type of tree! Who would have thought that the sex of the tree would make such a difference in the fall?!

super fruit

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Lookie what's ripening on the trees!

An ailanthus down the street is making some funny little clusters of fruit.


These look like little tadpoles or something. And there are TONS of them. Not surprising that the super tree is a BIG producer of fruit. The ailanthus by our parking spot, however, has none of these.... I think I just learned something else about the ailanthus: it's got male and female trees. Congratulations, it's a boy!

Right next to my boy ailanthus is a tree I tried to identify back in the spring. From looking at the leaves, I'd guessed it might be a chestnut. But now that I can see the fruit, I think I have to change my mind.


That there is black walnut fruit! So says my favorite tree id site, What Tree is It?


Hmmm... not edible. Good to know!

If I'd thought about it, I could have guessed that it wasn't a chestnut, because I'm already watching a chestnut and it has the cool spiky, blotchy fruits on it right now. Here are the chestnut fruits last week, about two weeks after I first noticed them starting to change.


Fruits are so cool!

skin peel

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The sycamore trees in my neighborhood seem to be beating the summer heat by peeling off their bark!


Isn't that awesome looking? Check out a close-up.


That is just wacky. I swear they weren't peeling like this before we left for vacation in June. I knew that they did this - how else would they get that cool camouflage patterned bark?


That was a sycamore trunk that I spotted back in February. In March, I identified a baby sycamore down the street with beautiful silver gray bark with subtle variations in color. (It also had a town id tag around one of its branches.)


Now the baby sycamore looks like this.


There's really a contrast between the two colors of bark now. And lookie, it busted its tag! Did the peeling bark do that!? When I look up, I can actually see small patches of bark that have fallen off and were caught in the branches.


Why do these trees do this??? Is that how they grow? Like molting? Does it keep the bark and tree healthier? Is that "new" bark underneath? I don't get it.

So I looked it up! Turns out the sycamore's bark is too rigid to allow for the regular growth of the trunk, so as the trunk grows, the outer bark cracks and then falls off. So it is like molting. In little patches. Eew.
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.

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.)

what the...?

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Is this the weirdest looking plant you have ever seen, or what?


It looks like a plant with dinosaur plates along its back. It looks like a bug pretending to be a plant. It looks like it's covered with wooden razor blades.


How do those things even stand up all along the branches?

Plants are weird.

tree antlers

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My tree has antlers! A few weeks after I started watching my tree, I noticed that there are two young twigs growing out of the main trunk about 7 feet up and 5 feet below the main branches. They look just like antlers!


Now that I know how to look at a twig to see how old it is, I thought I'd see exactly how old these silly tree antlers are.


(Click to see a bigger version.) From counting the rings that mark the terminal bud scars, I'm estimating that this twig antler has been growing for about eight years. Which means that these antlers started to grow around the same year we moved in!

So is anything growing on these antlers?


Yes siree. They have the same buds as the twigs above, only they're a little smaller and a little darker. It looks like that one in the center is just on the brink of opening up though.

Another twiglet off of one of the antlers has even smaller buds, but one of them has definitely opened. I see those purple dots in there!


It'll be interesting to watch these twigs that are so much closer to the ground. How is life different for them down here? 

Fun fact: Did you know that you can tell the age of a goat by counting the rings on its horns? A deer's antlers, however, are actually very different from horns and fall off and regrow every year!

October 2011

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the trees are weird category.

tree math is the previous category.

twigs is the next category.

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