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leaders of the pack

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The stoplight trees - that were red, yellow, and green back in September - are now all done! All the leaves are gone from all three trees.

Here's their transformation in the last couple of weeks....

October 16th

Two weeks ago, there were still leaves on all three trees. The left tree was full of fruit (brownish red samaras) and the tree on the right was still yellowing.

October 20th

Four days later, the tree on the left and the one in the middle had precious little leaves remaining and the one on the right had lost a large percentage of its leaves. Rainy days in between led to a large number of leaves coming down suddenly.

October 24th

Four days after that and it's pretty much all over! The tree on the left has all her fruit and maybe a half dozen leaves on the very lowest twig. The middle tree is bare. And the tree on the right almost bare. Eight days and they're all set for winter.  But when are those samaras going to fall off of the female tree? Why hasn't she let go of them yet?? They weren't there in the winter, so I know they don't stick around forever.

Check out the bare branches on the female tree (you can see the fruit hanging from the higher branches at the top of the picture):

October 24th

Two months ago that same group of twigs looked like this:

August 25th

I'd forgotten how the trees sort of disappear when the leaves aren't there. You just see right through them. That first picture looks like a picture of the house, not of branches. What a difference the leaves make.


And all that's left of these leaves is scars on the twig, a mess on the street, and some buds waiting for next spring.

Hey, can you see the green on the trees in the background there? There's actually still quite a lot of green around. I'm surprised at how green some of the other trees still are at the end of October. These ash trees really are way ahead. The stoplight trees and my own tree are practically bare, while their neighbors are still putting on a show of fall colors.

a honey locust and my ash tree


that's gonna leave a mark

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Let's look at leaf scars!


When the leaves fall off the twig, they leave behind a scar where they had originally grown out of the twig. The white scar above is the typical "smile" shaped leaf scar that you see on ash tree twigs, particularly next to the terminal bud. This twig has just started losing the leaves at its tip. You can still see two of the petioles (stems) that connect the remaining leaves to the tip of the twig. Soon the bud will be surrounded only by scars.

Scars also remain on the side of the twig where leaves were attached.


See the new scar there! It's still sort of greenish. Amazing!

And on the other side of the same twig, there's another scar. (Recall that the ash tree has leaves in an opposite arrangement, which means that pairs of leaves grow in opposite directions on opposite sides of the twig, making a \ | / shape.)


Here's one last scar I spotted on a low branch of an ash tree across the street.


This one looks a little darker than the others. Maybe it's older? Maybe the petiole broke off a little differently. This picture also gives you a great look at the large scar that marks where the new growth began this season. That's one ugly scar!

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!

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.

buddy system

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The new buds on the green sections of the twigs are amazing.


They're really starting to look like the buds that were on the twigs back in February.


I wonder how much longer they'll continue to grow. One thing that seems to be happening is that they are becoming completely brown (like the buds above). Many of the terminal buds still actually look like this:


Two sides are green just like the shoots (you can still see a narrow green stripe in the bud in the first picture above). And the two sides that are green are precisely the sides where new shoots would grow. Cool! I wonder if this one will develop another pair of shoots before it is done? I'm guessing not, because this twig already has 5 pairs of leaves on it and I have yet to see a twig with more than 5 pairs of leaves.

For example, this is one of the twigs with the most growth and it's got 5 pairs of leaves branching off of it.


And here's the twig closest to my window.


5 pairs of leaves. And the twig next to it:


1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

There are plenty of smaller twigs that have fewer than 5 leaf pairs, but all of these larger twigs have 5. I feel like 5 may be some sort of maximum number for new growth. Could it be that my tree has all the leaves now that it is going to get this year? And all of its new buds for next year?

a weight problem

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I'm amazed at how the branches on my tree continue to become fuller and fuller, filling out the empty space with more and more leaves. Here's how one branch obscured the view of houses across the street on May 23rd:


The foliage was a little thicker six days later on May 29th.


On June 7th, there was even more green, especially close to the camera, encroaching on my view of the branch.


And today it looks like this:


And did you notice something else changing? It's sinking! If you look back at the pictures, you can see that the branch is hanging lower now than it used to. I've noticed this about the one twig I've been watching too. It's the twig closest to my living room window and it used to stick up straight right in front of the window. Now it hangs so low it's almost out of view and I have to lean down to measure the leaves.


For a direct comparison, check out these two pictures of the tree taken from my window. The first was taken on the first day of this blog, February 8th. My twig is the one on the right that is coming toward the window.


Four months later, on June 10th, there are leaves everywhere and my twig is weighed down so much that its leaves are barely in the picture on the bottom right. I would never have imagined that it would move so much! 


Amazing! I wonder exactly how heavy all those leaves are?

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.

it's all relative

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June started with a big storm. The tree was whipped up against the window over and over and the boys stayed up to watch the lightning. In the morning, we noticed that a broken branch was hanging off of the little sycamore tree down the street and found twigs from my tree littering the ground. I brought a couple of twigs from my tree inside to study more closely. (I've never taken anything off of my tree - I just couldn't bring myself to destroy even a tiny piece - so I was kind of excited about being "allowed" to take these inside to examine.)


This twig was so interesting because all of leaves its leaves are squashed together pointing in the same direction. They weren't open like the leaves I see from my window. I wonder if this branch might have actually been hanging upside down? Whether they were pointing up or down or were crowded on one side, the leaves have clearly grown this way. Looking at the stem, I can see that instead of having the leaf stems grow in truly opposite directions, each one curves over in the one direction.


This view of the twig also provides a great look at the current growth. The new growth is the green stem at the end of the twig. Look at all that that's shot out of the twig in the last month and a half! This twig also has a tiny twiglet branching off of it with proportionally smaller growth.

The new stems on the tree seem to be similar, with larger twigs having more growth. Here's another tiny twiglet:


 And some longer growth on a larger twig:


The longest growth I can see from my window is on a twig I can't reach. It looks to have grown about 4" so far this spring!



Well, it seems impressive until you walk by the Ailanthus. Wanna see how much it's grown this spring?


That's about a foot and a half so far! Dang.

PS - In the same four months, my boys have each grown 3/4".

i see dead branches

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The more the leaves on my tree grow, the more apparent it is how many of the branches are dead.


The branches on the top left of the picture are the ones I often take a photo of to follow how the tree fills out. But right below them are a whole bunch of dead branches. They've never had any buds. They've never changed. They're the lowest branches on the tree (about 8 feet up). Are they dangerous? Could they break off more easily? Should someone prune them? Could that actually help the tree?

What really surprised me, however, is how many of the branches in the crown are dead.


That just makes me sad.

two months in the life of a tree

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Every day for two months I've woken up and checked on the tree.


The kids often investigate with me. My little girl likes to use the 'noculators'.

The first thing we notice now when we look out the window these days is how every branch is studded with these rounded, swollen, opening buds.


It's something you probably wouldn't notice down below just walking along the street, but so much has changed up here. For comparison, here's a picture of my twig in the very first week of this blog. You can see how the branches behind appear almost smooth, with the early buds just small bumps.


And, my how those buds have grown! Through the 'noculators' we can see that they are now almost completely open.


This is how they looked in February:


As amazing as this transformation has been so far, we all know that the really dramatic changes are still to come!

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About this Archive

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

trees are weird is the previous category.

welcome is the next category.

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