Jul 102012
 

When fall appears, I am in the mood for walnut trees.  There is just something about them, and my past, that link the two together.  When I was looking for a tree to post about this week, I realized I had not shared with you all this great tree.  I know it is not fall yet, but that is okay.  It is cooler than it was last week and that is enough for me.

As with any tree, this is a great tree if planted in the right location.  If it isn’t, then it will either be an annoyance or a problem.  I hope that you do not take the rest of the post as being a negative against this species.  It really is a good tree, just not very well suited for urban areas.

 

There is more than one kind of walnut tree here in the United States.  The most commonly thought of is the “American walnut” or the “black walnut”.

A second kind is the “butternut tree”, also called “white walnut”, which I usually think of as a cousin of the walnut family, rather than a different kind of walnut tree itself.  This is not true of course, which I would know better if I actually remembered the scientific name of the butternut tree.

A third kind of walnut is the “English walnut”.  It is not a native tree, though, like a lot of things not native, it can be planted here.

The walnut tree I am talking about today is the black walnut (Juglans nigra).

Common in the eastern and southern portions of the United States, this tree is a valuable lumber and nut tree.

I grew up with several of these in our yard.  So, by personal experience I will tell you they are messy. You definitely do not want to plant these as shade for parking areas as their nuts are hard and relatively large, about 2 inches in diameter.  It is also hard to mow over, not just the nuts, but also all the leaves and the rachis (the part the leaves attach to).

Taken by: Bruce Marlin from Wikimedia Commons (original source)

Speaking of the nuts, when they are first falling off the tree, the green outer husk is very firm.  After some time this will begin to soften and turn black.  It is much easier to get the nut out of the husk at that point.  Just be careful because it does stain.  Not only hands but also clothing.  It can be hard to get out.  Another warning is that the outer husk can be

Due to certain chemicals given off by the tree, this is not one you want to have growing near your garden.  It discourages other plant from growing around it.

I can also share, from personal experience, that the nut has a strong flavor when cooked. Perhaps this is why you don’t see too many recipes for walnut stew.  If I would have thought of this as an adventurous adolescent it may have saved me years of not being able to eat these nuts due to vivid memories of exactly how strong of a flavor they can be.  Now, please don’t let this scare you off.  The nuts really do have a good flavor to them and are great on salads or crushed and put into or on brownies.  It only took 3 or 4 years before I could eat them again, and since that time I have continued to like the nut … just not in stews.

When we first moved into our current house, there was a tree that I thought could be a black walnut, except its’ bark and shape didn’t seem right.  Come latter summer and fall there were no fruit.  Sure enough, it wasn’t a black walnut.  It was a Tree of Heaven.  Seems I’m not the only one who thought these two look a lot alike.  With the drought we also have not mowed our grass for a month or so.  The comment on root sprouts from the Tree of Heaven is very much accurate.  A black walnut does not do this and is also a good clue as to whether your tree is what you think it is.

The tree grows relatively straight, with good form.  It is often grown in plantations for either the nuts, the wood or both.  It is also has a place in the woods, as it offers food for squirrels and mice.

The wood is valued as lumber for several reason.  It is strong (hard), stains well, and can be used in a variety of applications.  I tend to think of furniture, but it also is used for cabinets and gunstocks, among other things.

Feb 292012
 

 

The tuliptree is one of my favorite trees and, to me, one of the easier ones to identify. No, that is not why it is one of my favorite trees.  The tall, straight trunk of the tuliptree gives it such a majestic look.  Even the shape of the leaves adds to its splendor.  They remind me of flower petals; not harsh and pointed, nor narrow and pinched. The leaves are ‘full’ and rounded, even if they do come to a point at the end of each lobe.  I’ve noticed the tuliptrees near my house still have parts of their fruits attached to the ends of their branches.  Even these stand upright and straight, as if daring the winter wind to get the better of them.  No slouching for this tree.  The flowers of the tuliptree are large enough to see from the ground and do look like actual flowers, as opposed to, say, the maple tree’s flowers.

 

Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Common name: tuliptree, tulip-poplar, yellow-poplar
Genus: Liriodendron
Species: tulipifera
Family: Magnoliaceae (magnolia family)
 

Identifying characteristics: a straight trunk, large tree with neatly furrowed bark.  The leaves are symmetrical, 4-lobed, alternate on the twig, and are about 6 inches long.  I learned the bud by being told it looks like a duck’s bill, and that it does.  The buds are made up on two scales in a oval-ish shape.  This tree is known as a good tree for timber due to the lack of limbs on the lower part of the tree.

The tuliptree is also the state tree of Indiana.

Other links:

Virginia Tech – has some really good up close photos of the bark and the bud

Pollen Library – has a map showing distribution

Plants For A Future – this website has some additional interesting information, including if there are any edible parts, other uses, and propagation information.  Personally I have not eaten any part of this tree and do not take responsibility if you choose to do so.  I’m not promoting that anyone does, just found it interesting.  There is also a nice picture of the flower, though it looks a bit green (immature?).  (The photograph at the very bottom of this post is of a flower looking straight down on it. If you were to look at it from the side it would be yellow/cream and orange.)

USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

The above photograph is from the ’60’s.  I personally have not seen a tree this big, but that does not mean they are not still out there.  This is just to give you an idea of what would be possible if left to grow.

Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1995. Northeast wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. Northeast National Technical Center, Chester.

 

Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1995. Northeast wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. Northeast National Technical Center, Chester.

 
 
This is part of the “Tree of The Week” series.  Each week I will be posting information about a specific tree species.  I know not everyone is from the same part of the country, so I will try to spread the love around.
If you would like to practice, or learn, tree identification along with me please do so. It is always more fun to learn something with someone else.  Let me know how it is going.
My main resource for the Midwest is a book I have been using for many years, Trees of the Central Hardwood Forests of North America. This book also served me well when I worked in the South, though I would not recommend it be your sole resource if you live there. I will add links, especially, to images online.  The real life thing is best, but pictures work if you are unable to have a live example in front of you.
Feb 232012
 
I am starting a new series called, “Tree of The Week”.  Each week I will be posting information about a specific tree species.  I know not everyone is from the same part of the country, so I will try to spread the love around.
If you would like to practice, or learn, trees along with me please do so. It is always more fun to learn something with someone else.  Let me know how it is going.
My main resource at home is a book I have been using for many years, Trees of the Central Hardwood Forests of North America. This book also served me well when I worked in the South, though I would not recommend it be your sole resource if you live there. I will add links, especially, to images online.  The real life thing is best, but pictures work if you are unable to have a live example in front of you.

 

The past couple of weeks I have taken several walks and always seem to be stepping on sweetgum balls.  So much so that I used them as an impromptu nature study lesson.  It started off by telling them what they were called (though at the time I had a bit of forgetfulness and call them “gum balls”).  Next I played the “can you find the tree this came from?” game.  That was pretty easy for the kids to figure out as there were plenty still on the trees.

I was not sure if any of it stuck. On the next walk one of the kids pointed to the balls and named them.  What?!  They were listening and remembered?! Positive praise was definitely in order.  “Good job remembering!  That’s right.”  So then we played the games of  “Can you find another tree that is the same?  One that is just like this one.”  Thankfully the next few trees we saw also had a companion. Hint: I did check the first time to make sure there was indeed a tree just like it in the yard.  I even pointed to some that were different, so they were sure to actually look and see if it was the same.

After that, every sweetgum tree we saw was pointed out to me with great excitement.  Being as I love trees, I always hoped to pass on some knowledge but was not sure how early to do so.  Well, it seems the answer landed in my lap without me having to figure it out.  I will save the harder lessons (telling trees apart by buds and bark) for a few years down the road.  Those concepts are still introduced in a very basic way (smooth vs. rough, bumpy vs. lines, white vs. dark, etc.)

This also reminded me that I have really been meaning to refresh my memory of trees.  I used to know a lot of them for work, though it has never been my strong suit.  Their interest lately and the quickness of learning made me think that I could refresh my memory along with teaching them.  They may not be able to tell a red oak from a bur oak, yet, but that does not mean that I can not keep pointing them out.  I will probably start them out on something easier next, like a sycamore.  We will save the bur oak lesson for a later date.

 

 

Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

Common name: sweetgum, redgum
Genus: Liquidambar
Species: styraciflua
Family: Hamamelicdaceae (witch-hazel family)
 

Identifying characteristics: 5-point star shaped leaves, fruit is the shape of a ball with “cones” protruding out all over it

Other links:

http://www.duke.edu/~cwcook/trees/list.html – has some really good up close photos of the bark

http://www.pollenlibrary.com/map.aspx?map=Liquidambar-styraciflua.png – has a map showing distribution

W.D. Brush @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

 

 

Steve Hurst @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

 

USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database