Friday, October 30, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

To Weep or Not to Weep: Tales of Grafts Gone Bad, Part 1

A weeping cherry is supposed to only weep, but this tree has a split personality.

The bottom of the tree is skirted with pendulous branches.

But the top of the tree has no signs of weeping at all. And looking up into the canopy, all you see are branches reaching for the sky.

A weeping cherry is often made by grafting: a non-weeping variety is left to grow until the trunk is about four or five feet tall, at which point the branches are cut off and the weeping cherry is grafted on. The original tree can still throw up branches from below the graft, and if these aren't cut off at the base, they can end up dominating the tree.

That's what has happened here. Both types of branches are different varieties; they might even flower at different times. The only way to make a uniform tree at this point would be to cut off all of the weeping branches.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Beeches are easy to fall in love with.

The canopies are full and round, with purple --almost black-- leaves where constantly exposed to the sun,

but the trunks are their main draw.

Something about them evokes elephant legs: the authority with which they grip the ground,

the way the bark wrinkles and folds,

their unreserved size...

Vista Avenue is lined with beeches, so tree (and pachyderm) lovers visiting Green-Wood should be sure to take this route. (The weeping beeches on Larch are also a sight).

Saturday, October 17, 2009


The flattened sprays of scale-like leaves make Thuja occidentalis easily recognizable. These immature cones will open up and brown as they ripen.

Arborvitae (meaning "tree of life") gets its common name from the medicinal properties of the bark and twigs. It's also called Northern white cedar.

This arborvitae has outgrown (or has been trained out of) the typically conical shape.

Heavy winds or loose soil might have caused this specimen to fall over.

Now each branch is like a mini-tree. Or, as a friends says, it's a single-tree forest of arborvitae.

Oak Silhouette

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bud Sporting in Alberta Spruce

The tree on the right is a dwarf Alberta spruce. It's a popular landscape planting because it grows slowly and retains its conical shape without any pruning. The tree on the left is also a dwarf Alberta spruce, but it's sporting.

The dwarf Alberta spruce, discovered in 1904 near Lake Laggan in Alberta, Canada, is cultivar of white spruce, Picea glauca. Cultivars are prone to bud sporting, a phenomenon in which a branch reverts, or mutates back, to the original species. This bud sport, if left to grow, will dominate the dwarf Alberta spruce, as white spruce grows much faster.

White spruce has thicker needles with a slight bluish tinge.

Dwarf Alberta spruce rarely fruits, but the white spruce sport has lots of cones.

Friday, October 9, 2009

red, yellow, and blue

Korean Pine

Pinus koraiensis is native to Northeast Asia, Japan, and, of course, Korea.

The cones grow singly or in groups of three,

and are greenish until maturity. Korean pine nuts are widely consumed in China.

This Korean pine is leaning over...

but it still has a roughly conical shape.

It's a five-needle pine. Click on the photo - you can see that there are five leaves in each cluster.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


A fallen headstone revealed this brand on a brick.

It was made by the Sayre & Fisher Company, formed in 1850 by James Sayre and Peter Fisher. The company was one of the leading brick manufacturers in the U.S. in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. S & F bricks were used throughout the East Coast.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Crab Apples

There are about 30 species of crab apple and hundreds of different cultivars.

I opened a book about Malus hybrids and cultivars, but distinguishing between all of them seems like a task for someone who's passionate about crab apples... and only crab apples. Maybe one day... but for now I'm happy to call each and every one by the same name.

The difference between an apple and a crab apple is a matter of size: a fruit with a diameter of two inches or less is a crab apple and anything bigger is an apple. Of course, the line gets blurry near two inches, and that's just the way it is. These crab apples were about an inch in diameter.

There was so much fruit on the tree that supports needed to be put under a couple branches.

Branches still broke under the weight and needed to be cut off.

Here's fruit from the same tree about six weeks after the first close up was taken.

The fruit is now entirely red,

and ripe fruit is falling off the tree. (Walking around here is not for the weak-ankled.)

Here's a different kind of crab apple.

It has a squat trunk and several twisting leaders.

The tree is covered with fruit right now.

The diameter is about a half an inch or less. The size and color remind me of the game Hi Ho! Cherry-O.

This crab apple had already dropped all of its fruit a couple weeks ago, carpeting the ground with the berry-like crabs.

A few oddball crab apples have some blossoms these days. But there are other things flowering out of time, too: rhododendrons, azaleas, saucer magnolias, crocuses, horse chestnuts... The crab apples will bloom again in the spring; there just might not be quite as many flowers.

The spring flowers and fall fruit make this tree highly sought after. If you're looking to plant a crab apple tree, here's a list of ten recommended varieties.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fall Changes

As the leaves start to change color, you might ask yourself about trees' autumn habits. Why do trees lose their leaves? Is it because leaves would freeze in winter? Is there not enough light over the winter months to justify having leaves?

There are a number of reasons deciduous trees shed their leaves in certain months, including diminishing light and, surprisingly, drought--physiological drought, that is.

A tree loses water through its leaves. This transpiration (and the resultant decrease in hydrostatic pressure in the leaves) is what keeps water, a necessary ingredient for photosynthesis, flowing to the tree's extremities. In the winter, the drop in temperature makes the transport of water problematic. The cold, dry winds would suck way too much water out of the leaves, dehydrating and killing the tree. Evergreens don't have this problem because their leaves have a waxy coating that keeps moisture inside. Deciduous trees have to drop their leaves to keep from drying out. (Even deciduous trees in the tropics, which don't have shortened days, lose their leaves during the dry season to conserve water.)

Sunlight plays a role as well. With shorter days, the amount of energy spent on maintaining leaf health would be greater than the amount the leaves would be able to create.

So when fall comes, leaves stop producing chlorophyll, which up to this point has given them their green color. The absence of green pigments allows the yellow and orange pigments that have always been in the leaves to show. Some leaves start producing red pigments in late summer, and these pigments also start to show when chlorophyll production slows down. After the color change, the tree sheds its leaves and goes into a dormant state until spring.