Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kentucky Coffeetree

Gymnocladus dioicus has huge bipinnately compound leaves that can measure up to 40 inches long. Of course now, there's not a leaf in sight. Gymnocladus means "naked branch." With few twigs and barely visible buds, the tree looks almost dead in winter.

The Kentucky coffeetree has another unmistakable feature: the seed pods. They are stout and hard to break open.

Inside, surrounded by a sticky pulp, there are round seeds that pioneers purportedly roasted and used as a substitute for coffee. (I wouldn't try this at home. Raw seeds are toxic.) The species is dioecious, so pods can only be found on female trees.

The bark is furrowed and rough, and can break into scales resembling those of an alligator's back.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sweet Gum

These seed balls on the ground indicate that there's a sweet gum close by. The globose fruits can be confused with those of the sycamore or the london plane tree.

The sycamore or london plane ball is an aggregate of hundreds achenes with tufts of hairs tucked inside (like the seeds on dandelions). When the balls break apart, the achenes are released.

The sweet gum ball is an aggregate of about 50 capsules with a seed or two in each one. As the balls mature, they become woody and holes open up between the two points of each capsule, allowing the release of seeds as the balls shake in the wind. The empty fruiting heads can still be found hanging on branches now. Some will remain on the tree throughout the winter. (The previous sweet gum post shows the unripe seed ball.)

The sweet gum typically has a single straight leader.

This species is a treat in the fall. From afar, the trees look like pastel rainbows.

Close up, the color varies from leaf to leaf, and even from one side of a leaf to the other.

These leaves were taken from one tree on the same day.

Friday, January 1, 2010

more snow

Some more shots from after the snowstorm in December...