An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Trees

American Hophornbeam Fruiting

9-26-17 hophornbeam fruit 049A5466The fruits of the Hophornbeam tree (Ostrya virginiana), also known as Ironwood for its strong, hard wood, are drooping clusters of papery, bladder-like sacs each containing a nutlet. The “hop” portion of its name refers to the resemblance of these fruits to those of true hops that are used in the production of beer. Hornbeam refers to a related European tree whose wood was used to yoke oxen; therefore, its American counterpart wood was also used as a “beam” with which to yoke “horned” beasts of burden.

 

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Striped Maples Flowering

6-2-17 striped maple flowers 027Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum), named after the vertical white streaks on its bark,  is often associated with Moose and White-tailed Deer, both of which feed on its bark. In some places it goes by the name “Moosewood” for this very reason. The shape of its leaves give it another common name, “Goosefoot Maple.” In the spring when Striped Maples are nearly in full leaf, bright yellow bell-shaped flowers appear on long, pendulous strings, or racemes. (The flower stalks of the similar Mountain Maple also materialize after the leaves have matured, but these flower clusters are upright, held above the surrounding leaves.)

Striped Maples have the unusual ability to change sexes repeatedly over their lifetime (as does Jack-in-the-Pulpit), a phenomenon called gender diphasy. Among five study populations located in New Jersey, approximately one in four trees exhibited a change in the sex of its flowers between flowering seasons. The flowers of most Striped Maples are predominantly male. If changes occur in the canopy and new conditions seem favorable, a predominantly male tree can become predominantly female (and vice versa, if conditions deteriorate). Size, injury, and carbohydrate reserves are thought to impact the frequency and direction of gender change. Another unusual trait of Striped Maples is that the final sex of a flower is determined within one month of flowering, in contrast to most woody perennials which set buds the previous year.

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White Ash Flowering

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In 1935 Walter Rogers wrote a book on tree flowers (Tree Flowers of Forest, Park and Street) in which he described White Ash (Fraxinus americana) in the following words. “The Ashes are important trees with interesting features of form and foliage, but their flowers are among the least interesting.” I am of a different opinion, at least regarding White Ash’s male, or staminate, flowers.

White Ash is dioecius – individual trees have all male or all female flowers. Just before and as the tree is leafing out, the flower buds, located on the shoots of the previous season, begin to open. Male flowers are more noticeable than female flowers, partly because of the size of their clusters — there are between 200 and 300 flowers in each cluster – and their vibrant color (which resembles the fall color of some White Ash leaves). Being wind-pollinated, White Ash’s flowers lack petals as they would impede pollination. The stamens are a purplish-red, raspberry-like color until they mature, at which time the pollen’s yellow color is predominant.  The flowers are soon hidden by emerging leaves, so now is the time to see if you agree with Mr. Rogers!

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Bigtooth Aspen Male Catkins

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Aspens, cottonwoods, poplars – all are names for certain species of trees in the genus Populus. These trees, as well as birch, hickory, oak and willow trees, produce their flowers on spikes called catkins. Telling the catkins of these trees from one another is challenging, to say the least, yet some of NC’s readers correctly identified the catkins in the photograph as those of Bigtooth Aspen, Populus grandidentata. This tree blooms for one to two weeks in the spring and its mature male catkins open and extend to two to four inches in length. The wind, as opposed to insects, disperses the light, fluffy yellow pollen as the catkins dangle in the breeze. Some of the pollen remains intact even after the tree has shed its spent catkins onto the ground.

Because Bigtooth Aspen, and most species of Populus, are dioecious (male and female flowers develop on separate trees), there are only male flowers in this photo and beneath this tree. After fertilization, female flowers remain on the tree and form capsules which contain several small seeds embedded in tufts of fine, white hair. They will fill the air in several weeks looking like bits of floating cotton.

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Red Maples In Bloom

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Red Maples (Acer rubrum) are celebrated in the fall for their vibrant colors, but they produce equally vibrant reds and yellows in early spring when they are flowering. Most Red Maples have dense clusters of either male flowers or female flowers (dioecious), although some have both male and female flowers (monoecious). Under certain conditions, a Red Maple tree can sometimes switch from male to female, male to both male and female (hermaphroditic), and hermaphroditic to female.

The showier male, or staminate, flowers contain between four and twelve stamens, with long, slender filaments and red (young) or yellow (mature) anthers at their tips. Both red sepals and petals can be seen at the base of the stamens.  A staminate Red Maple in full bloom is a blaze of gold and red. (Photo: mature staminate Red Maple flowers)

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Eastern Cottonwoods & European Honey Bees

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One species of tree you might encounter if you’re in a floodplain is the Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoids), a member of the Willow family and the Poplar genus. Because it can tolerate flooding, it often grows near river banks and disturbed wet areas. The buds of Eastern Cottonwood are large and somewhat sticky, due to the resin that they contain. Resin exudes from the buds during the fall as well as the spring, and is evident even in winter when you see it frozen in droplets on the buds (see photo). In trees, resin serves to seal wounds and defend against bacteria, fungi and insects.

European Honey Bees discovered that the properties of cottonwood resin which benefitted cottonwood trees could also benefit them. They collect the resin from the outside of Eastern Cottonwood buds, mix it with wax and apply it to the walls of their nest cavity. This “bee glue” is referred to as propolis, and, as it turns out, serves as an antimicrobial barrier as well as a sealant. Various bacteria, fungi and other harmful microbes are kept at bay by the resin contained in propolis. It also directly reduces two diseases of Honey Bees, chalkbrood and American foulbrood.

Interestingly, if a mouse or small rodent happens to die inside a hive, and the bees can’t remove it through the hive entrance, they often seal the carcass inside an envelope of propolis.  This prevents the hive from being affected by the mouse’s decomposition.

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Distinguishing the Hornbeams

1-23-17-hophornbeam-img_5028There are two trees, both in the Birch family, which, due to the similarity of their common names, are occasionally mixed up with each other. One is known as American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) and the other as American or Eastern Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana). Due to the hardness of their wood, they also both go by the name Ironwood, adding to the confusion. A perfect example of when Linnaeus’s binomial system, which gives each species two scientific names, one of which is unique to each species, is helpful.

While the fruits and leaves of both species are superficially similar, their respective bark is very different. Carpinus caroliniana’s bark resembles flexed muscles (see   https://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/american-hornbeam/ ), earning it yet another common name, Musclewood, while Ostrya virginiana’s bark (pictured)  has a “shreddy” appearance, with the bark broken into small, narrow plates which curve away from the trunk. Look for C. caroliniana in valleys and along streams, and O. virginiana on well-drained slopes and ridges.

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