The Planting of Princess E


Where we left off: Elizabeth of Milarch Nursery tagging the Princess Emily
Princess E and traveling companion, a London Plane tree, on flatbed trailer with Kevin, who is about to cover them both for the ride to Royal Oak
. . . which was no small feat. Princess E may look small, but she was very heavy!
Straightening her out
Nick and Dean mulch Princess E with Ailanthus (“Tree of Heaven”) woodchips. Notice the honey locust watching over the scene in the background, just on the other side of out carport. February 2019, the month the Arbor Day Plot was conceived, Singing Tree visited me for the first time, to trim this honey locust. See that adventure here:
3 minutes of water and she’s good to go.
Princess Emily planted in her “forever-home,” Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Now for ferns for her backdrop and hostas, perhaps, in the foreground (and, of course, more river rocks)
Princess Emily tonight, her third evening here, enjoying a light drizzle with the American beech, who is the canopy to her understory

The Dogwood Chase


Okay, so I’m a tree nerd. I know at least two others. (And, you know who you are.)

I woke up this morning at 5:00, and I was too excited to go back to sleep even though the alarm wasn’t set to go off until 7:00.

So, I got up and went out in my bathrobe and bare feet to listen to the birds singing up the sun and to contemplate my work of yesterday:

The cool morning air smelled especially sweet. It was a good time and place for plotting.

The plan was to be at English Gardens by the start of their “At-Risk Hour,” 8:00, so I could take some photos of the little dogwood and maybe of Kevin D., who had helped me pick it out Thursday. I needed to get there during the At-Risk Hour and before Dean and Nick from Singing Tree picked it up and brought it to my house to plant. Satisfied with the plan, I went back inside and made a special breakfast of French toast to kick off the special day.

Off to English Gardens

Because I can count the times I’ve left my house in the last 10 weeks to go somewhere in my car without resorting to having to use my toes, it seems to take me an even longer to leave with everything I need to navigate with less risk through the world. We almost made it out of the door by 7:50 for the 9-minute drive to English Gardens.

When we arrived at the English Gardens’ tree department, the overhead jets of water were up and running . No surprise. Craig wandered off to find some morning glories, and I went to find the Cherokee Princess that had been tagged for me on Thursday. But, she wasn’t where I had last seen her.

Tree guy Kevin D wasn’t coming in until 11:00, so another tree guy helped me. He said she would be in the backlot if she was sold and being picked up. When he walked around the fence, I sauntered around into the employees-only area with him. He went through the trees one by one with no success.

We went back around to the trees for sale, and both got wet looking for the Cherokee Princess. I did notice that someone had bought her sister, and taken her home with them; there were no more Cherokee Princess dogwoods available on site.

Yesterday’s weather: breezy and hot

We returned to the backlot. I had noticed it the first time and performed a silent tsk-tsk disapproval when The Other Tree Guy walked by it. When he went by it again without doing anything–in his defense, he was intent on finding my tree–I bent down and picked it up.

Apparently, the wind had blown this stick of a tree over. Had it been frying in the sun and 90-degree Memorial Day yesterday, the hottest day of the year thus far? Where was the rest of its rootball?

And, more importantly, when I picked the tree up, besides the sold tag, why was it decorated with a polka-dot ribbon that had my name on it?

The Cherokee Princess had been found. But even The Other Tree Guy didn’t give her good odds for surviving and sent me to the Customer Service counter for a refund, being that there were no other white flowering dogwoods of any variety for sale; the season was over here.

Plan B takes shape

On my way to Customer Service, I sent Emily Brent of Singing Tree the text: “Stop the presses.” Fortunately, she understood what I was trying to communicate.

It was clear that when manager Sean was paged from the Customer Service Desk, he didn’t believe my story. When he saw the tree for himself, however, he took a picture of the rootball to send to the nursery from whence it had come.

While I was waiting for him to refund the cost of the dogwood from my charge, I text Emily we were going to “brave going to Telly’s.” This was going to get done. Today.

She texted back that Kevin Bingham, her partner, was heading to Ray Wiegand’s Nursery on Romeo Plank Road in Macomb and would she like me to call and see if they had any Cherokee Princesses available.

As he was handing me my receipt, Sean mentioned there were Cherokee Princesses at two other English Garden locations. Nope. An underlying current of possibility was surfacing on this beautiful day.

We had just loaded the morning glories (Heavenly Blue) and two big pots of geraniums (one pot at $10 got you another one free) when Emily texted me back: “They have Cherokee Princess!”

East to Ray Wiegand’s Nursery!

I asked Siri to navigate to Weigand’s, a 32-minute drive, and we were off. The morning reminded me of leaving to go on vacation as kid. That kind of sky, that kind of freedom, that kind of anticipation.

Just for the record, I did raise the question of whether this was an “essential” trip. WWWS? (What Would Whitmer Say?) If the greenhouses and nurseries are open, are we only supposed to be purchasing their plants and trees via delivery? (Probably.)

I’d met Kevin when Singing Tree trimmed the Honey Locust that had me awake worrying at night (my first posting on this blog in February of 2019), and I trust him 100% to pick out a good tree.

And yet my car kept heading east.

Until we got here:

Sterling Places Plaza on Van Dyke (M-53), just north of Metropolitan Parkway (16 Mile Rd.) had a completely empty parking lot when I pulled in to read Emily’s latest text.

Emily texted “We have a change of plans.”

Although on Friday, Wiegand’s had had 20 London plane trees–the reason Kevin was heading there (for one)–today, they had zero.

West to Milarch Nursery!

So now, instead, Kevin was headed to Milarch Nursery on Haas Rd. in Lyon Township, where they had both London plane trees and Cherokee Princesses.

Siri got on it and west we went, about 45 minutes worth. (Taking the Wixom exit off I-696 and then a couple of miles on Grand River Ave. gets you in the vicinity).

What an amazing nursery! (Check out the aerial view of the nursery on the homepage of their website.)

To the Dogwoods!

The directions we received were to walk to a green dumpster–maybe a quarter of a mile–turn left and “walk two long city blocks” to the dogwoods.

The entrance road to the 27.5 acres that is Milarch Nursery, a four-generation family business (The green dumpster did not come into view right away.)

But before she gave the directions, one of the nursery staff, when I asked, said they had two types of white flowering dogwood: Cherokee Princess and Princess Emily.

I’d forgotten about Princess Emily, a variety I’d come across online before Arbor Day 2020. A newer variety of Cornus florida. This is all I’d been able to find out about the variety:

“‘Princess Emily’ Dogwood . . . is a selection of Cornus florida that has (unusual in a dogwood) a strong central leader. The spring flowers have rounded, white overlapping bracts.The leaves are very similar to Cornus kousa but have a glossy appearance and turn to a brilliant red color come fall. It also has a high resistance to powdery mildew and will show continual growth even in the drier parts of summer.”

— David Dermyer of Christensen’s Plant and Hardscape Centers in “Some New Trees for 2016”

I had taken Princess Emily out of consideration because of the “strong central leader.” Remember, I wanted the classic layered look. But this morning, I found myself excited to be actually able to compare two different varieties of white flowering dogwood.

Just as we got to “Dogwood Row(s)”, we ran into Kevin and together, the three of us first passed a number pink dogwoods to arrive at quite a number of 9.5-feet-tall white dogwoods in bloom.

Dualing Princesses

Had I ended up planting the Cherokee Princess from English Gardens, or had Kevin picked a Cherokee Princess out for me from Wiegand’s or Milarch’s, I would have been very surprised come spring, with the respect to the former, or if Kevin pulled up in my driveway with a Cherokee Princess in bloom from either other nursery.

I would have been sure the nursery had made a mistake. One look at the blooms, and I would have been positve I had a specimen of the “Appalachian Spring’ variety of dogwood. This was the variety about which I wrote in a posting a few days ago:

I don’t care for the space between and slight curl of the bracts.

But here at Milarch Nursery, for the first time, I was seeing dogwood bearing both their nametags and blossoms. And, I got a big surprise.

The Cherokee Princess: notice the narrowness of the “curly” bracts; notice the spaces between them.

But Princess Emily, on the other hand, had the squarish flower bracts I liked and some very shapely trees.

Of course, the first Princess Emily I picked out had been tagged by someone else. But, with Kevin’s helpful suggestions regarding branching, I picked out a second-best and had it tagged.

Meanwhile, Kevin went to look for London Plane trees. He received some inaccurate directions, and while he didn’t find the London Plane trees (the only one that the nursery had left was actually at the end of the rows of dogwood trees). But, while he was looking, he found a section of smaller dogwood trees, maybe 7 feet tall. He suggested I have a look as smaller trees have a better chance of surviving the planting.

I walked to the other section of dogwoods, and there she was. The fiirst tree since I started looking to whom I had an emotional reaction.

Elizabeth of Milarch Nursery tagging a ‘Princess Emily’ flowering dogwood for me

And just that easy, and with that much lead-up to it, the search was over.

Princess Emily, my chosen one among many

Yep, tree nerd.

A Perfect Day for Making the Bed


Last year, in preparation for the brickwork across the back of our carport storage area, I spent a very long day removing a very full bed of very old euonymus. That mass of entangled vine stretched the width of this new bed and came out about four feet from where the brick is now. That particular portion of the new bed provided the easy digging today. The Wisconsin river rocks were repurposed from the ginkgo bed in the front yard. The Cherokee Princess dogwood will be planted where the sun-catcher is stuck (it looks like a stick here), at the halfway point in the width of the brick wall.
My husband, Craig, caught this shot when I thought I was nearing the end. Nope. The longer I dug, the more I kept imagining what else I could plant in the bed if only it were a little bit bigger . . . and then a little bit bigger. Fortunately, the photographer returned with another shovel to lend a hand at the end!
The other measurement I used to determine where the dogwood would be planted is from the point between the French doors in our 2019 bedroom addition (in the background above). The dogwood should provide a nice focal point in the view from the doors all year ’round.
Post-clean-up, post-shower, and post-G&Ts . . . here’s the bed ready for the Princess’s arrival from English Gardens via Singing Tree. After the tree is planted tomorrow–at some (safe) point–I’ll need to return to Haley Stone Patio and Landscape Supply for enough river rocks to complete this larger-than-planned semi-circular bed.

A great Memorial Day project for keeping busy all day at home!

“Cherokee Princess”


Coming to her forever-home, she finally is. Just met her–while masked, of course–Thursday morning during the “At-Risk Hour” at the English Gardens in Royal Oak.

One of her kind–an Eastern flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)–was supposed to have been planted on our 40th wedding anniversary (May 12, 2019). That was after I developed pre-planting Arbor Day 2019 jitters. And those came about even after having thoroughly researched my way through a list of 14 possible tree choices suggested by friends. And. believing I’d hit upon the winner: an American Basswood (aka “The Bee-Tree”). What could be more perfect in these challenging times for our pollinators?

An American Basswood

But botanist Bronwen Gates, who had been in my yard before, made a late contribution to my search, pointing out that there was already a canopy stretching over this spot on Earth.

Our yard before we moved in 14 years ago; the canopy is much fuller and denser now.

Bronwen suggested I consider:

“what the space was calling for . . .”

Like, perhaps, a native-to-Michigan understory tree. And, then she suggested three possibilities.

More research led to a new decision: the Eastern flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

10  Cornus florida Seeds Flowering dogwood Seeds image 0
Photo from singingdaffodil

However, by the time that decision was made, the nursery of the landscaper I’d been working with (to help with a grading issue) no longer had any pink Eastern flowering dogwoods left in stock. And I had been thinking pink.

Dogwood Trees For Sale: Wholesale Plants Online Today

But, no worries, the season was warming up fast anyway, and he would have one for me on the next Arbor Day: April 24, 2020.

COVID Complications

Of course, then COVID-19 planted itself in our midst. Michigan’s Stay-at-Home order was loosened to allow landscapers to work on Arbor Day, of all days, so it wasn’t going to be an Arbor Day planting this year either. But, with excitement, I called the landscaper to confirm we were all set. In response to my inquiry, he responded that he’d not be able to get to me “’til mid-July.” At which point, of course, it would be too late plant a tree.

Obviously, if I wanted to plant a flowering dogwood this spring, I was going to have to expose myself (along with my at-risk husband and both of my parents in their 90s) to some risk.

Royal Oak
English Gardens in Royal Oak, MI (Note: Clock does not reflect the time at which I visited.)

An “under-water” introduction

Thursday, Kevin D–who had, coincidentally, helped us pick out our last Christmas tree–ushered us through the delivery entrance of Royal Oak’s English Gardens into the outdoor area of the store and directed us to the ornamental trees. A good thing the dogwoods happen to be located in the first two rows of the collection because this time of morning–between 8:00 and 9:00–the overhead rotating sprinklers were forcefully watering this half of the outdoor department. My husband, along for this relatively safe outdoor outing, wandered off to check out the shade perennials, which had already been watered.

Photo of English Gardens - West Bloomfield, MI, United States. Part of outdoor garden stock area
The dry part of English Gardens’ outdoor plant, shrubs and tree area.

I tiptoed through puddles, dodging the rotating streams of water, as Kevin braved direct hits to move in close enough to read the labels on the trees.

I should mention that over the winter my preference had turned from pink to white. He could only find two white dogwoods, both of the variety “Cherokee Princess”.

He said I might be able to find other white varieties at another English Gardens’ location. Aargh! I wasn’t prepared for a variety decision. (Only after I got home did I discover the reason I had no service–and so could not look up “Cherokee Princess” on my phone–was because somehow my “cellular data” setting had turned itself off. Just a weird coincidence or confirmation of a “meant-to-be”?)

Regardless, the At-Risk Hour was coming to a close. Given the Michigan’s COVID-19 lockdown under Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-21 and my scary experience last Friday at Telly’s in Troy (the lack of any mention of COVID-19 on their website should have been my first clue) . . . was I really going to visit another English Garden location? Probably not.

Both trees looked healthy. I paid for the one of the two little dogwoods I thought looked strongest in terms of how it branched and made arrangements for Singing Tree to pick it up Tuesday.

Buyer’s remorse?

But would the other one with the branch splitting off low on the trunk grow up to be a more classically-shaped dogwood tree? And, had I picked the right variety of white dogwood?

This is the species of dogwood I purchased:

Plant Photo
Bracts of Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Princess’
Cherokee Princess Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida 'Cherokee Princess') at English Gardens
Shape of Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Princess’

[Note: These and all photos of dogwood trees available from English Gardens below are credited in their plant database: “Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder“.]

The Lichfield Dogwood

What I really had imagined was a dogwood tree with: 1) creamy white “flowers” (i.e., bracts) . . . and 2) the classic “dogwoody”, bonsai-like layering of branches (aka “a low-branching, broadly-pyramidal but somewhat flat-topped habit”).

To my mind, these qualities represent the “old-fashioned” variety of dogwood, like the mature dogwood that grew on Lichfield Rd. in Detroit, the block on which we owned our first house.

Although looking at it now, close up, the bracts look green, right?

Options I didn’t know about

A search of English Gardens’ database, which contains a total of 25 (!) different dogwood varieties, yielded two other varieties of white Cornus florida:

Plant Photo
Cloud 9 Above: Bracts of “Cloud 9 Flowering Dogwood”; Below: Specimen of Cloud 9 Flowering Dogwood” (Cornus florida ‘Cloud 9’)
Cloud 9 Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida 'Cloud 9') at English Gardens
Plant Photo
Appalachian Spring
Above: Bracts of “Appalachian Spring Flowering Dogwood” ;
Below: Specimen of “Appalachian Spring Flowering Dogwood” (Cornus florida ‘Appalachian Spring’)

Appalachian Spring Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida 'Appalachian Spring') at English Gardens

. . . And two hybrids (notice these varieties lack the “florida” in their name, the species part of the tree’s name. Cornus is the genus part of the name).

Plant Photo
Eddie’s White Wonder Flowering Dogwood Above: Bracts; Below: Specimen (Cornus ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’)

Eddie's White Wonder Flowering Dogwood (Cornus 'Eddie's White Wonder') at English Gardens

Venus Flowering Dogwood (Cornus 'Venus') at English Gardens
— Venus Flowering Dogwood Flowers
(Cornus ‘Venus’)

Two additional white dogwood hybrids were available by special order only. The calendar and the forecast high temperature of 89 for Tuesday–the tree’s scheduled planting day–were certainly not going to allow time for any special ordering!

Now what?

Research, of course.

After looking closely at all of the other photos I could find online and doing a little reading, I discovered that all of these white flowering dogwood species are good for bees, butterflies, and birds. All flower in the spring, produce bright red berries, and add color to the landscape in autumn.

My notes and decisions along the way include:

Cherokee Princess

  • 15 to 30 feet high and a 15 to 30-foot spread
  • “‘Cherokee Princess’ is a cultivar that is noted for its consistently early and heavy bloom of flowers with large white bracts. Originally introduced in 1959-60 as C. florida ‘Sno-White’.”
  • I like the bracts; they may even turn out to be creamier white than some of the other varieties.
  • Good rust-red fall color.
  • “May be inadvisable at this time to plant this tree in areas where dogwood anthracnose infestations are present.”

Wait, what? Dogwood anthracnose infestation? Is that a problem in my zip code???

Cloud 9

  • Maybe this look is closer to what I was imagining?
  • 15 to 30 feet high and a 15 to 30-foot spread
  • “May be inadvisable at this time to plant this tree in areas where dogwood anthracnose infestations are present.” Oh-no! 

Appalachian Spring

  • I don’t care for the space between and slight curl of the bracts.
  • 15 to 20 feet high and a 15 to 20-foot spread
  • However: Has 100% resistance to anthracnose . . . Of course, it does.

Eddie’s White Wonder

  • A cross between the Cornus nuttallii, the native Western dogwood and the Cornus florida, the Eastern North American species
  • A “particularly attractive hybrid variety with profuse white blossoms, a distinctive growth pattern [I wonder what is?] and enhanced disease resistance.”
  • Named after its creator: British Columbia nurseryman Henry Matheson Eddie (1881-1953) in 1945.

Venus Flowering Dogwood

  • A 1973 cross between the Cornus nuttallii var. “Goldspot”, the native Western/Pacific dogwood, and Cornus kousa var. Chinensis, which then was pollinated with pollen from C. kousa “Rosea,” a pink-flowered Japanese dogwood in 1983. The resulting variety was patented as Venus in 2003.  
  • Cornus kousa is not a native tree . . . so, this one is out.

The bottomline, my brain, and privilege

I want a native flowering dogwood with white flowers, preferably creamy and with the classic layering branches.

Given the dogwood anthracnose threat, maybe ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’ would have been my best choice. (They did have some of that variety left over from last year–albeit frost-damaged–at Telly’s.)

More to the point:

  • What exactly has the lockdown done to my brain with respect to my decision-making aptitude?
  • Or with respect to the length at which I will write about . . . or anticipate how long readers might care to read about, well . . . indecision. (Even if one is a tree nerd.)

And, yes, I do realize how very fortunate I am to be so privileged–especially at this time in our world’s history–to be healthy and have the leisure to worry about what variety of native white flowering dogwood tree I will choose to have planted in my yard.

I could call around to English Gardens this weekend. I could visit any one of the other 5 locations of English Gardens between 8:00 and 9:00 Tuesday morning.

Or I could stop obsessing and que sera sera. . .

Tuesday approaches. Stay tuned.

5 writers go into an arb …


En Plein Air Writing

In July, I had the distinct pleasure of leading five writers in the experience of writing en plein air. We met just behind the Mahany/Meininger Senior Community Center of Royal Oak—on Marais Ave., just north of 13 Mile Rd.—under a perfect sky. Do you remember those quintessential grade-school-summer-vacation skies that signaled a day stretching ahead full of adventure? That kind of sky. A perfect forecast for this unique writing workshop.

The objective of the workshop was to allow writers to experience the benefits of writing outside, which I suspect might include the same real long-term benefits which have been proven to result from the Japanese practice of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku):

. . . reduced stress, improved mood, improved creative problem-solving, improved immunity, lower blood pressure and accelerated recovery from illness or trauma. (See abstracts of research studies.)

But, for writers, additional benefits may accrue writing en plein air. Here’s one take on the practice of writing en plein air (with comparative samples of writing on the same piece done indoors and out) by Australian writer Fran Macdonald.

Thanks to the Royal Oak Nature Society, local writers have several lovely places to retreat to outside, and that day we wrote our way through two: the Royal Oak Arboretum and Tenhave Woods. Over the course of two hours, the five workshop participants wrote beginnings of three new pieces by choosing one of three prompts in a series of three writing prompts in three different outdoor settings: in the clearing behind the Senior Center, in the Arboretum, and in the Woods.

The area, still drying from recent rains, invited a mosquito or two to make an appearance, but in addition to waving those few pests away, the writers successfully skirted the occasional “leaves of three,” hats and sunblock provided sufficient shields against the indulgent sun, and water was consumed by all as the temperature rose. Our focus was on writing from within an off-the-grid green, and writerly camaraderie—as well as inspiration—appeared to be had by all.

Workshop Process and Products

In the following week, three of the writers submitted pieces to be published here (see below), pieces which they began outside that day. A fourth writer wrote a testimonial to the power of writing outside:

“I really REALLY loved the writing workshop outside. . . . I actually got a little weepy in the woods during one of the writing prompts because it centered me. I absolutely love my life, my kids, and the beautiful chaos . . . but writing has a way of showing me I’m still my own person with thoughts and ideas outside my daily life . . . [the] workshop pretty much reminded me I can accomplish a lot if I just try.”

— Writer Anne Grogan

“Elm” by Jan Hunt

            I am Elm. Tall, broad, protective, even my name sounds stately and paternal. I am aspiring to be a protector. It takes many years to reach the status of protector. On my way there, I will take care of those smaller than me. I am thoughtful and take decisions seriously, always approaching any situation with care. I spread my branches wide, feeling a responsibility to watch over others as I gain protector stature. Patriarchal, staid, stoic, careful. Steeped in long-standing tradition, once a year I produce as many seed pods as I can and release them to the wind, watching them soar off to find their own life. To become like me. To become Elm. 

An American Elm (Ulmus americana) in Brattle Brook Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts with a diameter of 50 inches. This elm is healthy (due to its isolation in what was, originally, a farmer’s field, it did not contract Dutch elm disease). It is “between 150 and 160 years old, meaning it was probably a sapling during the Civil War.” — From “Elm Watch works to save trees,” by Scott Stafford of The Berkshire Eagle, published in The Times Record August 11, 2016.

The Pussy Willow Tree” by Theresa Nielsen

I ask myself, how is it that I could love a tree? Almost thirty-five years ago, I planted a pussy willow tree in my backyard. It came from one stem that I had purchased at the farmer’s market. The tree grew big and tall with large limbs, which provided lots of shade on hot days.

That tree still stands in the backyard although it is a mere shadow of its former self. That tree has been through a lot. In fact, so have I. Just like it was yesterday, I remember sitting under the tree on the bench when the baby died. The one I had been expecting, the one who I was over-the-moon excited for. Our young son was going to be a big brother; I wanted to buy the baby everything I saw. But the joy I felt was over too soon. I sat under my tree for hours. At one point, someone asked if I would come into the house. But I didn’t respond. Between the smell of the gentle rain and the fresh daisies blooming, I couldn’t move. Under my tree, which surrounded me with its loving branches, is where I felt safe.

When the tree was about ten feet tall, I gave some of its stems to my mom and a few of my friends. But no one ever came back and said how their tree was growing or if it grew at all. I’ve always found that interesting and have felt blessed to have mine be so lovely.

When my father died in 1987, I found peace sitting under the tree in the wintertime. Being out there was so cold but only to the outside world. I was warm sitting there, talking to my Dad. And through tears stinging hot on my face, I asked God why.

When my grandchildren climbed up in the tree to reach the highest branches, I knew that my tree would live forever. I quilted my first quilt under that tree while the sweet smell of my mom’s rosebushes tickled my nose and the blue jays chattered. The sight of the long branches of the tree warmed my heart.

During a major snowstorm one freezing cold November day, my tree took a big hit. Many of the large limbs on one side split in half. I was devastated. I told myself, through tears, that it was only a tree, but it was my tree, planted all those years ago. Those old feelings, the loss of my baby and the heartbreaking loss of my father came rushing back, forcing my tears to fall again.

My husband said the whole tree would have to come down. Like a madwoman on a mission, I stood my ground. The tree wasn’t tall and majestic anymore; it wasn’t beautiful to anyone but me. But, it was my tree, and I loved it still.

One day this past spring, when I looked out my window in the early morning, the first thing I saw was my tree because there appeared to be little butterflies swarming about it. I hurried outside, and sure enough, what I saw were butterflies that I soon learned were Red Admirals. There were new branches on the tree and new growth all over it. I was so excited. The butterflies were moving about in clusters, flitting here and there on the blooms. In a word: amazing. I cried as I ran into the house for my camera.

The butterflies stayed in the tree most of the morning while I sat on the bench near the tree and watched them until the sun faded into the clouds and my coffee went cold. I looked up to the skies. Was this a sign of rebirth, a gift from God, or just a blessing? I may never know the answer. The butterflies never returned, but the new branches have grown. My tree is still a thing of beauty to me, and I will love it forever.

Theresa Nielsen’s Royal Oak Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) with one of the cloud of Red Admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta) that visited the tree in Spring of 2019. Photo by Theresa Nielsen,

Here’s one more piece from one of the writers who went into the arboretum and found a new way of writing:

“To a Dogwood in Suburbia” by Elizabeth Brent

Tree, do you dream?
Or is it enough to bud, blossom, shed blossoms,
leaf out, and drop leaves,
hibernate until a new spring?
Tree, do you dream?

Tree, do you dream under summer’s bright blue sky?
Above the verdigris birdbath and the myrtle bed,
With branches bare in winter snow,
Patient with the passing years,
Tree, do you dream?

Tree, do you dream with your roots,
Pushing them deeper into the earth’s secrets?
Would you extend your limbs beyond the yard?
Here, fenced-in, with only lilacs for company,
Tree, do you dream?

Tree, do you dream as you bloom?
Each blossom a wish for more, or for other.
In your rapture, you become
A great, rooted cloud.
Tree, do you dream of drifting away?

. . .

I dream that life comes to me, as I cannot go to life.
My life is and is and is, and I must wait.

I dream of those creatures passing in the night—
Possum, coon, rabbit, rat.

I dream of the birds who came when I held the feeders,
Proffered suet, seeds, fruit.

I dream that if the wind lifts my branches and lets my leaves murmur,
And you are here, you might hear and understand everything.

I dream this: you will rest for a moment in this shade, this chapel I have made,
And, in that moment, you will consider me,
and, perhaps, ask me about my dreams.

“Old Dogwood Tree” (Cornus florida) photo by Scott Robinson

Serendipity and Synchronicity

As is often true when you endeavor to shake things up a bit, you may discover, through serendipity and synchronicity, that your small act is, perhaps, a part of a larger play by the universe:

  • The week of July 22nd, I began this post, blogging from Durham, North Carolina, more specifically from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, where my eldest daughter is Director of the Rachel Carson Scholars program.
  • A dear friend and wonderful writer, Harah Frost, posted a piece on July 21st apparently written en plein air, “Summer This Time” on her Harah Frost blog.
  • The blog connected to my Goddard College program (Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, ’96), “The Writer in the World,” featured a posting by Sherri Smith on July 23rd: “Activism for Introverts“.
Royal Oak’s Tenhave Woods, by Corey Seeman

A Second for a Serviceberry


On June 28th (I know, I know, over a month ago now; this summer has proven to be as fast and furious as the rest of the last year ), I received an e-mail from my brother Gregg of Sudbury, MA. I was thrilled to learn he’d been following my blog! (We see each other once a year, tops.) And delighted that he had considered and contributed a suggestion for my tree-to-be-planted:

I recommend Serviceberry, a small understory tree (shrub) of the Rosaceae family, with some species native to Michigan (native species always preferred). Needs moist but well drained acidic soil. Does not like 
clay, alkaline, sandy, or salty soil. Medium growth rate, one or two 
feet per year. A “two-generation” tree unlikely to live much past fifty. 
Blooms early spring, great for bees offering early season foraging! 
Berries feed birds and squirrels, and berries make good jam or pie. Deer 
resistant. Full sun to partial shade, berry production commensurate with sun. If planted over parking area dropped berries may be a concern if birds, squirrels, and humans do not harvest. Can be pruned as single-stem tree or multiple-stem large shrub, somewhat dependent on species. 
Beautiful fall color! Plant out front in sunniest spot for easiest bird 
and squirrel access? But not too close to roadway.

A Serviceberry in bloom

Another name for Shadbush

Those others of you who have been following this decision-making blog may recall that Bronwen Gates, who, like my brother, is also familiar with my well-canopied yard, recommended two understory trees: the Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) or the Shadbush, which turns out is another name for a Serviceberry, writing:

What about some of the wonderful native understory trees like Shadbush (Amelanchier), so welcome as the earliest of all the rose family trees in bloom and with “delish” fruits in June . . .

Deliberations recommence . . .

I am tempted to switch my choice (yet again!) just in gratitude for my brother reaching out and in thanksgiving for a successful resolution to a sudden and serious health challenge he faced in June–and I do love how many names the Serviceberry/Shadbush is known by. Wikipedia has a lovely list:

Amelanchier is also known as: shadbushshadwood or shadblowserviceberry or sarvisberry, or just sarvisjuneberrysaskatoonsugarplum or wild-plum, and chuckley pear . . .

. . . And dreams win

But, I realize as I type these considerings, that since the last day of April, I’ve been dreaming of a white flowering dogwood framed by our new bedroom French doors and becoming an understory tree to my American beech ally, which straddles our backyard property line. In fact, I’ve already had Filipe, the brick mason from A-D Masonry, and Tim Lekander, the concrete guy from LMT Contracting, back for estimates on adding another brick skirt, this one across the back of the carport, to provide a striking backdrop for the dogwood.

The Final Plan

Mike Wasserman from Old Village Landscaper in Plymouth, MI, and his great crew just completed two and a half days of spectacular landscaping Monday, restoring the aftermath of the construction in our side and back yards. Not only does it look better than it has in the 13 years we’ve lived here, it looks better than I have imagined it could!

Mike took a look at my proposed planting site and approved of it, suggesting we make a semi-circle bed for the dogwood coming out from the brick-skirting-to-be. He’ll be picking out a flowering dogwood for me and planting it come spring, the best time to plant the species. He liked the idea of planting it on the next Arbor Day: April 24, 2020. Me, too. Stay tuned!

Happy Birthday, Bro!

But, before I sign off and before the stroke of midnight, let me take this opportunity to wish my dear brother, Gregg Kevin Dunphy, a very happy 60th birthday today!

Searching for 1971 Champions


In 1971, in commemoration of Royal Oak celebrating its Golden Jubilee–the 50th anniversary of its incorporation as a city–historian Owens Perkins published Royal Oak, Michigan: The Early Years (Royal Oak Historical Society, 1974). In his preface to the book, making his case that trees have been an integral facet of the city’s identity from the beginning, Perkins mentions four specific oak trees. These four oaks, at the time, were the oaks that had the widest crown or the largest diameter trunk, or had been identified as the tallest or the “all-around champion” based on the “forestry formula.” Perkins included photos of three of these four champion oaks in his book’s preface.

Friday, I set out to see if any of Royal Oak’s champion oaks of 1971 were still standing.

It’s easy to surmise that the tree with the trunk of the biggest girth–a 166-inch circumference and a calculated diameter of 4 feet and 4 inches–at 223 Dewey St. in 1971 has since been removed in order for a detached garage to be built. This is what the tree looked like in 1971:

From Royal Oak, Michigan: The Early Years by Owen A. Perkins (Royal Oak Nature Society, 1974) p. x. The backyard at this address is now the site of a detached garage.

Where the widest spreading oak tree–at 110 feet–was located in 1971, today is the Borgo Sisters School of Dance parking lot:

From Royal Oak, Michigan: The Early Years by Owen A. Perkins (Royal Oak Nature Society, 1974) p. xi, now the site of the Borgo Sisters School of Dance parking lot.

It’s harder to say if the tallest oak in Elk’s Park today is the 1971 Champion, the tallest Royal Oak oak. I found another book in the library–Royal Oak: Our Living Legend, 1787-1940 by Constance Kingan Crossman (School District of the City of Royal Oak, 1973) that describes the location of this oak more succinctly than Perkin’s book, which showed no photo of this tree and just gave its description as: “the tallest [oak] is a 96.3 foot tree in Elks Park.” Crossman’s description reads: “The tallest tree in the city is on the northeast side of the Elks Park Golf Course facing Rosewold Avenue, just off Normandy Road.” I can find no evidence that Elks Park was once a golf course, but if the tallest oak was on the northeast side of Elks Park, it’s not the one I found Friday. The oak in the photo below, while the tallest oak currently in the park, is midway on the west side of the park.

The tallest oak in Elks Park today stands on the west border, midway in the park. The standard utility pole is 40 feet and can be buried up to 6 feet. Given that measurement to use as a guide, I suspect the oak pictured above, the second to the right of the utility pole, might not quite measure 90 feet today, so while tall, is most likely it is not the 96.3-foot champion of 1971.

However, I was happy to discover and am excited to report, the All-Around Champion of 1971 is still standing on E. Lasalle! Although some lower limbs have been trimmed, you can see the resemblance between the tree’s habit in 1971 (from Perkin’s preface) and on May 3, 2019 below.

Nice to know that one out of the four 1971 Oak Tree Champions is still standing today, 48 years later. I am curious about what Royal Oak trees, oak or otherwise, might be labeled champions today.

Happy Arbor Day …


. . . Belatedly!

Sometimes a delay happens for very good reasons.

Of course, I may just be trying to reassure the OCD facet of my personality, the part who has a very hard time missing a deadline–even a self-determined tree-planting deadline.

My “New Plan A” Choice

On Friday–Arbor Day 2019–when one of my daughters asked me what tree I had decided to plant, I told her an American Basswood (aka the Bee-Tree). Of the three trees in running: Swamp White Oak, the Tulip-Tree, and the Basswood, I felt this one had the best chance to survive in my yard and the most to offer, given:

  • There is not enough room in my already full-canopied yard for the Swamp White Oak.
  • Tim Travis, owner of Goldner-Walsh Nursery warned that Tulip-Trees tend to be weak-wooded and could split in an ice storm.
  • Although Tim Travis had also said he wasn’t a big fan of the Basswood because of how dense it was–and I had read an interesting description of how the thick heavy canopy looked from a bird’s view–I figured it was the best of the three and its benefit to the bees would make up for any downside that came with its dense crown.
American Basswood Tree
Photo credit: Minnesota Seasons


Having finally made my decision, I was surprised to feel unsettled whenever I thought about it that evening while singing in the Troy Community Chorus’s spring concert “Sweet Dreams.” Nor did I open either of the books I’d lugged to our cottage to read more about the American Basswood while on Pelee Island Saturday and Sunday, where we’d fled attempting to get away from construction challenges that have cropped up in what was to be the end of our addition-building project.

Perhaps I should have recognized what this “unsettled” feeling meant about my decision at the time I was feeling it.

Post-Decision Messages Arrive

Saturday morning, Jason, my son-in-law, in Durham, NC texted me this photo accompanying the text below it:

“Look what was sitting on our back porch this morning. I knew the tulip tree on your blog looked familiar. There’s one in our yard!”

At our concert’s afterglow Friday evening, Fred G. had asked me if I’d made my decision. A fair question. He’d read my Thursday evening post and Arbor Day was approaching midnight. I told him my decision was the Basswood to benefit the bees.

Saturday evening, Fred shot me an e-mail, which I was able to access on my phone on Pelee during a reprieve from my typical no-service status on the island. In his e-mail, Fred tried to convince me I should plant a Tulip-Tree to replace his dying one, which is planted just one street north of us. In support of this idea, he quoted some information about Tulip-Trees, from Owlcation: “The amount of nectar produced can be around a tablespoon per flower and it is why the tree is popular with beekeepers. The nectar is also popular because it also contributes to the rich and strong flavor of poplar honey.”

Should I be reconsidering the Tulip-tree? There had also been that dried Tulip-tree leaf–the only dried leaf–stuck in the tree guide my mom gave me a few weeks ago. Maybe that was why I felt unsettled with my decision; I’d picked the wrong one of the three native trees.

What Is the Space Calling For?

My delay also allowed some additional information to reach me in the form of an e-mail message with the subject line “Trees . . .” from Bronwen Gates, scientist, herbalist, poet and intuitive of Ann Arbor. When I got back on-the-grid yesterday, I read the message she’d sent Sunday afternoon:

“Forgive this late contribution …

My first question, if you’re planting in your yard (I liked the Ginkgo idea  at the Senior Center), would be “What is the space calling for?” Do you have plenty of mature trees with almost complete canopy cover?  Is there room for another Big Tree?

What about some of the wonderful native understory trees like Shadbush (Amelanchier), so welcome as the earliest of all the rose family trees in bloom and with “delish” fruits in June. Or our native Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), that also delights as it blooms while the big trees are just beginning to leaf. Such a symphony of color, texture, and spatial delight.

You mention Swamp White Oak as a possibility. Is your area seasonally inundated? The range of many trees that grow in swamps get their competitive advantage from tolerating /requiring that they are seasonally inundated.  We don’t always realize this if we don’t visit a place at all seasons…

Hope you are thrilled with your choice…

Spring blessings,

With respect to the Swamp White Oak: Despite reports of flooded basements in the neighborhood every spring, sometimes including ours, with the Red Run underground, my front yard, a part of its former floodplain, does not get inundated with water or with anything else every year. Except more English ivy.

Three Factors to Consider

  1. Thrilled with my choice? Well, no. Unsettled isn’t thrilled.
  2. My yard was already under a pretty full canopy before moved in over a dozen years ago as you can see below. Maybe I shouldn’t be adding to the overstory, but thinking in terms of the understory instead.
  3. After three decades of friendship with this Wise Woman, I do know to consider her suggestions and heed her advice.

A Morning of Understory Research

I began this morning by moving a bookshelf of 15 tree guidebooks from our new bedroom back to my study. (One of our construction challenges had caused them to be removed from my study last week. Speaking of inundation …)

Then I spent a Pomodoro’s worth of time on each of Bronwen’s suggestions.

The “Shadbush”

This native tree, Amelanchier arborea, is a member of the Rose family, also known commonly as the:

  • Shadberry, Shadblow, or Shadwood–So called because the tree’s flowering signals when shad–a herring-like fish that spends much of its life in the sea–typically runs upstream in rivers to spawn.
  • Common Serviceberry, Sarvisberry, or Sarvis–Perhaps most commonly known by one of this trio of names. “Service” (or “sarvis,” the Appalachian pronunciation of “service”) because during the time of the United States’ northern settlement, flowers on this earliest-blooming tree signaled the time of the year when funerals, marriages, and baptisms could once again occur after winter because roads were once again passable for ministers/priests who provided these services. Another source suggested the blossoms more specifically signaled the time when the ground was thawed enough for digging graves and subsequently, the funeral services.
  • Juneberry–Because the edible and delicious red to purple small berries appear in June. Humans have to compete with birds to consume these sweet treats, which, while more closely related to apples, reportedly, taste most like blueberries and are successfully used in baked goods, especially pies. They can also be dried like raisins.
  • Other names for the species include: sugarplum, wild-plum, saskatoon, chuckley pear (although some of these may relate to some of the 15 other varieties of serviceberry trees or bushes, not the Common Serviceberry.)
Serviceberry/Shadblow (aka Juneberry tree)
Photo credit:

I have mentioned how much I appreciate things called by more than one name. I had already decided that if it were a Shadbush I planted, it would from ever henceforth be referred to as “The Juneberry.”

The Downsides of the Juneberry

However, as I read more, I did notice two downsides to the native understory choice of the Juneberry tree:

  • Deer browse on twigs of this tree. Since the disruptive development of three of the four lots in the middle of our block, I’ve not seen members of our “Vinsetta Herd” much, but I suspect they’re just biding their time ’til the commotion quiets down. I provide them candy by way of my hostas, but I’d feel much differently about them nibbling on a tree.
  • In one reference, I noticed the trees commonly live only 10 – 20 years (in which case, I may well outlive it, given my family genes) while other sources agreed that this 20-to-50-foot tree is relatively short-lived, rarely living longer than 50 years. I suspect my daughters and grandchildren might all outlive a specimen of this species.

Redbud Misread

For no reason I can imagine, when I first had read Bronwen’s e-mail, I misread her two suggestions as being: a Shadbush and a Redbud.

I do love redbud trees–Lisa E. and Susan H-B had both suggested that species. But, I already have one. It’s the Forest Pansy Redbud that I had planted in our front yard in 2012. This is the tree that split in half last August while it was heavily-leafed and we were experiencing a gusty day shortly after the large evergreen trees and shrubs–serving the purpose of a natural windbreak, I suspect–were removed from the lots being developed west of my house.

Visceral Delight

When I reread Bronwen’s e-mail and realized she had, in fact, recommended an Eastern flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), I felt zapped by a zing of joy. A dogwood!

Eastern Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Photo credit:

A Brief History of Dogwood and Me

While I’ve never been intimately connected with land on which a dogwood grew at any time in my life, I remember asking my mom to identify a flowering tree I’d fallen in love with in the spring of 1979. This was the spring we closed on and moved into our first house, a small two-bedroom Tudor, which had a tiny foyer with a floor of Pewabic tile, located on Lichfield Road in Detroit’s Green Acres neighborhood. Five weeks later, we were married.

The dogwood was maybe half a block north of our house, on the same side of the street. It bloomed ecstatically that year despite an ice storm that began on April 8th, the last day of the weekend we moved in, one of the 10 worst storms in Detroit history that left us without power for 6 days. I wonder if that beautiful tree still grows there.

For the past four decades, every time I see a dogwood in flower, I’m taken back to the spring walks we took after the ice melted, imagining our future together during those deliriously-happy early weeks of home ownership and marriage. The dogwood’s blossoms had faded by the end of June.

Dogwood flowers
Photo credit: Liz West

My Post-Arbor Day 2019 Decision

Our 40th wedding anniversary is this year in the month of May. Perhaps, this would be a good time to plant a dogwood to bloom every year in our yard from this time forth. Yes?

Pink dogwood flowers
Photo credit: Lacey Smith from Pixabay

When the “Day Before” Isn’t


I typed the heading above this afternoon. But, it’s been 10 days since I wrote most of what follows, except for the photo credits and the update at the end. . . .

So, I’ve gone from 13 trees to 3 others, from an almost-decision of Catalpa and Ginkgo to a consideration of the Swamp White Oak, the Tulip-Tree, and the American Basswood.

The Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)

A member of the Beech family–as are all varieties of oaks I was surprised to learn–the Swamp White Oak appeals to me because a particularly magnificent specimen of this species led to the city I live in being named Royal Oak. (And, yes, if I pick this tree, I’ll finally share the story as I’ve heard it.)

Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)
Photo Credit: T. Davis Snydor, Ph.D., Ohio State University

The Tulip-Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

A member of the Magnolia family, the Tulip-tree caught my attention because the same week that I was switching from my original Plan A to my current Plan A, my mom gave me a tree book (Trees: The visual guide to more than 500 species of trees from around the world by Allen J. Coomes, originally published in London in 1992) that she’d recently unpacked from their move wondering if I’d be interested in it. When we opened it, out fell one dried unusually-shaped leaf someone had tucked in its pages in the past. When I looked up a tulip-tree after it became one of the possibilities for planting, I realized that the unusual leaf was a tulip-tree leaf. Should I pay attention to this serendipity?

The only response I’ve gotten from readers to the three new possibilities for planting was Susan H-B’s remark “Tulip trees leave a disgusting mess when their petals fall off.” However, I’d gotten a similar response regarding both Catalpa trees and Magnolia trees, so I’m not entirely put off.

Tulip-tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Photo credit: Jean-Pol Grandmont (
Tulip-tree flower and leaves
Photo credit: Jack Spruill (

The American Basswood (Tilia americana)

A member of the Linden family, the Basswood is known as the Lime tree in England and the Linden tree throughout the rest of Europe. I do like things that are known by multiple names, but what really attracts me to this tree is that its creamy yellow flowers are honeybee magnets. And, honeybees seem, like many of the rest of us these days, to be needing as much help as they can get. In addition to being known as the “American Linden,” the Basswood is also called the “Bee-tree.”

Here’s something interesting I came across on a nursery website selling Basswood trees:  “[The tree] is often planted on the windward side of an orchard as a protection to young and delicate trees.” Double delights in that arrangement for bees, I imagine!

American Basswood (Tilia Americana)
Photo credit: Herman, D.E., et al. 1996. North Dakota tree handbook. USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
Heart-shaped leaves of the American Basswood
Photo credit: John Hagstrom (
American Basswood (aka “Bee-tree”)
Photo credit: Bill Harms (

The Potential to Get Big and Be Old

All three of these tree species can grow quite large and live long if the conditions are right:

  • Swamp White Oak: 40 – 60 feet and 150 – 200 years
  • Tulip Tree: 80 – 100 feet and 100 – 150 years
  • American Basswood: 50 – 70 feet and 150 – 200 years

They all like moist soil. My front yard was a flood plain–still looks like one–but now that the Red Run is beneath the center strip of the Boulevard in a 15-foot drainpipe, what has that done to the soil? Is it still moist?

Seeking Expert Advice

I thought it might be helpful to hear from an expert or two if any of these three trees species are really wise choices my front yard or for another Royal Oak location.

I e-mailed Tim Travis of Goldner-Walsh Greenhouse and Garden Center in Pontiac. Tim was out at my house a few weeks ago, giving me some ideas for backyard screening (Green Giant Arborvitae). I’ve been watching his Tim Talks on YouTube about mulch because I’m interested in mulching all of my trees this year instead of having a tree-care company “deep feed” my sycamore, ginkgo, and beech with their patented nitrogen-phosphorus-potash fertilizer.

I also have gotten interested in the variety of trees on the Goldner-Walsh website that they grow in their nursery.

When I asked Tim if he’d ever planted any of the three and what he thought, he responded:

“Yes, we have planted all three of these trees.  I’m not a big fan of the Tilia [Basswood] because it is very dense.  The swamp white oak is a huge oak that would fit in the area and somewhat hard to find.  The tulip tree is a cool tree with interesting leaves.  However, they do not flower until the tree is about 25-feet tall, and they are fairly small.  They are also somewhat weak-wooded and tend to break apart in ice storms. Where are you thinking of planting them?”

Would that I knew where! Or which.

I also thought it might be a good idea to talk to people who are actually caring for and planting additional trees in Royal Oak soil. I sent Bob Muller, the Royal Oak Nature Society member responsible for programs, an e-mail inquiry a week ago Tuesday asking if specimens of these three species grow in any one of the spots cared for by the Royal Oak Nature Society:

Heard right back from Bob, ‘We have Swamp White Oak and Basswood in both nature parks and Tuliptrees in Tenhave. . . .”

When I responded that I guess I’d give my identification skills a workout this weekend, Bob replied, “Let me know when you can take a look. If I am free, would like to show you around the Arb.” I was hoping to make the field trip [Saturday], but the rain and cold put me off. Next week’s forecast looks much better for getting acquainted with the Royal Oak Arboretum. We’re on for Monday!

April 25 Update

. . . Turns out Monday was the day I noticed dark spots on the mortar on both sides of our indoor brick chimney wall. Dark spots indicating moisture. The day I discovered that the almost-six-month-old expensive new rubber roof had not kept the monsoons of Friday and Saturday from leaking into our house. Not–it turns out–because there was a problem with the roof. But because small cracks in the bricks of the portion of the chimney that sticks up above our roof were letting in the water, had apparently been letting in the water all along. The good news? No visible mood contained in our ceilings. To discover this good new, of course, involved opening the ceilings up yesterday. The only thing related to a “tree” I was thinking about this week, until today, was the lumber in my ceiling and how wet or how dry it might be.

Tomorrow is Arbor Day . . . if I’m not ready to plant, I can, at least, make up my mind about what to plant where. Stay tuned!

A New “Plan A”


Determined to make my tree selection as planned by Friday, April 12th, I winnowed the 13 on my spreadsheet below down to the two that, in the end, most emotionally appealed to me: a Catalpa and a Ginkgo.

My tree choices

The Catalpa would adorn my parklawn/easement, between sidewalk and street curb on the east side of my driveway, in the spot where walkers cross from the Boulevard. There is still a slight depression where we’d dug the hole for the Catalpa volunteer that folks on a neighboring street had offered for free on Nextdoor. That would be the one that died in an August heatwave while we were out of town.

The Ginkgo Biloba would be planted at Royal Oak’s Mahany-Meininger Senior Community Center, where Springfed Arts has rented rooms for me to teach many of my writing workshops. That is, if I could work out such a plan with the city or the Royal Oak Nature Society, whichever entity is responsible for supervising what gets planted there.

Royal Oak tree history sunning on the beach

After making my decision, I left Royal Oak to open our cottage over the weekend. And, what often happens, given the magic that resides on Pelee Island, my plan changed. I ended up spending a fair amount of Saturday wrapped in a blanket lying in the sun on the beach entertaining a cold virus. While I was thus reclined, I perused a pile of four books on the history of Royal Oak.

Pelee Island beach on the warmest day, so far, of 2019. Listening to those lapping waves for a while have changed many plans.

I had checked these books out of the library and then renewed them twice, not because they were so fascinating–which they ultimately were–but because I hadn’t had time yet to get between their covers. But now, laid low by the virus, I did. And, I was surprised to see how many mentions of trees were in the books, probably due to the legend of how Royal Oak got its name (a story for another day).

But are the trees native to Royal Oak?

Last week, someone (this someone might have been Harah F., but she’s not fessing up, and as she has the flu, I’m leaving her be) asked if I’d made my decision and when I told her the two trees I was thinking about, she asked, “Why would you plant anything that wasn’t native?” While Northern Catalpa trees are, in fact, native to the midwestern United States, the Ginkgo Biloba is native to China.

Around the same time, Julie F., the city assessor and wonderful bestower of earlier photos of my yard, sent me an e-mail with the subject line “Trees in Arboretum” about the Royal Oak Arboretum, located next to the Mahany-Meininger Senior Community Center:

You might already know this, but if not…[the Royal Oak] Arboretum … has [65] species of trees native to Mich[igan and 5 in their nursery. That leaves only 16 native trees that they need to get in order to have all 86 native Michigan trees]. I thought you would be interested. Here’s the link:

Over the weekend, with nothing to do but lie sick on the beach, I got curious. What 86 trees are native to Michigan?

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources lists 32 species in their Michigan Native Trees. Of those, 5 were on my list of 13 possibilities: White Pine, Ohio Buckeye, Paper/White Birch, Oak (5 varieties), and Eastern Redbud.

Michigan State University’s MSU Extension Service has a list of 13 or 14 native species (depending on whether your soil is acidic enough to support a Pin Oak). Of those, only 2 were on my list: Oak and Eastern White Pine.

But now, what I really wanted to know was . . .

What trees grew here before the settlers removed them?

Specifically, what trees grew here, in what was to become known as Royal Oak, when the first Europeans surveyed the territory? Here are the two answers I found in Royal Oak history:

“. . . the glorious swamp oak trees of Royal Oak . . . have never been, nor could be adequately described. They were, indeed “Royal Oaks,” trees [that] were 15- feet high and 9 feet thru. . . .

The whole north and west section of the [Royal Oak] township outside of the marshes and sand ridges were covered not only with the oak trees mentioned, but a heavy growth of beech, maple, basswood or linden, elm of various varieties, hickory, tulip trees or white wood, black and white ash, and some black walnut and butternut.

–excerpt from royal Oak, michigan by ralzemond A. Parker, 1921, reprinted in Royal Oak Twigs and Acorns plus: articles, essays, letters and other historical writings compiled by David g. Penney and Louis a. Lane (Royal Oak, MI: little acorn press, 2008, 2nd ed., p. 35).

Notice that none of those trees, except a nonspecific oak, were on my original list of 13. I specified Swamp White Oak ((Quercus bicolor Willd.) as the oak now on my list and kept looking.

202 Years Ago

Notes on a map of Royal Oak township drawn in 1817 by Joseph Wampler, a United States land surveyor, indicate that the varieties most common to this region were: oak, linden, beech, ash, sugar maple and elm. They grew in profusion . . . . Of these, the oaks and whitewoods, Liriodendron tulipfera, Linn., or tulip tree, as it was sometimes called reached their greatest size.

–Excerpt from “Trees of Royal Oak: Their part in history” by james G. Matthews, city Historian, royal Oak, Michigan, Friday, November 7, 1930, REPRINTED IN ROYAL OAK TWIGS AND ACORNS PLUS: ARTICLES, ESSAYS, LETTERS AND OTHER HISTORICAL WRITINGS, COMPILED BY DAVID G. PENNEY AND LOUIS A. LANE (ROYAL OAK, MI: LITTLE ACORN PRESS, 2008, 2ND ED., p. 262).

Note: The oak after which Royal Oak was named is the non-native English Oak.

10 New Native Possibilities

An asterisk following an entry indicates both sources mentioned the species; further specification in parentheses indicates that additional information was supplied by only one of the two sources.

I removed the three nut trees that were mentioned by only one of the two sources: hickory, black walnut, and butternut.

I deleted ash and elm, given the decimation of those species, respectively, by the Emerald ash borer, beginning in Michigan in 2002, and the Dutch elm disease, caused by a member of the sac fungi (Ascomycota) and spread by elm bark beetles, which arrived in Michigan in 1950.

Finally, I took beech and maple off the list, too, as one beech and three maples are already growing in our yard.

That left three possibilities:

  • Swamp white oak
  • Basswood (a.k.a. Linden)
  • Tulip Tree (a.k.a. White Wood).

And, I know absolutely nothing about any of these three tree species.

While I learn a little bit about them (including if they’re available to purchase and if they are, if they would do well here now, given that Royal Oak has been drained, the Red Run stuck in a pipe underground, and a lot of impermeable surfaces laid in the city) . . . I look forward, leaving you with a charming, but also quite practical, essay written by Evelyn Glass, a fifth-grade Royal Oak student, in 1929.

How to plant a tree


The children of Whittier School celebrated Arbor Day, Wednesday, May 1. Arbor Day is a day that each state puts aside to plant trees and shrubs. If we did not plant trees every year there soon would be no trees left.

I will tell you how to plant a tree. First, dig a hole bigger than the tree requires so that it will have room enough to grow. Trim all broken branches or nearly broken branches and then put the tree in the middle of the hole. Then sprinkle rich dirt around the roots and cover up and stamp down the dirt all around. If it is in the growing season, water the tree when first planted but don’t keep it up. Artificial water is not as good as rain.

Some of the common trees of Michigan to plant are the poplar, elm, willow and umbrella trees. There are also many other that I won’t name.

Don’t forget that “He who plants a tree plants love.”


A Fool for April . . .


. . . I am!

Credit or Debit, Red Maple or Silver Maple?

As the week of tax spreadsheets wore on, the flower buds on the maple twig I’d picked up on my morning walk with Jeanne S. wilted while waiting to be identified. I had planned for it to be my first subject to try out my copy of Winter Tree Finder: A Manual for Identifying Deciduous Trees in Winter. All I wanted was to get my taxes filed so I could get outside into Spring without the Burden-of-the-Undone weighing me down and so I could return to the Arbor-Day-Planting-Tree-Selection spreadsheet I’d barely begun the week before.

Happy to see our 2018 taxes off to our accountant yesterday morning. No joke!

Back at it

I listed the 13 trees in the order they were suggested:

Turns out, a tree-selection spreadsheet is much more fun to create and complete than tax spreadsheets. Who knew?

Comparing Tree Characteristics

Then I added columns to use in answering questions about each tree’s attributes:

  • Is the tree deciduous or evergreen?
  • Is the tree a native species to southeastern Michigan?
  • If it is not native to the area, would the tree grow well here?
  • Is the tree what we consider a “flowering” tree? (Note that many of the little “dots” currently creating the haze on the branches of deciduous trees are flowers, like the silver maple tree flower buds in the photo above; we generally consider catalpa, magnolia, redbud trees as flowering trees, but not an oak, elm, or birch.)
  • Is there something “symbolic” about the tree? (Like when Eileen P. suggested that I plant a ginkgo tree on the grounds of a senior center.)
  • Is there a special location–in my yard or elsewhere–to be considered?

Are there any other tree attributes you might suggest I consider in my comparison of the 13 species?

“. . . Leaping greenly spirits of trees . . .”

Have you noticed that once you start paying attention to trees, it’s very difficult not to notice them?

For me, this is especially true at this time of year–when you can still vividly see each tree’s habit–that is, its architecture–but, at the same time, that fuzzy haze is beginning, hinting at what’s to come with these increasingly warm sunny days. Perhaps e.e. cummings described this subject of our anticipation best: “the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky . . . “

Not just a 7th species . . . 7 more!


Last week, I asked for one more tree–a 7th suggestion–to add to my list of 6 species and received 7 more suggestions, more than doubling the list.

If you want to cut to the chase and see the full list of the 13 suggested tree species, check out The List. If you want to read the full story of who suggested what and why, read on . . .

A Pawpaw?

Writer Al C. suggested the Pawpaw tree, commenting after my last blog posting: “Have you considered a Pawpaw tree? They are native to Michigan. They have large (think: apple) fruit. The fruit tastes like banana and custard.” Al’s apparently on to something here. The Michigan Farmer website has a post entitled “The Possibility of the Pawpaw,” which states: “Although it’s been called the ‘Michigan banana,’ the pawpaw is actually related to the tropical custard-apple family and is the only temperate member of this tropical family of trees.”

The fruit of the Pawpaw tree (Photo by Tyrone Turner of WAMU 88.5, Washington’s NPR station owned by the American University.)

An Oak?

Writer Gerry F. suggested an Oak, explaining, “According to the Woodland Trust in the UK, ‘A single 400-year-old ancient Oak produces 234,000 liters of oxygen a year and may support more than 2,000 species of bird, insect, fungus, and lichen.'” 

The oak that stretches from the far side of neighbor Suzanne C.’s backyard over toward ours. At night, stars occasionally alight on its branches while it anchors the earth to the night sky.

A Redbud?

Fellow Troy-Community-Choir Member, Lisa E. suggested her favorite, the Redbud tree, adding “They put on the most beautiful show in the spring, very short, but well worth it!”

An Eastern Redbud (Photo by Marie C. Fields)

Writer Susan H-B. came back with a second suggestion, also recommending a Redbud, explaining, “. . . Less political, maybe, [than my Ohio Buckeye suggestion] but actually dearer to my heart. When I was growing up, we had a lovely redbud tree in Bellefountaine, one of the several towns we lived in. . . . We lived there during the happy middle of my elementary years. . . .I remember one afternoon walking along a ladder on the ground under the tree, singing ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad’ over and over.”

An Elm?

Writer Rhonda H. asked if she could make a second suggestion, putting forth the Elm, writing, “Today it hit me that I needed to speak up for the elm! I was thinking about the seeds/seedlings from that majestic one on Hazel St. It must be disease resistant to have survived Dutch elm disease. I don’t know if disease-resistant elm saplings are available or if it would require starting one from one of her seeds. (which I realize would take way too long), but I felt compelled to add elm to the list!”

Rhonda’s Hazel St. Elm in Birmingham, MI during construction (October 29, 2017)

Rhonda had given me the Hazel St. address from her route in Birmingham, MI in October of 2017, and I shot a few photos. She knew our neighborhood was dealing with a great loss of a number of large trees due to construction and was worried that the construction on Hazel St. would kill that grand elm. But, she drove by it Thursday and reported, “She’s still there, holding her own . . . so far.”

A Japanese Maple?

Daughter Caitlin B., who thinks I’ve become a “crazy tree lady,” nonetheless contributed her suggestion of a Japanese maple. We planted one at our house in Ferndale, MI, where we lived until she was 12.

One cool sunny Saturday morning, before she was born, I rode out with a friend of my husband’s who had a truck to a tree nursery to pick it out. My husband and Jimmy R. planted it right in the middle of and very close to the front of our house. A good place for what was supposed to be a “dwarf” variety of Japanese maple, but it quickly grew up toward and between Caitlin and her sister Meagan’s bedroom windows. It is still growing where it was planted on W. Maplehurst Ave. Caitlin likes the Japanese maple for its red leaves.

Caitlin’s former bedroom windows, top right, are now fully screened by the Japanese maple planted before she was born. (Photo from Google Street View, Aug. 2018)

A Magnolia?

Writer Barbara A. strongly recommended a Magnolia as “the most beautiful tree.” She explained, “When we were kids, our magnolia at our house in Dearborn, MI was the size of the universe. The canopy was low, and underneath its branches, we held tea parties and read. I especially remember reading The Kingdom of Carbonel–one of a series of books about a black cat–there. The magnolia’s leaves are a beautiful dark shiny green, and I love the flowers. Although it only lasted 3 hours, my wedding bouquet was made of magnolia flowers!”

A Saucer Magnolia (photo by Badgernet – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A Dawn Redwood?

Friend Barbara O. who knows her trees–coming in regular contact with them as a docent at both the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor and at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory (aka the “Belle Isle Conservatory”) on Belle Isle in Detroit, as well as in her treed lot in Franklin, MI–suggested the Dawn Redwood.

This was the first tree suggested that I’d never heard of before although Barbara tells me she has one growing in her front yard. The tree’s true name is Metasequoia, and it is one of three types of sequoias or redwoods in the world: Giant Redwoods, Coast Redwoods, and Dawn Redwoods. The Dawn Redwood is classified as a deciduous conifer, like the Tamarack (see “Lee’s Larches“).

A Dawn Redwood (photo by John Pozniak, July 5, 2004., CC BY-SA 3.0,

And, an interesting Ginkgo planting location suggestion

Writer Eileen P. added her vote, bringing the count–if we were counting–to 3 for one of the first 6 suggested trees, a Ginkgo. She suggested it be planted near a Senior Center. Ginkgo, revered as it is for its great longevity and with ginkgo leaf extracts supposed to support one’s memory, a senior center would make an excellent location to plant one. I met Eileen when she joined a writing workshop, “Finding Your Way to Writing” I was facilitating at the Mahany-Meininger Senior Center in Royal Oak. So, I guess we know which senior center!

13 trees . . .

And, a decision to be made soon. Arbor Day is just 38 days away. The information at the links on The List will surely prove helpful. I suspect a spreadsheet of tree species’ attributes is in my near future!

Can you suggest a 7th tree?


To plant a tree that would “attract Kirtland’s Warblers” is the most interesting suggestion I’ve received, so far.

Having just posted the Catalpa post before heading off to facilitate three writing workshops Wednesday, I got some interesting suggestions from writers.

A Ginkgo?

Writer Mary R. enthusiastically suggested a Ginkgo.

Her suggestion for a Ginkgo came on the heels of me musing that I might plant the tree in a schoolyard or park instead of my own yard. So many aspects of a Ginkgo that might engage kids!

I already have a Ginkgo tree in my front yard, one that we had transplanted 5 or 6 years ago, moving it from beneath the Honey-Locust vs. Norway-Maple canopy competition, so it had more room to grow and wouldn’t end up with a bent trunk while trying to reach for the sun. It had been a Mother’s Day present for the last owner of our home, Noreen B. Now in the center of my front yard, in winter months it often sports white twinkly lights.

The Ginkgo I had transplanted with my neighbor’s Aspen (never noticed ’til now how the skeletons of the two mirror each other’s shape–can you see?) and Birch behind it; Hawthorn to the left of them, Honey Locust to the right.

A favorite among several . . .

The Ginkgo, along with the Sycamore and the Beech, is one of 3 of my favorite trees in our yard.

Although I must say, my granddaughter Avery Grace‘s fascination with the swaying-in-the-breeze fruits of the Sweetgum tree, just over the border of our property to the west has been working on me the last three years since she first became aware of them on another Sweetgum when she lived in the Duke Forest.

Then there is my neighbor Suzanne C.’s magical quartet of front-yard trees: Hawthorn, Aspen, Birch, and Smoke Tree! She also has a large White Pine at the sidewalk, and on the west side and in the back, several Oaks, and a Walnut tree that drops its squirrel-favored fruit over our fence.

A White Pine?

Writer Harah F. suggested a White Pine.

This tree, formally known as an Eastern White Pine, was designated Michigan’s state tree in 1955.

The White Pine was chosen to serve in this role because from 1870 into the early 20th century Michigan led the nation in lumber production, and the White Pine was the most important of all “timber trees.”

Achieving this #1 lumbering status, of course, involved cutting down most of the state’s White Pines, many of which were “over 200 years old, two hundred feet in height and five feet in diameter.” Much of the forest land in Michigan “sold for as little as $1.25 an acre; and later, under the 1862 Homestead Act, men were hired to claim a plot of 160 acres and stay until the timber on it was cut.” [Emphasis mine; source:]

A beloved neighbor, a White Pine.

But then, Harah F. reconsidered her suggestion, “But with climate change . . . ”

Certainly, a consideration. Currently, White Pines can be found in all of the state “except for the southwestern quarter of the Lower Peninsula.” [Source: Trees of Michigan: Field Guide by Stan Tekiela (Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, 2002, p. 27.]

White Pines in the 49-acre old-growth forest of Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, MI (shot June 7, 2017).

However, I checked out the USDA Forest Service offering “A Climate Change Tree Atlas” for 134 species of trees. The map models forecasting the future of the White Pine in Michigan in a warming world show them decidedly less prevalent in Michigan.

A Buckeye?

Writer Susan H-B. suggested a Buckeye.

When I asked her why, Susan reminded me that she was from Ohio, sent me the buckeye photo below, and added, “I love buckeyes and somehow manage to collect one everywhere I go, even in France. The tree looks just like a tree you draw when you’re six, has the same rounded shape, just with buckeyes instead of apples.”

An Ohio Buckeye
(Source: The University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment’s Department of Horticulture’s website:

Known as the “Ohio Buckeye,” this tree is the state tree of Ohio as well as the name of Ohio State University football team. Oh, dear! While the Klotzbach side of my family came, most recently, from Cleveland, Ohio, our youngest daughter, Caitlin Skye, graduated from the University of Michigan. So, given the Wolverine vs. Buckeye rivalry, perhaps not.

Despite being officially known as the Ohio Buckeye, (as well as the American Horse-Chestnut), the Buckeye is native to Michigan, growing in the southern part of the Lower Peninsula. Although we probably should be expecting the Buckeye’s range to be moving north in the warmer years to come.

Reading up on the Buckeye–if I’ve ever seen one, I didn’t know that was what I was looking at–I discovered a few more reasons why a Buckeye might not be the best choice :

  • The Buckeye’s green flowers–and most other parts of the tree–emit a foul odor when crushed (the tree is also known as “Fetid Buckeye” or “Stinking Buckeye”)
  • The Buckeye’s fruit is a 1-2″ spiny capsule, which could add to the challenge of walking barefoot in my front yard between the Sycamore and Sweetgum (although no sprained ankles have yet occurred from the fruits of either in our time here)
  • The Buckeye’s seeds are poisonous and avoided by wildlife.

[Source of information in the list above: Trees of Michigan: Field Guide by Stan Tekiela (Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, 2002, p. 211.]

A second vote for a Catalpa

Writer Rhonda H. had not yet read my most recent blog posting when she recommended a Catalpa tree, not knowing it had also been suggested by Jan P.

When Rhonda is not writing, she’s delivering mail in Birmingham, MI. She identified a Cedar St. in Birmingham as a street where Catalpas have been planted. (Interesting note for local readers: Cedar St. runs south into a two-block Catalpa Drive, a different Catalpa Drive from the one known as “11-and-1/2 Mile” that runs through Royal Oak and Berkley.)

Later, after she’d read my Catalpa post, Rhonda H. e-mailed me, writing, “I was reminded of a Catalpa I love on one of my routes. It’s [on] Oakland Ave. . . . What I especially love about it is the way the light filters through the leaves . . . I don’t know why this particular Catalpa captivates me. Cedar’s catalpas are much older and grander. This one’s youngish, but pretty much takes up the whole front yard. I wish you could see it with leaves, in sunlight.”

Above: Rhonda H.’s favorite Catalpa (L) with what seems to be a double trunk in the (unfortunately fuzzy) screenshot of Google Maps’ address photo; notice zig-zagging branches and (R) behind what appears be a Honey Locust on the right and a Blue Spruce on the left, growing on Oakland Ave. in Birmingham, MI (source: Google Maps Street View, August 2018)

The Nextdoor Catalpa Gang

I recently started following the Gardening & Landscape (G&L) interest group on Nextdoor, the private social network for communities. Yesterday, after having received the two Catalpa tree votes, I headed a post in the G&L group entitled “Catalpa tree, anyone?”

Nextdoor G& L members,–Elyse C., Lisa H., Rebecca B., Chuck H., Michelle L., and Laura C.–all responded positively to my inquiry about the choice of a Catalpa. In addition to this group’s apparent unanimous love of the tree, Chuck sent a photo of his flourishing Catalpa. Both Elyse and Laura offered me one of their baby Catalpa saplings (apparently, like Maples, Catalpas plant themselves). Michelle provided a description of the Catalpa flowers, ending with a two-word sentence: “A joy.”

Members of the Catalpa Gang gave me specific locations of where I could find Catalpa trees growing locally. Saturday, on a brisk two-mile walk to downtown Royal Oak, I came across these three:

Now about those Kirtland’s Warblers . . .

Writer Tim H. was the person who suggested I plant a tree that would attract Kirtland’s Warblers.

This meant a little bit of bird research. I read that while the Kirtland’s Warbler was nearly extinct 50 years ago, its population is increasing. I know from the reports of birders that Kirtland’s Warblers, during migration season, have been seen on Pelee Island, an Ontario island in the western basin of Lake Erie, where we have a cottage. But where is home for the Kirtland’s Warbler?

“[Kirtland’s Warbler] is noted for its extremely limited range [breeding only in north-central Michigan]. During the breeding season, it is confined to dense stands of young jack pines that spring up after forest fires in. Once such stands reach about 20 feet, the birds abandon them. Even in winter [in the Bahamas] it inhabits low scrub, although not always pines. Recently a sanctuary has been established by the State of Michigan where controlled burning will attempt to maintain the required habitat of this rare bird.

The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region by John Bull and John Farrand, Jr. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977)
A Kirtland’s Warbler in a Jack Pine tree

A Jack Pine?

No wonder the Kirtland’s Warbler is also known as the Jack Pine Warbler.

A Jack Pine forest (source:

I suspect Tim H. will be disappointed, but although I love Jack Pines and wouldn’t mind sharing my yard with one, I’m never going to be able to provide a “dense stand of young jack pines” here in Royal Oak, not in my lifetime, let alone engage in controlled burns. It also appears we’re too far south and east for the Kirtland Warbler’s to appreciate a dense stand of young jack pines even if I could provide them one.

A Birch?

Our neighbors Lynn L. and Fred G. treated us to dinner Saturday evening, and they both rooted for a Birch. They have long had a love affair with the one in the yard behind theirs.

Lynn L.’s and Fred G.’s backyard neighbor’s birch, admired by them through all of the seasons, rises above a garage cupola.

There are other birches in the neighborhood, including right next door, although they have always seemed happier to me Up North . . .

. . . and especially in the boreal forest of Isle Royale (shot off the north side of the island, August 2013).

Current finalists

These are the six trees I’ve received recommendations to plant so far:

  • Catalpa (2)
  • Gingko
  • Eastern White Pine
  • Ohio Buckeye
  • Jack Pine
  • Paper Birch

Romeo weighs in

Last night at my first “island book” presentation of 2019, a woman who had been in the audience approached me while I was signing books and whispered in my ear, “Gingko biloba.” It took me a minute. During the period at the end of my talk where I take questions, someone had asked what I was working on now. So, I told them about the Arbor Day Plot. Then I had returned to islands.

This woman was suggesting I plant a Gingko, using the tree’s Latin name: Gingko biloba. She explained Gingkos are the oldest trees on earth and have beautiful fan-shaped leaves.

So, the week began with a second vote for Gingko.

[Gingko] trees . . . grew up with the dinosaurs and have come down to us almost unchanges for 200 million years . . . Gingko is now the most widely recognized of all botanical “living fossils” . . . Fossil gingko leaves are known from every continent. The prehistory of ginkgo goes back to before the Atlantic Ocean existed and before the southern continents broke from Antarctica and went their own ways . . . Human dominance on our planet could have meant the end for ginkgo, but unlike many other trees, it has flourished alongside people. In one way or another, it has proved useful; more unusually, it has become revered.

— Peter Crane in Ginkgo: the tree that time forgot (London: Yale University Press, 2013)

The time is nigh

If you have any opinions–pro or con–about any of these six trees, or another tree to recommend, please get it/them to me this week. I’m feeling with this morning’s sun and the temperature on the rise, next week would be a good time to make a decision. The questions of where and how and who’s going to plant loom.

Hearts and Trumpets, Cigars and Fenceposts


“How about a catalpa tree?”

While catching up over lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Plymouth, my friend Jan from Ann Arbor (and my Beaver Island companion), suggested I consider planting a catalpa tree when the time comes in April. She described several individual catalpa trees that she looks for and admires in the area and mentioned their specific locations.

One pair of neighbors discover another pair

I immediately thought of the pair of catalpa trees my walking partner Jeanne and I discovered and identified–thanks to her gift of Trees, a Smithsonian Nature Guide–a few years ago.

Two catalpas on a little island between pedestrian crosswalks (at the junction of Vinsetta Blvd. and Murdoch Ave., just southwest of Crooks Road in Royal Oak, MI). Don’t they look like an old married couple? He, tall and lanky; she, short and buxom.

Easy-to-identify trees

  • First, we noticed the trees’ huge heart-shaped leaves on our early-morning walks. Catalpa leaves can be up to 12 inches from stem to stern.
  • Late in the season, long after other flowering trees were done blooming, we were drawn to the trees by the sweet fragrance of their creamy-white orchid-like flowers, which feature flourishes of purple streaks and orangish-yellow spots from their ruffled petals into the throats of their trumpets. In this pair, only the tree on the right (above in the photo) blooms, at least since we’ve been paying attention.
  • Finally, when the flowers are just a memory and the leaves have fallen, the long bean-like seed pods hang from the tree. These pods can be as long as 18 inches and hang onto the tree through the winter. As you can see above, as of March 6, they’re still hanging on. This fruit is apparently what gives the catalpa two of its nicknames: the “Cigar Tree” and the “Indian Bean.”

Two bits of history

A third “nickname” for the catalpa is the original name it was first given: “Catawba.” “Catalpa” is considered a misunderstanding of this original Cherokee name of the tree.

The southern variety of catalpa was “once widely planted for fenceposts.” Perhaps because, while its wood is “soft and light, [it is] surprisingly durable in contact with the soil.” That may explain why “in the Mississippi Valley, considerable plantations of catalpa” were maintained. And, why the wood of the catalpa was, for a time, used for railroad ties.

Imagining our pair’s history

Both of these trees appear to be old. I read that catalpa trees prefer “moist valley soils by streams.” Might this pair have, at one time, graced the banks (or less poetically, the floodplain) of the Red Run before the creek was corraled into a giant drainpipe and buried under Vinsetta’s boulevard?

Or, maybe being so cement-bound has just aged them before their time. I fervently hope the city leaves them alone.

A volunteer put up for adoption

I don’t even have one photo of the one other catalpa I have known, the little one I adopted in 2017. Neighbors around the block from me posted a photo on our Nextdoor site of the “volunteer” tree that was growing too close to their deck, asking if anyone wanted it. After getting to know and appreciate the pair of catalpas above, I did.

It was the end of a hot July, but the neighbors wanted it removed right away, so I went over and tried to carefully extract it out of dry, dry ground. Its small trunk was growing up snug to the deck, which made it difficult to get at its rootball from behind. Eventually, I had to call for help and resort to half digging and half pulling it free from rock-solid earth.

The Water Wagon

We planted the maybe two-foot-tall catalpa on the park lawn, where it would get some sun and have some room to grow, out from under the canopy of the other big trees in the yard. And, then we watered and watered and watered it. Our hoses, even all combined, wouldn’t stretch that far, so it was a matter of filling a Home Depot bucket with water, hoisting it up into the old family wagon, and transporting it down the driveway to the little three-foot tree. I wondered how many springs before it would bloom.

One of the things I did on my summer vacation

The week after the catalpa was transplanted, we left for a family reunion in Estes Park, Colorado. Lying in bed at night in a cabin on the banks of the Big Thompson River and listening to its babble and rush, it would not be an exaggeration to say I was praying that rain was falling in Michigan on the little tree.

The view from our cabin of Big Thompson Creek at Estes Park, Colorado

But, when we arrived back home at the end of a ten-day Michigan August heat wave, it was too late for the water wagon to make a difference.

Lesson learned

I have no intention of planting a tree, any tree, ever again in summer. (Any more than I’d choose to plant another honey locust tree close to my house.)

What do you know about catalpa trees?

So I’m curious what you would think about the choice of a catalpa tree? Have you ever planted one or lived with one? Are there any other catalpa trees that you’ve noticed? Is there anything I should know about catalpa trees if I were to decide to plant one?

And . . .

Do you have a suggestion of another tree I should consider before deciding on what tree I’m going to plant at the end of April?

“. . . I will tell you how to plant a tree. First, dig a hole bigger than the tree requires so that it will have room enough to grow. Trim all broken branches or nearly broken branches and then put the tree in the middle of the hole. Then sprinkle rich dirt around the roots and cover up and stamp down the dirt all around. If it is in the growing season, water the tree when first planted but don’t keep it up. Artificial water is not as good as rain. . . .”

— From “arbor day” by evelyn glass of whittier [elementary school], 5a, in 1929, as reprinted in Royal Oak twigs and acorns, COMPILED BY DAVID G. PENNEY AND LOIS A. LANCE (ANN ARBOR, MI: SHERIDAN BOOKS, 2008)

Singing Tree and the Honey Locust


I shot this photo with my back pressed against my front door, looking across our single-lane driveway to the honey locust tree. At the top of the photo, you can see the overhang on the east side of our house. On the left side of the photo is the roof of our carport. Within 8 feet of the trunk is our neighbors’ house.

Without a doubt, this tree should never have been planted where it is.

This is the biggest of three honey locusts planted around our house. While I can’t separate this particular honey locust from the other trees planted between the two houses in earlier photos of our property, you can just decipher the slender trunk of the honey locust planted in our front yard (in what we think might be the 70s, judging from the car).

A member of the pea (!) family (Fabaceae), honey locusts are fast-growing trees. The one on the drive may have gotten a boost in 2007 and 2008 from having its roots cut along the entire west side of my neighbors’ house when they had a foundation added to their house. A tree service consultant told me at the time that such cutting shouldn’t hurt the tree, and in fact, may make the tree grow “like a weed.”

Maybe it has. But some developments that I’ve noticed over the last two years–involving its trunks, branches, and roots–have worried me.

The Bump

A bump just below the first fork (aka crotch, or main union) of the tree had appeared and seems to be increasing in size. What is causing it? Is it making the main union weaker?

The bump extruding from the trunk just below the main union of the honey locust on our driveway.

A little bit of research indicates that the bump is a burl. Most burls result from some sort of injury to the tree or infection by viruses, fungi, bacteria or insects. Lovely.

While burls are prized by woodworkers for their unusual woodgrain pattern, I’d prefer not to have one growing off the trunk of a tree for which I’m responsible.

Deepening Divisions

The burl isn’t the only thing going on with the trunk.

Instead of possessing one solid round-in-diameter trunk, like the other two honey locusts have, this one seems to be a composite of four pole-like legs with what appears to be deepening divisions. Imagine four very large asparagus stalks rubberbanded together, covered in bark, and melded together in the middle. Squirrels have taken to storing their treasures in the crannies between the segments. Does this unusual structure make the tree stronger or weaker?

Chipmunk Bunker

Our driveway has been cracked for a long time, maybe since before we moved in. It’s become clear from their location that the cracks are caused by the apparently flourishing roots of the honey locust. This past year, a crack became an open crevice. Judging from activity in the fall, a very cozy chipmunk is hibernating there now.

Icy Fingers

Despite having had deadwood trimmed and the crown raised higher above our roof a few years ago, when ice coated the branches and twigs during storms this winter, I could see–and my neighbor Kate could hear–the tree’s fingers dragging along her roof.

Seeking Advice

Our former tree service consultant suggested we put four metal bolts through the trunk to hold the segments together and install two cables in the tree’s crown. However, this was not going to be cheap or guaranteed. Maybe I should spend just a little bit more and have the tree cut down instead?

When I asked for a second opinion of a highly recommended arborist at a local nursery, she asked for photographs. Basing her opinion on the photographs I e-mailed her, she basically responded, “Bad spot for a not-good specimen of the species. Remove it.”

This seemed harsh. If the tree did not pose a danger to my neighbors’ or my house, who was I to remove it?

This arborist, not knowing that she was my second opinion, offered the contact information for another arborist to provide another opinion. He came out, saw the tree, and said that while his opinion was that the tree never should have been planted where it was, there was no reason why it would not stand.

On the other hand, he continued, there is never a guarantee. Some of the strongest-looking trees fall. Oh, great.

Complicating Factors

Did I mention that both of the entrances to our house are off of our driveway, directly across from the tree? And, that a honey locust, while providing beautiful dappled shade with its ferny “twice compound” leaves composed of small leaflets. . .

Photograph by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

. . . loses those small leaflets when they are green, yellow, and brown, all year long. I am forever sweeping and picking up small leaflets tracked in on the soles of every single person who enters our home.

Tracked in just today when I went out to take the photo of the burl: a honey locust leaflet wearing its winter color and posing on a one-inch square tile.

This honey locust has probably been growing in this spot for about 50 years. Trees of this non-native species generally live 100 – 125 years. And, now the decision whether it lived or died was up to me. My husband, wise man that he is, knowing how I felt about trees, refused to offer an opinion.

What I Wish

I fervently wish that the tree had never been planted where it was. Or that one of the two owners of the property before I moved in had removed the tree. But it was, and they hadn’t.

I would be excited for the opportunity to have a new smooth driveway poured come spring.

I would be so very happy to be able to stop sweeping–or feel like I should be sweeping–my seriously cracked drive, our two entrance stoops, every room in my house.

I would love for the small leaflets–along with the increasingly big worry that keeps me awake these windy nights–to simply vanish from my life.

But . . .

But when this honey locust is in leaf, the tree rises above our houses in a fountain of green that can be seen upon the downhill street approach across from our houses or from an around-the-block stroll.

It is a part of the neighborhood’s canopy, a canopy which has already been severely diminished in the last 5 years by developers’ greed.

The honey locust’s trunk with a circumference of 6’8′ also creates a division between my neighbor’s windows and the windows of our living space. We are very fortunate to have good neighbors on both sides of us, but with respect to the east, our houses would seem much closer without the honey locust between them.

What to Do?

Until this week, I thought the best thing someone could have told me was that the inside of the tree was rotten and that a wind like those we’ve had in the past week could blow it over. Then both my worry and the mess of the leaflets could have been removed without evoking any guilt in me about removing a mature tree. But then my neighbor suggested I call Kevin Bingham of Singing Tree, who had taken care of her mom Sue’s trees.

Singing Tree

Singing Tree also trims the trees inside the Belle Isle Conservatory and outside of Detroit’s Dorothy H. Turkel House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956.

Kevin’s partner Emily Brent came out to have a look at the honey locust. She suggested trimming the tree’s crown up 5 – 10″ feet above my neighbor’s roof and dealing with the water drainage problem between our houses as the way to stop the tree’s roots from their interest in cracking my neighbors’ foundation.

From the ground, she was not worried about the burl, the divided trunk, or what the roots were up to. She suggested their crew leader, Evan, could do an aerial inspection and before either trimming or removal commenced, we’d have a conversation. I made an appointment for Monday morning at 9:00 a.m..

Monday Morning 8:45 A.M.

The Singing Tree crew showed up a few minutes before the appointed time and got right on it.
Singing Tree Crew (left to right): Crew leader Evan and Dean, checking out the tight situation, and Nick, who’s attending to the flatbed trailer down on the street.

Crew Leader, Evan, prepares for an aerial inspection of the main union of honey locust.
The Singing Tree crew did a fantastic job of cleaning up!

A Reprieve for the Tree

The honey locust passed inspection. Emily, Kevin, Evan, and Dean all agreed that they’d not have planted the tree where it is, but that they would not remove if it were in such a location on a piece of property belonging to them.

Another Decision

Given the positive experience I’ve had with both partners and their crew, I’ve decided Singing Tree will be monitoring the honey locust along with the rest of the trees on my property in the years to come.

And the Winds of the Last Week?

At night, I listen to the wind in the trees outside my window. Then I drift off to sleep, with no worry. And, no guilt.

Arboretum Added


The new “Arboretum” menu choice is a place to showcase tree photos from you and other readers.

Arboretum is a place to showcase photos of trees: favorite trees, unusual trees, or just trees you see going about your everyday life or while traveling.

If you e-mail a tree photo(s), I’ll plant (i.e., post) it in the Arboretum. You’re welcome to include any information (or not) about the tree: the tree’s location and/or species; why you noticed it and/or the relationship you have with it; and any other interesting things about the tree. Tree information you share will be included in the photo’s caption.

Check out “Leigh’s Larches” . . . the inspiration for adding the Arboretum feature. Thanks, Leigh!

Do you have a photo of a tree to add to the Arboretum? Send it to

Why Not?


Now that Questions 9 & 10 of the 2019 Michigan Tree Survey had done half of the heavy lifting to get me started on this project (thank you, dear Julia, “City Appraiser 1,” for doing the other half!) . . . why not mail the survey to the Arbor Day Foundation? Even almost a month late, I suspect they’ll accept my donation.

2019 Michigan Tree Survey with the 2 questions that “stuck” outlined in red

I reviewed my December answers. For Q. 9, I had initially filled in the bubble that indicated I knew “almost all” of the trees near my home. On a neighborhood walk, however, I realized that there were more than a few trees I didn’t know, so “some” it is. For now.

Needy National Forests?

I knew I couldn’t handle planting 10 flowering trees and 2 lilac bushes, so I figured I’d have the Foundation plant 10 more trees in a national forest “in greatest need” of trees.

But, I wondered: What forests are in the greatest need? Forests hit by wildfires in the West? Are Michigan’s three national forests–Huron-Manistee, Hiawatha, and Ottawa–in need?

I decided to choose national forests in greatest need, even though I hadn’t a clue which those are or where they are located. It appeared to be my only alternative to ending up with a bunch of trees I might inadvertently kill by not getting them all in the ground in a timely fashion.

A Third Option

But then . . . while catching up with my personal e-mail account yesterday, I discovered that I had received an e-mail from Arbor Day Foundation the same day I posted “Resolved: Plant a Tree on Arbor Day 2019. ” The subject of the e-mail is: “Provide trees for disaster recovery.” That piqued my interest. I went looking and found this tree-planting story: The Journey to Recovery in the Wake of Hurricane Michael.

Tree Recovery Highlights:

  • “Florida suffered $1.3 billion in timber loss, affecting 2.8 million acres and more than 200 communities” during Hurricane Michael in October 2017.
  • The Arbor Day Foundation and the Florida Forest Service partnered for Florida’s Arbor Day on January 18, 2018, to give away free trees to Panhandle residents.
  • “In Marianna, 700 trees were distributed to residents in 20 minutes. In Panama City, 800 trees were given away in about an hour. On Saturday, 500 trees were distributed in 30 minutes” in Panama City Beach. 
  •  In all, “2,000 trees were distributed to residents and 15 large trees were planted at our host sites.”

With the influx of natural disasters happening around the world, it’s easy for affected communities to become forgotten each time the next disaster pummels in, overtaking the news and our attention. But the Arbor Day Foundation’s Community Tree Recovery program aims to combat this habit of forgetting, activating long-term tree recovery efforts in these affected communities once the dust settles.

–Arbor day foundation

Tree Loss

I have thought about tree loss when it comes to wildfires. But, I hadn’t thought about the tree loss a hurricane or other natural disaster might bring to a homeowner, a street, a neighborhood, a community.

I did think about it yesterday, as the wind gusted, rattling the branches of the trees with which I share my yard. Losing any one of them would be very sad. (Okay, maybe not the Honey Locust alongside my cracked driveway, but that’s a story for next week.)

Houses can be rebuilt, belongings can be replaced. The loss of a mature tree in one’s yard or neighborhood is more analogous to the loss of a wedding photo album, the baby pictures, great-grandma’s brooch, a distant member of the family. Irreplaceable in our lifetime.

The Perfect Solution

My doctored Arbor Day Foundation donation form

And finally . . .


My check’s in the mail.

Resolved: Plant a Tree on Arbor Day 2019


For 2019, I had decided I wanted to make a resolution that might someday make a difference for my neighborhood and community while contributing to a greener future.

Helping my parents move out of their house of 42 years in 2018 put me on intimate terms with the various bins at SOCCRA (the Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority), so in November, I was thinking I might resolve to do something related to recycling.

But, instead, circumstances in December led me to resolve to plant a tree.

This tree, outside of my study window, is one of my favorite among all of the trees I’ve ever known. Do you have a favorite tree?

Trying to distract myself, I find an unexpected focus.

Shortly before the holidays, when all of the nonprofits that had ever gotten ahold of my e-mail address were sending out pleas to get me to make a donation before the end of 2018, I received–delivered by U.S. postal carrier–a survey from the Arbor Day Foundation.

I suspect I had “earned” it because, at some point in the last 5 years, upset by the imminent destruction by a developer of a grove of beautiful beech trees in my neighborhood, I had donated some money out of grief. I have no actual recollection of doing this. Maybe the survey was just a random mailing. Maybe you got one too.

In mid-December, I searched for a pencil, sat down on my kitchen counter stool, and filled in an oval under each of the 17 multiple-choice questions on the 2019 Michigan Tree Survey. It served as a good temporary fix to avoid facing my overwhelming list of holiday tasks.

But, nobody ever got my answers.

I didn’t mail my completed survey. At the end of the survey, were two choices more than I could handle at the time:

  1. How much money to donate to the organization
  2. Whether to a) take the “10 FREE Flowering Trees & 2 FREE Fragrant Lilacs” in return for my donation or b) designate that the foundation “plant 10 more trees in one of our nation’s forests in greatest need.”

What I imagined doing in order to answer Question #1 was going back through our charitable giving for 2018 to figure out what made sense to send to the Arbor Day Foundation. (Hey, just abandon that holiday gift list and get a jump on 2018 taxes!)

The holiday haze has cleared enough that I’m sure receiving 10 trees and 2 lilacs to plant would be 11 too many things to plant.

Two questions stuck.

The survey was due by January 18, 2019. It had been filled out for over a month at that point. But, I didn’t mail it. And, still haven’t. It certainly isn’t because I’ve forgotten about it. The survey questions–two in particular–keep floating up in my mind unprovoked, as if from a Magic 8 Ball:

9. Can you identify the trees near your Royal Oak home? I selected the answer “Some of them.”

10. How many trees do you have on your property? I had to count before I picked “More than 7.” (Twice that, in fact. Who knew?)

The canopy, probably in Spring 2006, before we became the third owners of our 1956 house in July of 2006. You can see just a sliver of the trunk of my favorite tree at the left edge of the photograph.

Serendipity arrived with the City Assessor . . .

The same week I completed the survey, a city assessor pulled up in our driveway to have a look at the one-room addition we’re in the process of adding to the back of our house. I took her on a guided tour, explaining, in passing, what we’d done to try to remain true to the style of our unique “California ranch,” which had been featured in the “Living” section of the Detroit Free Press in 1957.

As our conversation was winding down and Julia was about to take her leave of me, she showed me an official-looking record card clipped on her metal clipboard. On the card was a photo of our house with notes below it printed in pencil. She said something about the assessment reports being digitized now and asked if would I like the old photo of our house.  Of course, I would. She added that there appeared to be another older photo beneath it.

. . . and a trio of photos.

And, it did appear that the top photo was glued onto another beneath it. I went back inside and set the teakettle to boiling. I was able to remove this photo:

Top photo of three attached to the county’s assessment record card for our house

This first photo, featuring the front sunroom addition–the only previous addition to the house–had been glued on to another photo:

Middle photo attached to the assessment record card, bearing spots and smears of glue

This middle photo–which also featured the front sunroom addition–was attached by two staples, which I carefully removed, to discover another 3.5 x 3.5 photo, this one black and white, showing a seamless driveway (unlike what exists now), a thick and even lawn (also unlike what exists now), and the house minus the front sunroom:

The bottom one of the photos, the earliest of the three

Judging from the pencil notes on this black and white photo: the photo that was glued on the top of the other two appears to have been taken on May 6, 1983 when the city was assessing the new baseboard heat in the sunroom addition. It’s clearly spring in the photo with a flowering tree in bloom and the deciduous trees just leafing out.

The middle photo was from November 3, 1981 when the sunroom was first added. The leaves clearly need raking in the photo, and the photo is dated “NOV 81” in the bottom right corner.

Initially, I thought the black and white photo must have been taken when the house was first built, but then I realized that the white convertible parked in front of it is not a car of the 50s. My husband and a friend, Rick Seymour, thought it might be a Pontiac from the 70s.

But, then I started looking closer. Not at the house. Not at the unidentified car. I started looking at the trees.

More changes than I expected.

First, I notice the unfamiliar trees that show up in that black and white photo–and appear in the 1983 photo as well–that are no longer in our yard and were not here when we bought the house almost 13 years ago.

And then, I notice the empty places where trees whose shade we enjoy today hadn’t been planted yet.

Finally, I am amazed by how much and how fast the trees–those that were there in the black and white photo and are still in our yard today–have grown.

Here’s just one example.

Let’s consider the big tree in the middle of my front yard that sheds its bark every year. I’d been told this was a sycamore tree by my neighbor, Mrs. Genevieve Irwin. But, a tree service company referred to it as a London plane tree. I would have bet it was a sycamore. However, after last week’s wind, when I went out to take the photo of it (below on the right), I discovered a pair of the tree’s spherical fruits sharing the same stalk lying on the driveway.

Fruit from a London plane or a sycamore tree? Descriptions of the bark behavior of a sycamore (vs. a London plane) more closely matches the tree in my yard.

Generally, a sycamore’s fruits grow just one to a stalk while the London plane tree bears its fruits in pairs. Apparently, the operative word is “generally,” and looking up into the branches, I saw more single balls on stalks swaying in the cold morning than pairs hanging together. Apparently, Mrs. Irwin knew trees, especially those in the canopy that stretches over our two yards.

In the photo on the right above, notice the house (minus the sunroom) in relationship to the slender sycamore. Over the weekend, on February 9, 2019, I took the photo on the right, where the sycamore is towering over what now almost appears to be a playhouse. Look how much this sycamore has grown in less than 50 years!

I’m curious: How might you answer these questions?

  • Do you know how many trees share your lot with you? I didn’t suspect that at least 14 trees were shading my house and digging their roots deep in my yard. I’d never thought to count them before.
  • Do you know to what species each of your trees belongs? It’s taken me a dozen years to learn the identity of all of the trees on my property and in my two neighbors’ yards. I suspect that at some point in recent history that would have been considered one of the marks of an uneducated person.
  • Can you identify the other trees in your neighborhood? Some, but not all. Not yet.

My resolution evolves.

The Arbor Day tree survey, the photos documenting the earlier life of the trees that now share the yard with me, and the coincidence of both arriving at my door in the same week tugged at me for the next few weeks. What finally floated to my awareness was my recognition of how grateful I am that the two families living at this address before me had planted trees. Then I wondered if something I could do might have a similar impact on future owners of my house and residents in my neighborhood, people I might never meet. Perhaps they would come to appreciate a tree that I could plant this year. A different kind of random act of kindness. Seemed a perfect resolution for my resolution quest!

Resolved: To plant a tree somewhere where no tree currently grows on Arbor Day 2019. Meanwhile, now that I know the why and when, I plan to figure out the what, where, and how of the tree’s planting.

Oh, and I’ll take all the help anyone has to offer.

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

— anonymous