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