Happy Arbor Day 2019 …

. . . 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: https://readytogrowtrees.com/products/serviceberry-shadblow

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: https://www.amazon.com/1-White-Flowering-Dogwood-cornus-florida/dp/B01D12HHFO

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 (http://commons.wikmedia.org)
Tulip-tree flower and leaves
Photo credit: Jack Spruill (https://www.ncwildflower.org/plant_galleries/details/liriodendron-tulipifera)

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 https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=TIAM
Heart-shaped leaves of the American Basswood
Photo credit: John Hagstrom (https://www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-plant-descriptions/american-basswood)
American Basswood (aka “Bee-tree”)
Photo credit: Bill Harms (https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/viewSpecies.php?species=1372)

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 . . . “