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.