5 writers go into an arb …

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En Plein Air Writing

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

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

. . . reduced stress, improved mood, improved creative problem-solving, improved immunity, lower blood pressure and accelerated recovery from illness or trauma.

https://www.forestholidays.co.uk/activities/forest-bathing/benefits/ (See abstracts of research studies.)

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

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

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

Workshop Process and Products

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

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

— Writer Anne Grogan

“Elm” by Jan Hunt

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

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

The Pussy Willow Tree” by Theresa Nielsen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To a Dogwood in Suburbia” by Elizabeth Brent

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

“Old Dogwood Tree” (Cornus florida) photo by Scott Robinson https://www.flickr.com/photos/clearlyambiguous/140049010/

Serendipity and Synchronicity

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

  • The week of July 22nd, I began this post, blogging from Durham, North Carolina, more specifically from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, where my eldest daughter is Director of the Rachel Carson Scholars program.
  • A dear friend and wonderful writer, Harah Frost, posted a piece on July 21st apparently written en plein air, “Summer This Time” on her Harah Frost blog.
  • The blog connected to my Goddard College program (Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, ’96), “The Writer in the World,” featured a posting by Sherri Smith on July 23rd: “Activism for Introverts“.
Royal Oak’s Tenhave Woods, by Corey Seeman https://www.flickr.com/photos/cseeman/44653378402

A Second for a Serviceberry

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

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

A Serviceberry in bloom

Another name for Shadbush

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

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

Deliberations recommence . . .

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

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

. . . And dreams win

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

The Final Plan

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

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

Happy Birthday, Bro!

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

Searching for 1971 Champions

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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 …

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. . . 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
http://minnesotaseasons.com/Plants/American_basswood.html
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Unsettled

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,
Bronwen

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
https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/34612579626

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

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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
(http://shade-trees.tripod.com/families/)

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”

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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:
https://www.romi.gov/
DocumentCenter/View/19606/Arboretum-2017?bidId=

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

ARBOR DAY

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.”

by Evelyn Glass, whittier 5a, 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. 261.)

A Fool for April . . .

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. . . 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 . . . “