Can you suggest a 7th tree?

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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: http://www.michigan-history.org/lumbering/LumberingBriefHistory.html]

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: http://www.uky.edu/hort/Ohio-Buckeye)

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: PublicDomainPictures.net).

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

A Birch?

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

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

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

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

Current finalists

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

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

Romeo weighs in

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

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

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

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

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

The time is nigh

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

Hearts and Trumpets, Cigars and Fenceposts

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“How about a catalpa tree?”

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

One pair of neighbors discover another pair

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

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

Easy-to-identify trees

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

Two bits of history

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

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

Imagining our pair’s history

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

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

A volunteer put up for adoption

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

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

The Water Wagon

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

One of the things I did on my summer vacation

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

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

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

Lesson learned

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

What do you know about catalpa trees?

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

And . . .

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

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

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