American Sweetgum - Liquidambar styraciflua

The American Sweetgum tree (species: Liquidambar styraciflua) is one of my favorite Autumn color trees. The image above is from a tree in Switzerland and the tree below is from a fine example near the base of the Eiffel tower in Paris. Both of these images give an idea of the magnificent range of bright colors that this tree can show off in the fall. It is for these colors that this tree species has become a favorite as an ornamental tree for parks, gardens and avenues.

The leaf of the American Sweetgum (also known as the Redgum) is a five pointed star like leaf that is similar to those of the Sugar Maple. It has a slightly serrated margin and measures about 4-6 inches across.
The "fruits" of the American sweetgum is one of the key identifiers for this tree species. They are small spiky balls that measure about an inch in diameter. They are bright green until they turn black after maturing and releasing their seed capsules. There are many names given to these curious little fruits including "space bugs".

The leaves have rather long stems that grow out of the ends of new branchlets as seen below.

The next image is a bit out of focus but serves to give an idea of the bark pattern of a young tree.

Which is the Maple Leaf?

Of the two leaves below can you tell which one is the Maple leaf? Only one of them is a maple .... can you guess what tree species the other leaf is from?

These two leaves where taken from two trees in a city park in Spokane Washington that stand side by side. The leaf on the left is a Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) leaf (I put the winged seed in the picture as a hint). The leaf on the right is from a London Plane. As you can see the leaves of these two trees are very similar and quite easy to confuse. Let me give two easy ways to tell these trees apart.

1. You can tell them apart by the structure that holds their seeds. In the case of the Norway Maple the seeds are held in a winged "samara" (seen in the image above by the left leaf). In the case of the London Plane the seeds are located in a ping-pong sized ball (see image below).

2. You can tell them apart by their bark which is very different from each other. The first image below is of the Norway maple bark.

The next image is of the Londan Plane bark on a mature tree that shows the characteristic lumpiness and bulging. The bark peels off in small sheets, which is one of the reasons it does so well in high pollution cities.

Old Grove of Large Leaved Linden (or Lime)

Near the Spanish town of El Escorial and located close the popular attraction called the "Seat of Philip the Second" is an interesting old grove of Large leaved lindens or as they are popularly called in Great Britain "Large leaved limes". This native European tree is a common sight in parks and gardens and has been widely introduced into the United States as an ornamental. This particular old grove of Lindens was quite enchanting, partly due to the shape of the older trees as a result of "pollarding". This is when the branches are cut off every year or every few years providing for firewood but not killing the tree.

You can see in the image above how there are fairly small branches growing up out of a very old and hollowed out trunk. Pollarding often makes the trunks of the tree a good deal more stout than it would have grown if it had been left to form its natural shape.

The image below is of a nearby tree that has never been pollarded and as a result has a much taller and even straight trunk. The bark detail is also visible in this image.

The leaves of the Large leaved linden are simple and somewhat heart shaped. They can measure from 3-6 inches across.

These images were taken near the "Finca El Castañar" (something like "Chestnut grove ranch) which is a bit strange given that the grove is mainly old Lindens. On one side though there are some very old sweet Chestnut trees as well.

Christmas Tree Ornaments Idea - Nativity Scrolls

I know it may be a bit early to be thinking about Christmas tree ornaments for this years tree but just in case you are looking for something new and interesting to hang on your tree this year I´ve come across an interesting ornament idea that might interest you. They are called Nativity Scrolls. Each scroll has a special text written in both Hebrew and in English with an elegant calligraphy.

"These scrolls are inspired by the event of Christ's birth and the numerous prophecies in the Bible, foretelling hundreds of years beforehand, who the Messiah would be and how he would come into this world." - quote from Papuan Lass´s Etsy shop.

Spruce Pineapple or Pseudocone galls

"Pineapple" or "Pseudocone" galls occur on several species of Spruce trees including; Norway, Sitka, Englemann and Colorado blue. They are a chemically induced growth distortion caused by a small aphid like insect called a "Pineapple gall adelgid" that lays up to one hundred eggs, one of each of up to 100 Spruce needles at the tip of the new growth. When the new aphids hatch they begin to suck on the soft new growth needles which in turn provokes the gall like growth reaction as the needles begin to swell and end up morphing into each other.

At first glance these pineapple shaped galls can be easily mistaken for cones (thus the name "pseudocone"). The image above shows a newly formed gall beside a seed cone on an Englemann Spruce tree.
The inside of the gall is rather fibrous and "woody" with small pockets. Spraying the galls to get rid of the insects is to no avail as the aphids are usually well protected inside the gall structure.
The pineapple galls end up drying out and dying leaving a dark brown carcas behind that does not do any real harm to the tree but can stunt growth to the branchet it has grown on. In some instances the branchlet will keep growing past the gall while in others the gall halts the growth all together for that branchlet.

Harry Potter Tree look alike

Do you remember the tree in one of the Harry Potter films that was alive and had these long, wicked looking arms that swung around and almost did Harry in?

Well, I recently came across a tree near Segovia, Spain that reminded me of the Harry Potter tree. It´s not quite a big or as old but the "arms" and gnarly clumps at the end of the arms look just like the ones I remember in the film.

What do you think?

Pacific yew - Taxus brevifolia

The Pacific yew tree (species: Taxus brevifolia) is common in the forests of the Northwestern United States. It also goes by the common names of "Western yew" or "Oregen yew". The images in this post come from trees that I found in northern Idaho Western red cedar forests. This tree species is somewhat unique in that it is an evergreen with a berry like seed cone. These are called "arils" and are about 8-12 mm in diameter. They have a round shape but have an opening on the bottom side (see image below)

The berry like seed containers mature to a red color and contain a single seed. The seeds are dispersed by birds who eat the aril and then deposit the seed in their excrement. The leaves of the Pacific yew tree are flat and needle-like similar to some fir trees. The leaflets are about 2-3 cm in length and have point on the ends. The leaves are also arranged horizontally on the branches.
One of the distinctive features of the Pacific yew is that neither its main trunk or branches are straight but rather tend to be somewhat curvy and irregular. In western forests these trees grow in the shade of much larger trees are also most likely impacted by deep snows in the winter.
The bark of the Pacific yew tree is light brown in color and exhibits a flaky texture that peels off in thin strips. The main trunks on these trees were about 8 inches in diameter.

The Pacific yew tree is one of the tree species used in the making of wood archery bows.
This tree is a relative of the European Yew.

Perkins Cedar Grove at Morris Creek

There is a magnificent grove of Western Red Cedar trees located near the Idaho town of Elk River and about eight miles from the "Giant Cedar" that I mentioned in my last post. As the sign below explains this grove is a "'climax community" where one tree species has come to dominate a local habitat. In this case it is the Western Red Cedars that have come out as the dominant species. There are several other small tree species that peacefully coexist with the cedars though. These are the Pacific yew and the Sitka alder.
To locate this Cedar grove go to the town of Elk River and visit the Elk River Lodge where they will gladly give you a small map with instructions on how to find the Giant Cedar and the Morris Creek grove.
One of the exciting things about this particular Cedar grove is that there is no evidence of it ever having been logged. Logged Western Red Cedar stumps can last for a very long time but in this location the only stumps I found were from trees that had broken off in storms. I also found some evidence of fire but the great trees seemed to have survived just fine.
The largest trees in the grove appear to be about 8 feet across at breast height. We saw at least a dozen of these as well as many more that were 5-7 feet in diameter.

Giant Cedar near Elk River Idaho

Near the small town of Elk River, Idaho is the largest tree in North America east of the Cascade -Sierra Crest. The tree is a Western Red Cedar that is 18 feet in diameter at breast hight and 177 feet tall. The sign near the tree identifies it as the "Giant Cedar" but I have also seen it called the "King Cedar". This tree is estimated to be about 3000 years old.
Part of the reason for this trees great size is the fact that it has a small stream that literally flows right under it. The ground around the tree is rather boggy which is probably why a deck like platform has been built leading up to and around the tree. The platform is several feet off the ground. One of the interesting things about this tree is that it has wheelchair access. The trail from the parking area is paved right up to where the platform starts.
The trail that leads to the Giant Cedar takes you by a number of other very large Western Red Cedar trees that from a small grove of surviving giants. There are a good dozen trees that range in girth from 4 to 8 feet. Laying right next to the Giant Cedar is a large nurse log of a tree that must have been similar in size to the Giant. There is a small new cedar tree growing right up out of the side of the nurse log.
Looking up into the branches of th Giant Cedar is an interesting view as can be seen in the image below. There are a lot of dead branches on the tree but it is still very much alive.
The image below help to show the immense size of this tree at its base. Remember that the platform is about 2 feet off the ground.
This tree is a bit difficult to find. We were aided by the kind folks at the Elk River Lodge in Elk River who gave us a small map with instructions on how to find the tree. The distance from Elk River to the Giant Cedar is about 10-11 miles on a well kept forest service road. There is also some great camping sites along the road that takes you up to the King Cedar.

Also nearby is the Perkins Cedar Grove at Morris Creek.

Check out the BIG STUMP of another giant Cedar tree of years gone by.

Large Black Walnut near Niagara Falls

The large tree in this post is a Black Walnut near Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I was so impressed by both the size and shape of this tree that I could not resist a special blog post just to highlight its beauty.

Like many of the trees along the Canadian side of Niagara Falls this tree is large and impressive. The fact that it stands alone where its whole shape can be easily seen and that it is seen daily by many thousands of people make this tree all the more interesting. The image above is of the view looking up into the crown from the base of the tree.

I'm sure that many a weary tourist has sat in the shade of this gentle giant over the years!

The Pesky Tree of Heaven - Ailanthus altissima

Despite its "heavenly" name the Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is in my opinion the most pesky invasive tree species in the United States and Southern Europe. I have personally observed this tree species as a very prolific seeder in Spain, France, England, Canada (Toronto) and the States of Oregon and Washington. According to this website it is invasive in at least 30 of the 50 States. In this post I have tried to document in images just one instance of how this tree can spread. All the images are from the same yard in Eastern Washington. In the top image you can see the "mother" tree that is responsible for "seeding" the yard with new little Trees-of-heaven.
I did not stop to count them but there must have been at least 40 of the fast growing seedlings. In the image above you can see them growing all along the side of the house. This is a fast growing tree species that can form trunks up to three feet in diameter. Letting them grow this close to the house is NOT a good idea.
This next image shows more seedlings growing along the cyclone fence. I've seen these grow up to 2-3 feet tall in just one year! The image below shows a few more growing out by the garage unchecked. The owner of this house seems unaware that this tree species is capable of growing into dense thickets and can have an adverse affect on other plant species.
I mentioned in my last post that the Tree-of-Heaven can be confused with the Black Walnut. The leaves of both are quite similar but the flowers and fruit is easily identifiable.