Tag Archives: trees

Promise of Spring

January thaw came a week or so late this year. That’s fine as long as it gets here with its mild days, a respite in winter that all enjoy. It’s a promise of spring.

The first wildflowers are trying to bloom. Dead nettle was blooming in the garden last month. Corn speedwell had a flower or two open today. These are another promise of spring.

melting ice is a promise of spring
The ice fangs and columns have fallen during January thaw. Some would like this to announce spring. I prefer February to finish out as winter and see the season to a close on time.

I went walking as the day was too nice to spend working. But I did have a chore I had forgotten to do.

For years a yellow honeysuckle has grown over the rocks above the creek. It’s the only one I’ve ever found here until last year.

A yellow honeysuckle grew, bloomed and set seed along the road last summer. I collected four seeds to set out on the hill over the creek near where the one lonely plant grows.

This lovely day those seeds finally got out and planted. I don’t know if any will grow, but one promise of spring is that seeds will grow.

armadillos need a promise of spring with abundant grubs to eat
Many people don’t like these ancient animals. I find them interesting. Armadillos are now regular Ozark residents and often bulldoze through the dry leaves on winter days as they do not hibernate and must find food every day.

The acorns have been getting a head start on spring. Last fall was an acorn bonanza. There are still many on the ground and some have sprouted.

Most of the small sprouts dry up and die. I hate to see this, but it is part of how things work. The woods can’t hold that many oak trees. Even among those acorns that do survive, many young trees will die in a few years as the larger trees block the sun and absorb the water.

sprouting acorns are a promise of spring
The acorns are sprouting. Most will perish. A few will become saplings. Fewer will grow to trees. A couple will become large trees. Each acorn is a bundle of hope and a bundle of food for squirrels, turkeys, deer and more.

One of the problems my fictional Carduans must solve is that of food. Looking at all the acorns on the ground, I began wondering about eating them. Right after lunch this thought wasn’t very serious, mostly curiosity. So I found one still intact and dug out some of the interior nut. Very bitter.

Of course the Indians washed the flour with hot water to leach the tannic acid out and make the flour palatable. And they weren’t spoiled with sweetners. Perhaps I will give acorns another chance this fall and wash the acid out. Fresh nuts washed free of acid might make a big difference.

See more pictures of the Ozark springs in “My Ozark Home.”

Botany Season Begins

Officially the season is winter. Officially the pastures are paved with dry, yellow grass and the hills with bare limbs. Botany season has begun anyway.

No wildflowers are blooming yet. Even tiny corn speedwell is waiting this year. There has been warmer weather, but no moisture.

botany season begins with river birch

One of the special sights over the winter is the tree bare of leaves so the trunk and branches show. This river birch has so many fine twigs giving it a brushy look.

Storms are forecast and touted as bringing rain, sleet, snow and mixtures. They track north of the Ozarks. We stay in the severe drought belt.

This week we have hopes. This week the rain, even a scattering of snow has moved through here. There is mud in low places.

Green leaves line the road. Dead nettle and chickweed are shaking off their winter survival settings. Pasture grasses are stirring and sending up a few new green shoots.

botany season willow tree

This willow is a small tree. It’s twigs and buds are yellow and hairless. Which willow is it? There are eight to choose from. I will wait to see flowers and leaves.

This doesn’t sound like good botany season timing. Nothing is blooming. Things are barely growing.

I walked out to look at the willows and plants nearby. River birch catkins are swelling as are black alder catkins. If the weather stays warm enough, the catkins will bloom within two weeks.

The willows are a mixed bag. They are shrubs to small trees that like water such as the nearby cold water spring fen. Each year I go out to try to identify the different ones growing there. Each year they defeat me. I know there are four or five of the eight species found in Dent County growing there.

willow buds

Willow buds are long and narrow, alternate. This willow has hairy twigs and buds in off white. Other buds are red or yellow or brown. Most have no hairs.

This year I am going to identify these willows.

A willow has male plants producing catkins and female plants producing seeds. The plants usually appear similar except for the flowers.

Some willows bloom before leafing out. Other willows bloom as they leaf out. A few bloom after leafing out. All the leaves are similar, long and narrow with a single strong vein down the center.

botany season willow shrubs

These willows are only shrubs. They grow thickly in one area making it look red with their twigs and buds. Which willow are these shrubs? Eight possibilities. I will wait.

The key to identifying these willows is visiting them several times over the spring. I need to see the flowers and the seeds. I need to see the leaves, bark and twigs. Most importantly I need to keep my records of which willow is which straight.

I now have bark, twig and bud pictures of each different willow, I think. Each has its little folder. The first one should bloom about the time the river birch blooms.

My botany season has begun.

Looking At Tree Buds

When a leaf falls from a tree twig, it leaves behind a bud. These lateral buds are the next spring’s leaves waiting for winter to come and go.

A lateral bud lies along the sides of a tree’s twigs. At the end of the twig is a terminal bud.

hickory tree buds

Hickory buds tend to be large. The terminal bud on the end of the twig is much larger than the lateral buds along the side of the twig.

Hidden inside a terminal bud is more than a leaf. This bud can grow more twig, more leaves and even flowers. Yes, trees do have flowers.

Some flowers are big and showy. These often have their own larger flower buds. Other flowers are small such as the catkins on black walnuts and oaks.

dogwood tree buds

Dogwood trees have both flower and leaf buds. The flower buds are big globular terminal buds. Some twigs have slender leaf buds as terminal buds. Other leaf buds are lateral buds.

Over the summer the terminal bud is busy growing all these new bits of tree. In the fall the bud covers itself up with hard scales for protection.

pawpaw tree buds

Pawpaw trees have a slender terminal bud. The larger fuzzy lateral buds are flower buds. The leaf lateral buds are very small and flat against the twig.

Bark is one way to identify a tree. Terminal buds are another. The Missouri Department of Conservation does have a thick booklet containing a key to identify trees by their buds.

white oak buds

White oak terminal buds are a handful of large buds.

A taxonomic key is a list of statements about something. One list was whether a twig had spines or not. If the twig has spines, you go to another numbered set of choices. If there are no spines, you go to a different set of choices.

If you make all the right choices, you end up with the name of the tree.

black oak tree buds

Black oak terminal buds have a large central bud with small side buds.

I do have this booklet. When I went out looking at bark, I took this booklet with me planning to key out those trees I did not recognize.

The first few sets of choices were easy. Then I came to one wanting me to cut off a twig and slice it open. I can do this. I do not want to do this.

At barely over five feet tall the only terminal buds I can reach are on saplings or small, very small trees. These trees are trying to survive long enough to become big trees and need all their terminal twigs and buds.

My solution was to take pictures of the terminal buds. Once back in the house I could take my time browsing through the two tree guides until I matched the bud to the picture.

Oaks and hickories are tree groups with many members that look much alike. The twig key will be very useful telling these apart.

sassafras tree buds

A few days of warm weather and the sassafras terminal bud has swollen enough to split its scales apart.

There is a time limit for using these terminal buds. Spring weather will wake up these sleepers. Once they swell up and discard their scales I will have to wait until next fall to get out the twig guide again.

Looking at Trees in Winter

February in the Ozarks is whispering of spring much of the time. The invitation to go walking is compelling. Mostly the trees in winter garb are easy to see.

Leaves are the way I identify trees. Obviously most trees in winter have no leaves. So which trees are which?

river birch bark

River birch is an easy bark to recognize because it peals off in sheets big enough to make notes on.

Trees have bark. If you look at the bark on various trees, it is different.

The important living part of a tree is a thin layer called the cambium layer located between the bark and the wood in the trunk. The inner layer of cells called xylem carries water from the roots to the leaves. This becomes wood.

red cedar bark

Red cedar has long stringy bark. This tree is a conifer and an evergreen.

The outer cambium layer is the phloem. This carries sugars from the leaves to the roots. Old phloem cells become bark. As the bark gets thick and dry, it splits then breaks off. The splits become the bark pattern.

Locust trees in winter are easy to spot

Black locust thorns make this one tree you don’t want to get too close to. The thorns have a specific shape with a main thorn and small side ones.

There must be something about the phloem cells that is different for different kinds of trees as each split pattern is unique for that kind of tree. Tree families such as the oaks and hickories have similar patterns. But each kind of oak is a little different.

white oak bark

White oak has flat plates of bark arranged in rough lines down the trunk. It is a light colored bark.

These bark patterns and their colors can be used to identify the trees in winter. The Missouri Department of Conservation has bark pictures in “Trees of Missouri.”

Any excuse is a good excuse for going out walking on nicer Ozark winter days. First I tackle the easy trees. These are ones I know because I have identified them during the growing season. This builds confidence.

black oak bark

There are different groups of oaks. Even though this black oak is in a different group from the white oak and the bark has rougher ridges, their basic pattern is similar.

Persimmon, redbud, red cedar, pawpaw and black walnut are identified. Hickory is harder. I know where to find some. But which hickory are they? I’m not sure.

However some hackberries are close by. This is a really easy tree because of the tall ridges in the bark.

hackberry bark

Hackberry tree bark has high narrow ridges with red in the furrows between them.

Then I am stymied. There are several slender trees near a redbud growing over the creek. I used this spot for some Outside Projects.

There is an easy solution even if it will take time. I can wait until spring is more than in the air. Then these trees will leaf out.

black walnut bark

Black walnut bark does look dark gray and has furrows and ridges that intertwine.

In the meantime I can check out as many bark patterns as I can on my Ozark trees in winter.