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by Barbara Fasulo-Emmott, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
My 35-foot spruce tree was diagnosed at the Michigan State Cooperative Extension office on Front Street with both needle cast disease and canker disease in late summer. She was a magnificent specimen that provided some 34 years of calming, serene beauty at a home I call “my sanctuary.” I transplanted her from our downstate residence as a sapling over 30 years ago, and she flourished in our wooded setting next to a state forest. I questioned our MGANM Director/Coordinator, Nate Walton about the feasibility of bringing her indoors for the Christmas season. I was assured that her diseases would not negatively impact my houseplants or anybody living in our home.
My 7-year-old grandson and I started pruning off the lower 10 feet of branches and burning them in our fire pit. Thanksgiving weekend I decided to cut her down. I notched it and cut it with my chain saw about ¾ through when I realized if it didn’t fall where I expected, it could possibly take out the back deck on my house. Consequently, I went to Ace Hardware to purchase a weighted rope tool like I’ve seen the professionals use. Ace only had rope, and when I explained to the sales clerk what I needed, he insisted he’d come out the next morning to help and make sure I would be safe. He insisted there would be no charge and totally free. I kept saying “no, that’s not necessary…I can do it.” By the time I left the store, I had given him my phone number and he promised to call for directions after work and would be at my home at 8 a.m. the next morning before he returned to work.
To my surprise, he really did call for directions and sounded serious about coming out to help, so I baked date nut bread and chocolate cookies for him. At 7:45 a.m. I was outside, attaching my new rope to a round, orange extension cord holder and proceeded to repeatedly toss it in the air till I was able to get it over a branch midway up the tree. Then, attached it to a large neighboring tree at the edge of the woods. He arrived shortly after and adjusted the rope tighter for me. He said, “I think I’ll stand behind this other tree while you cut that one down”. I got my chain saw and finished cutting her down. She fell exactly where I planned. (Hurrah!) He then attached the rope from the tree to the undercarriage of his vehicle and pulled the tree up the hill to my driveway, where I dragged it to the bottom step of my porch. I was so grateful for his kindness and unsolicited help and I gave him the baked goods and a very sincere thank-you in return.
My three sons arrived for another grandson’s first birthday party the following week and all contributed to the tree being brought into the house. Michael brought the tree stand up out of storage, moved the sofa, love seat and two tables. Matt and David pulled it through the front door and put it in the stand. Matt cut a couple feet off the top where it was bending over at the vaulted ceiling. It was a family effort with help from a concerned stranger. Such a perfect ending for our dying tree to become a beautiful Christmas gift for the whole family.
by Nancy Denison Advanced Extension Master Gardener
I love the shapes of trees- -the gnarly trunks, branches stretched, standing straight or old and bent over. They are works of art. In the woods behind my house where I grew up were trees with metal labels with the name of the tree. I thought that was the coolest thing. Fortunately, in the past few years, the labels have been replaced, so those now walking through can begin to identify those towering beauties. Even with a basic knowledge of types of bark, leaves, seeds, and tree shape one can identify those unique or unfamiliar trees.
Let’s begin with a little bit of history. The first known land plant, Cooksonia, evolved around 430 million years ago. It was erect, with a green stem and a simple underground root system. Sixty million years later Archaeopteryx arrived. It was the first real tree with a root system, branches which produced buds and grew year after year- -possibly as long as 50 years. We now have over 80,000 different species of trees all over the world.
We know trees need water, minerals, nutrients, sunlight and warmth. Depending on the environment,
the tree will grow year round with periods of rest. Colder climes equal a longer rest or dormant period.
Location, shape, height, or leaves are just a few of the ways to determine the name or type of tree.
Trees can be spherical/round (White Oak), oval (Sugar Maple), conical (Spruce), columnar (Lombardy
Poplar), pyramidal (Pin Oak), V shaped (Hackberry), weeping (Willow), spreading deciduous or
coniferous (Japanese Maple, Yew).
Bud leaves or scales are small, toughened leaves that remain on the branches after others have fallen.
Trees can be identified by the size, shape, color and arrangement of twig buds. They can be
- alternate as in the Beech and Willow
- opposing (Sycamore, Ash)
- hairy (Magnolia)
- clustered (Cherry, Oak)
- naked –mature hairy leaves surrounding growing tips
- whiskered and clustered (some Oaks)
Each leaf on a tree is like a mini power center which makes food (energy) the tree needs for living and growing. The smallest leaf is from an Arctic willow (Salix nivalis) which is about ¼”/5mm long. The largest is from the Raphis regalis, from the palm family Arecacae, which can be 82’/25.11m long by 10’/3m wide.
Leaves are classified as either simple, meaning one continuous shape, or compound, which are made up of many leaflets connected to one stem. Simple leaves may come in many shapes; round, heart shaped, oval, serrated, lobed or palmate. All leaves fall at about the same time from deciduous trees. Evergreen trees have leaves/needles all year long though they can fall throughout the year. The average evergreen keeps its leaves for three to five years. Needles are compact versions of simple leaves and also make food for the tree. They lose much less water than deciduous trees and can survive where water is limited, such as in the north where the ground is frozen for many months of the year.
Flowers are produced by most trees in the spring though some tropical trees can flower year round. It is easier to identify a tree with its flower. Species specific identification can be done by looking at color, number of petals (single or double), flower stalk length, flowers at the leaf axis or end of twig, and individual flowers or clusters.
Seeds/fruit help to identify trees best in the late summer or early fall. Some are well known from childhood such as the acorn or horse chestnut but the main types are the pod (honey locust), the nut/seed/burr (acorn, walnut) and the key/winged (maple, sycamore). Individual conifer seeds are encased in a cone which can be held for many years waiting for the right time to allow their release.
Bark is the tree’s skin. Its corky outer layer can protect the tree from humans and animals, disease, and forest fires. Below the outer bark is the phloem, a spongey layer of living cells. The cambium, just one layer of cells below the phloem, has living cells which constantly divide. When the cells are deprived of water, they die and as they die, they become the outer bark. As each layer is produced it pushes the previous year’s bark outward. The bark may start off smooth but will develop cracks, fissures and darken as it ages. Tree bark can be green, grey, brown, white, smooth, flakey, with deep or shallow ridges (vertical crests divided by intervening furrows), furrows (vertical grooves divided by narrow or wide ridges0, or fissures (regular or irregular, vertical or horizontal cracks or crevices).
I’m sure you’ll agree being able to recognize and identify trees as you travel, hike, or tour botanic gardens is a worthwhile goal. I was stunned by the camouflage colors of the rainbow eucalyptus trees I saw in Maui a few years back. So much so I have a large professionally photographed print of them hanging in my bedroom. What’s your favorite?
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Neal, James. Familiar Trees of Michigan. MSU Cooperative Extension Service, 1982.
Russell, Tony and Cutler, Catherine. Trees, An Illustrated Identifier and Encyclopedia. Leicestershire: Hermes House, 2012.
Smith, Norman F. Michigan Trees Worth Knowing. Hillsdale, Michigan: Hillsdale Educational Publishers,
Symonds, George WD. The Tree Identification Book. New York: Quill, 1958.
Jay C Hayek, (2015). Identifying Trees by Bark and Bud (online). Department of Natural Resources and
Environmental Science, University of Illinois-Urbana. HayektreeID.pdf.
Michael Wojtech, (1-23-2013). The Language of Bark (online). www.americanforest.org.