Speaking of Trees



Trees are one of the most amazing features of our planet and yet many people hardly give them a second thought. Over and above their obvious aesthetic values, trees produce oxygen (one acre of trees can provide oxygen for 8 people), they remove carbon dioxide, ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead from the air we breathe, they improve water quality, they reduce air temperatures in summer reducing the need for air conditioning while blocking wind in the winter reducing heating needs, they block ultraviolet radiation, they provide habitat for wildlife, they provide food for wildlife as well as humans, they improve the soil, we burn them for heat, we saw them up for lumber to build our houses, we make furniture out of them, we make paper out of them, we even make medicines from them.

I spend a lot of time around trees, but even I don’t think much about them sometimes. Autumn of course changes all that; the trees, tired of their worn green summer outfits, decide it’s time for a change and paint themselves in wild amazing fantastic colors, the air becomes filled with loose flecks of color fluttering and swirling over us, and a soft patchwork carpet swishes around our feet as we walk. How can we fail to notice?

The tree party around these parts is winding down. As I look out my window, most of the trees are bare. There are a few stragglers – a couple orange maples standout here and there, oaks of course hold their brown leaves right through the winter, surprisingly one or two other trees still have green on them (red mulberry trees).

Just a couple of days ago we had some snow. I was out working on my fallen locust tree again. (It takes a while to saw up and split firewood out of a big tree when you can only find time to work on it for an hour or so at the end of the day.) This was “lake effect” snow when winds cross Lake Ontario from the north picking up moisture and dropping it along the southern shore. Lake effect snow comes in bands that follow the air currents – it might be a blizzard in one place, but a few miles one way or the other and nothing.


The snow comes and goes as the wind patterns wave and wander. The sky is mottled blue and grey one minute and then the wind pushes the clouds together filling the gaps and the sun becomes just a bright smear behind grey clouds and driven white flakes. The snow falls in earnest for a while and then a change in the air brings a respite. The sky takes a little breather while it gathers itself for another blast.

Under this on and off weather I whittled away at my tree. I had started up at the top trimming away the small twigs and branches and piling them up in a nearby hedgerow to make a “brush pile” that I hope will provide cover for rabbits. Next I worked my way down into the larger branches cutting them into fireplace length logs. I needed a change of pace so for the next couple of sessions I left the chain saw at home and started splitting the logs into firewood with a maul (a kind of half axe and half sledge hammer dealie).  I ended up with a couple of wagon loads of wood this way and I hauled it up to the house with the tractor.

Now I am down to the central core of the tree. The wood seems to be getting denser and more yellow the further down the trunk I cut. The logs are heavier both in size and mass and the split pieces ring like xylophone keys when I toss them on the pile. Here the tree is divided into two main parts each about 14 inches in diameter (17 if you count the thick bark). I count 50 years of growth in the rings although some of the them are small and difficult to distinguish so I may be off a bit. I’m not down to the single main bole yet which will be a bit older.

While I had the rule out I decided to measure some sycamore leaves. They are much larger than most species. I walked over and hunted around in the litter strewn at a big tree’s feet for the best samples. The largest leaf I could find was 14 and a half inches across and 12 from the tip to the end of the stem (or petiole). One thing that struck me now that I never noticed before was that the leaves are not symmetrical. They are close enough so that from a distance they may appear symmetrical, but on closer inspection there are subtle differences – the veins may wander a bit differently, there is a peak on one edge without a counterpart on the other, a valley on one side is deeper or broader than on the other. Very odd.

I checked some maple leaves and found that they can be folded in half and match almost exactly. Any small differences can be put down to wear and tear. Mulberry leaves are really wacky in that some are plain oval with toothed edges, some are oval but off center, some are mitten shaped, and some have three or maybe five lobes. All on the same tree. 

My son came down to see what I was doing which at the time was plucking clinging leaves off the tree to see how they are held on. (I was interested because I noticed that sycamore leaf petioles are hollow on the end.) “Look buds,” he said. “Why are there buds in the fall?”

The base of a sycamore petiole is hollow because each completely covers a bud growing at its base. In many tree species the leaf is attached beside the new buds so that the leaves are pushed off sideways while sycamore leaves are pushed off from beneath.

Sycamore leaf

As to why there are buds in the fall, it is because trees begin forming new buds almost as soon as the current ones open in the spring. The tree spends all summer slowly developing the buds at the base of the leaves and then in the autumn they are covered over in a protective layer of cells. They wait poised through the winter ready to burst out at the first sign of spring.



Tags: , , , , , , ,

5 Responses to “Speaking of Trees”

  1. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    Trees are such fascinating entities… there are some painters who specialize in “portraits” of trees.

    Trees were a big part of my growing up, from play to part-time and summer jobs in the logging industry. In China, one can see in the parks sometimes people doing their Chi Kung with a tree as part of the focus of the movement. In later years I always liked the notion I read somewhere that trees are Buddhist saints returned to live a harmless, giving life. Makes sense to me…


  2. forestrat Says:

    Maybe I should work on some tree photos – especially now when the leaves are gone revealing the inner structure.


  3. flandrumhill Says:

    The texture left by the saw on the middle photo looks so inviting to touch. Trees are beautiful from the tops of their twigs to the tips of their roots… at all stages of life and death.

  4. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Nature is so curious. It’s quite wonderful to be able to discover how something works about a plant – such as the buds forming in the hollow of the petiole.

  5. Susankinds Says:

    Bonjour, Polite to join you, I am Susan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: