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Archive for the ‘trees’ Category

Sycamore connection

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A feature on CBS Sunday Morning an hour ago dealt with the supposed real-life town that inspired the setting of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, which for years now has been shown on American television every Christmas season. The CBS story reminded me that the old house that played such a big role in the movie, the one that George and Mary Bailey renovate and move into, was located in the fictional town of Bedford Falls at 320 Sycamore St. Readers of this blog will recall that the post from two days ago featured not the white snow that also played a big part near the end of the movie but several white-barked sycamore trees. Now you can think about these stately native trees of ours every time you watch the classic film.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2011 at 10:25 AM

Whose woods these are I just don’t know*

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Sycamores; click for greater detail.

When I went wandering through the woods in northwest Austin on December 20, I came upon the group of sycamores, Platanus occidentalis, shown above. Reputed to be the tallest of deciduous trees in America, the sycamore is known not only for its height but for its bark, which at a certain stage in the tree’s maturity peels off in pieces and leaves behind the near-white that you see here. That whiteness is present in all seasons, but only during the coldest months of the year, after the tree has shed its old leaves and before new ones grow out in the spring, does the bright inner bark become as conspicuous as it is when it shines through the otherwise mostly bleak winter woods.

As majestic as sycamores can be, veteran readers of this column have seen some saplings that are only a few feet tall. To learn more about sycamores, you can visit the website of The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; to see the many places in the eastern United States where sycamores grow, you can consult the state-clickable map at the USDA website.

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* The title is a reference to Robert Frost’s poem that begins “Whose woods these are I think I know.” In fact I don’t know who owns the unfenced land that includes these trees.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 23, 2011 at 5:03 AM

Fall color in mid-December

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Cedar elm; click for greater detail and sharpness.

A week of mildly wet weather in Austin has coincided with the rapid appearance of fall color in some of our trees, so when the rain relented yesterday I went out under the still-gray afternoon skies to see what I could see after days spent mostly indoors. In parts of my neighborhood I found plenty of cedar elm trees, Ulmus crassifolia, whose leaves were turning their characteristic late-autumn colors of yellow and orange. The one shown here was in Great Hills Park, which you may have heard me say several times is just half a mile downhill from where I live.

Veteran readers of this blog have seen a cedar elm once before, in August, when I provided a picture of one of its brand-new leaves that reminded me of marzipan. For more information about Ulmus crassifolia, including a clickable map showing the places in the United States where this tree grows, you can visit the USDA website.

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Addendum: I meant to point out that the green leaves in the lower right are greenbrier, a very common native vine with sharp prickles on it.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 17, 2011 at 5:04 AM

A closer look at Baccharis neglecta

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The previous post, taken on the cloudy morning of October 27 at Riata Trace Park in northwest Austin, showed some Baccharis neglecta in its fluffy state. Although you could appreciate the overall fluffiness, you couldn’t see the details of the soft tufts that the female plants produce as they go to seed. Here’s a closer look at another poverty weed I photographed at the same park after the sun had dispelled most of the morning clouds. Who would believe that this species belongs to the sunflower family, and that this shrub can grow into a delicate, willowy tree as much as 10 ft. (3 m) tall?

Baccharis neglecta is mostly confined to Texas, as you can see from the state-clickable map at the USDA website, but the similar species Baccharis halimifolia grows from east Texas along the Gulf coast to Florida and up the Atlantic coast as far as Massachusetts.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 4, 2011 at 5:07 AM

Baccharis neglecta

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Baccharis neglecta; click for greater clarity.

Though many of you up north have been having frost for weeks, or even snow, one of the delights a native plant lover in central Texas can look forward to each autumn is the frosty-looking form taken on by the “weak” bush or small tree—that seems to be the way field guides inevitably describe it—that botanists know as Baccharis neglecta. The species name is historically appropriate, because during the hard times of the 1930s, when many farmers were forced to abandon their properties, this species took advantage of the situation by planting itself on those neglected pieces of former farmland. People of that difficult era understandably came to call the bush poverty weed, Roosevelt weed, New Deal weed, and Depression weed.

I photographed this Baccharis neglecta at Riata Trace Park in northwest Austin on the cloudy morning of October 27; that cloudiness accounts for the picture’s subdued tonality. Behind the bush you can see the leaves of a native grape vine and beyond them some branches of black willow, a tree often found near water.

Baccharis neglecta is mostly confined to Texas, as you can see from the clickable map at the USDA website, but the similar species Baccharis halimifolia grows from east Texas along the Gulf coast to Florida and up the Atlantic coast as far as Massachusetts.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 3, 2011 at 5:06 AM

Bald cypresses on Onion Creek

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Bald cypresses on Onion Creek; click for greater detail.

Yesterday’s abstract, minimalist view of a bald cypress “rainbow” seems to call for a more traditional landscape photograph so that those of you who are unfamiliar with these large and majestic trees can see what they look like. This picture goes back to February of 2007 and to a stretch of Onion Creek in Hays County, southwest of Austin. Because the season was still winter the trees had their “bald” look and the creek, unlike so many in 2011, had water in it. As is clear here, bald cypresses thrive not just near water but most often partially in it.

European and American emigrants to Texas in the 1800s were attracted to bald cypresses for their timber, but because the settlers cut down so many trees, we who are here more than a century later rarely get to see a bald cypress as gigantic as it is the nature of this species to become when mature.

(Visit the USDA website for more information about Taxodium distichum, including a clickable map showing where the species grows.)

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 12, 2011 at 6:00 AM

A different sort of rainbow

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The compound leaf of a bald cypress turning color; click for more detail.

As I’ve wandered in nature during the worsening drought in Texas, I’ve seen many plants that have looked stressed, along with some that have died from dehydration. In the case of the riverbank-loving bald cypress tree (Taxodium distichum), usually only the approach of winter causes the tree’s leaves to turn yellow, orange, red and brown as a prelude to falling off, but last week I saw a bald* cypress that was entering that stage already. It was on the west bank of Bull Creek, a stream that I was able for the first time to walk down the middle of because there wasn’t a drop of water in it. Attracted by the color of the reddening leaves against the clear blue sky overhead, I took the picture you see here, which seems to me to show an ironic sort of “rain”bow.

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* People call the tree “bald” because, as opposed to evergreens, this species does lose its leaves and stands bare-branched through the winter.

(Visit the USDA website for more information about Taxodium distichum, including a clickable map showing where the species grows.)

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 11, 2011 at 5:53 AM

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