This site is for people who like plants -- growers, enthusiasts, aesthetes, novices and professionals, those who appreciate wild things and those who appreciate the cultivated. I garden in Chelsea, and I've been visiting people's yards for 20+ years in the course of my work. My goal is to make this blog a community project, so if you share my interests, please consider becoming a participant and contributing content -- Guerin. Info:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cornfields in February

A dozen sandhill cranes were pecking at the corn stubble in Dexter Township this afternoon. I've been hearing them for several weeks. How do they ever manage in our winters?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Early signs of spring

Ooh, the snow drops are coming up. It won't take many more warm days like today before they start opening up fully. Anyone seen any pollinators yet? Also keep an eye out for the Asian witchhazels. There are some nice healthy ones by the south end of the Exhibit Museum on campus. I'll drive by and take a picture next week. This is a plant you have to have!

Yes, winter is long in Michigan, but if you are creative (and if you stretch your definitions), you can have something flowering almost every month.

More winter ID

In the real world, one uses many different characteristics to identify a tree species in the absence of leaves -- bark texture, branching pattern (opposite vs. alternate), coarseness of smaller branches, and (best of all) leaf and flower buds. But tree habit is sometimes all you need, like in the following:

American elm (Ulmus americana) is perhaps the easiest of all trees to recognize from a distance. Botanists of course invented a term to describe this branching pattern: deliquescence. See if you fit that one into daily conversation. The term refers to a branching pattern the results in no single central trunk.  

Another tree that is relatively easy to pick out when it is young and growing vigorously is the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Note the ascending branches and the finely textured twigs. A norway maple will look similar but more squat and with thicker twigs.

This is a cottonwood (Populus deltoides). No obvious shape to help one pick it out of a crowd. The crown is open, the twigs are more coarse than in the preceding two trees. The fat prolific flower buds tell you it is a Populus. This species will start swapping pollen before most anything else. If you collected and dissected a flower bud today, you would be able to tell whether you have a male or a dreaded female.

Lastly: a big black walnut (Juglans nigra) -- very coarse branching, very dark colored bark. If you can find a bud or fruit, you can't go wrong.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Identifying trees in winter

Learning to ID trees from their growth habit is a tough challenge, one that is made even harder by the variation within each species. Here are some examples with what I hope are helpful hints. These are trees I pass every morning on my way to work.

Hickories (Carya glabra and C. ovata) can often be easy to spot by their winter habit. Characteristic are the twisty, curling smaller branches. Click on the photo for a close-up.

Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is the tree that most resembles a baobab -- with an often massive central trunk and coarse twigs that twist upwards at the very end. Zoom in on the crown at 8:00. 

I love this little row of sassafras trees -- unique structures with very small crowns on top. The fact that they are clonal and come in groupings is very helpful also.

You don't see open-grown basswoods (Tilia americana) very often. They usually have a somewhat awkward form in winter. Note the arcing branches in the lower half of this tree.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Florida parking lot . . and beyond

Not much green happening around here, so I'll report on some of the doings at The Waterford senior facility in Juno Beach, where I was visiting my mother this past weekend. Wait a minute, hold on there. That's not a very compelling opening. Click the link below for some fascinating observations on the Florida natural environment . . . 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A New Stink Bug in Town

It's been confirmed: the brown marmorated stink bug has arrived in Michigan. The announcement was made yesterday by the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

If you are a regular listener to NPR, you might have heard of this recent accidental introduction. It feeds on a wide range of crops, including apples, corn, soybeans, peaches, green beans, cherries and much more. And you will get to know (and probably hate) it since it overwinters in homes in large numbers, and emits a vile odor when it is alarmed or squished.   I have not heard that it damages landscape plants, but it is likely to be a nuisance in vegetable gardens.

There are many other species of stink big, and many that are native to Michigan. This new one has up to four generations per year, lacks effective predators, lives for years, and can quickly build up huge populations. As with the emerald ash borer, it is believed to have hitched a ride on packing materials.