trees


“Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.”

– Benoit Mandelbrot, introduction to The Fractal Geometry of Nature

At this time of year many of the trees and shrubs in our landscapes are mere skeletons of their summer glory. Their beautiful canopies of leaves have been shed and they provide little visual interest. Unless you look a bit closer…

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This is actually a great time to observe the branching patterns of deciduous trees. A closer look reveals that they are eerily similar to our own vascular and respiratory systems. As each system goes from the main trunk to the larger limbs to the smaller branches and then the twigs we see the same fractal branching that occurs in the network of blood vessels in our lungs. How incredible that such like systems are actually performing a reverse process. Trees are taking in our exhaled carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen (O2) into the atmosphere.  In turn, we inhale that O2 rich air into our lungs where it travels through the increasingly smaller vessels until it reaches the capillaries where it passes through into our bloodstream. As the oxygen-rich blood travels through our body our cells use the oxygen and release CO2 back into the bloodstream where it travels back to our lungs before releasing CO2 as we exhale.

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The important thing to remember is that for both of these systems to work well they need to cover a large surface area and fractal branching is the most efficient way for that happen. Fractal branching is a pattern that repeats itself in either larger or smaller scales, each step looking like a copy of the same overall shape. These patterns are called self-similar and are found in many areas in nature from trees to rivers and many more. Ferns are a great example of a self-similar fractal as each pinnate leaf is a miniature version of the larger frond that it branches off from although natural branching fractals do not go on infinitely as mathematical fractals can. Remember the Fibonacci Sequence from your high school math class?

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Most of the fractals that we are familiar with and see on a regular basis fall into the category known as spiral fractals. Spiral fractals are responsible for some of the most beautiful forms that can be found in nature. Many galaxies are spiral fractals. The marine animal known as the Nautilus is perhaps one of the most well-known examples of the spiral fractal. But there are also so many spiral fractals that we encounter in the plant kingdom on a daily basis.

Ferns exhibit fractal properties in two ways. The uncurling of a new fiddlehead in the spring is a lovely example of a spiral fractal while a mature Japanese Painted fern (Athyrium niponicumn) pictured above shows the self-similar pattern of a branching fractal.

The Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana)  has a most interesting growth pattern with each branch a continuing spiral of tough, scale-like leaves. Although native to Chile and Argentina, these images are of a specimen that is located on the Long Island campus of Hofstra University.

Closer to home are some plants that are in many of our gardens during the summer season. The compact spirals of Stonecrop, also known as Sedum, help to form the tight clusters of thick leaves that give it its distinguishing look. I always love the way that dew or rain collect in the in little cups that are formed.

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), Gerbera (Gerbera) daisies, and Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) show their spirals on a grand scale.

Decorative cabbage and kale (Brassica oleracea) are seasonal plants that bring their cold-resistant beauty to our fall landscaping and thus complete a full year of natural fractals that can be found all around us .

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Susan Pelton

Oak wilt is an important disease to be on the lookout for in New England. This is especially true for Connecticut because it has been confirmed in three locations in our neighbor to the west and south, New York.  The disease is important because it kills trees in the most susceptible red oak group (northern red, black and pin oaks in our area) within weeks or months of infection.  White oaks are more moderately susceptible and are generally not killed for a few to several years.  Early detection of this disease in any new location is critical to attempting to eradicate the problem before it becomes widespread.  The causal fungus is Ceratocystis fagacearum.

Oak wilt was first confirmed in the U.S. in Wisconsin in 1944. Since that time it has become widespread in the upper Midwest and Texas.  In the northeast, it has been confirmed in NY and western PA.  Just this year, 2016, two new locations were confirmed in NY by the Cornell University Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic:  Central Islip on Long Island and Canandaigua in the Finger Lakes region.  The origin of this pathogen is not known.

So what does oak wilt look like? In the most susceptible red oaks, symptoms include wilt, browning of the tips and edges of the leaves beginning in the upper part of the tree, twig and branch dieback, and browning of the outer sapwood.  The fungus kills the tree by growing in the xylem vessels where water and nutrients are translocated from the roots to the crown. The fungal invasion results in the production of gummy blockages that prevent translocation.

oakwilt-leaf-michstate Photo credit: Michigan State University

The disease is spread from one tree to another in two ways, via root grafts and sap beetles. A root graft is a ‘fusing’ of roots of neighboring trees that allows for movement between them of water, nutrients, and, unfortunately, the fungus.  So trees growing in close proximity in forests, landscapes or along streets can share this disease readily.  Sap beetles are attracted to fungal mats that form under the bark of dead and dying trees. Bark cracks form as the fungal mats enlarge. Spores of the fungus and an odor attractive to the beetles are both produced on the mats.  Beetles come to feed there and sticky spores adhere to their bodies.  The beetles are strongly attracted to fresh wounds on trees (ie pruning or other wounds) and when they move to those sites after picking up spores, the disease is spread to a new tree.  The spore can only invade a tree via a wound.  Long distance spread can occur when infected logs are moved to new areas.

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Oak wilt fungal mat under bark. Michigan State photo.

 

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Sap beetles are often black with orange markings.  University of Wisconsin photo.

 

If you’re not sure how to tell red oaks from white oaks, here’s the most visible difference: Oaks in the red oak group have leaves with pointed lobe tips and those in the white oak group have rounded tips as shown below.

 

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Photo credit: University of Minnesota Extension

 

Browning and wilt can also be caused by drought stress.  If it’s oak wilt, remember that the browning will begin in the top of the canopy.  Red oaks will die within months; not usually the case with drought stress or even other pest and disease problems.

What should be done if you suspect oak wilt on trees in CT? Contact your state’s diagnostic lab as soon as possible for information on sample collection and submission.  You may send images via email for a quick look and to see if other causes of the symptoms can be ruled out.  The UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab can be reached at 860-486-6740 or by sending an email to joan.allen@uconn.edu.  The diagnostic lab website is www.plant.lab.uconn.edu. Your vigilance will help protect oak trees in CT and throughout New England!

J. Allen

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Some red maples still had leaves late in the fall in 2016

 

“ November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.”

– Clyde Watson

This fall was spectacular in its color displays both in the leaves and in the skies.And we are not done yet. A relatively indifferent  landscape can turn charming or spectacular when autumn colors abound as they have this year. Since a pictures is said  to be worth a thousand words, I will save you much reading…

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Canada geese on a pond splashed with early morning fall colors Pamm Cooper photo

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American Lady butterflies migrate south for the winter, along with sulphurs, monarchs, cabbage whites and red admirals

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Delicata squash- one of the smaller winter squash varieties

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Old house in the background with Oriental bittersweet on the left and an old Japanese maple on the right . Location is heading south from the Goodspeed Opera House on Rte 154

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Mushrooms on a dying sweet birch in early November 2016.

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Mourning Cloaks overwinter as butterflies and may be seen flying about near or in the woods on warm winter days

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It is obvious where the barberry is in these woods. Photo taken near the Gillette Castle State Park

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Honey bees are visiting mums and witch hazel this week, as well as any Montauk daisies that are still blooming

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November 6 2016 dawn over Glastonbury, Ct.

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Here is a good example of thinking ahead when planting. A sugar maple on the left and a Japanese maple on the right were probably planted over 30 years ago and are the perfect companions for great autumn color.

Take some little trips this season in our little state. There is still some good color out there, but it may not last much longer. And you may not have to go very far to get some great visual  compositions. Perhaps just as far as your own back yard.

Pamm Cooper                                          All photos by Pamm Cooper

 

 

There was a row of spruce trees along the back yard that were about 4’ tall when we moved into our home in 1986. By 2016 they had grown to over 20’ and formed a great screen between our yard and a neighbor’s yard. This past fall and winter one of the trees just quickly declined and died. It is in fact the first tree on the right in the second photo which looked pretty healthy in 2015. The remaining trees appear to be fine. We decided to take it down and I had hoped that there might be a clue as to the cause of its demise.

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Winter 1986

 

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Winter 2015

 

Although the other trees in the row looked fine this particular tree had no needles left on any of the branches. The first step that my husband took was to remove as many limbs as he could safely reach. What remained looked like a very sad cell tower although the birds didn’t seem to mind and still liked to perch there. The image below that shows the felled tree shows the top of the tree and the state that the branches were in. The next step was to use a chain saw to fell the tree. I must state that my husband is not a professional in this area but we did look at some reliable videos on YouTube so that we could follow the proper safety precautions and cutting procedure. We knew that there was a good, safe area for the tree to fall that was not near the house or deck.

The first step was to mark the cutting lines on the tree. Then, suited up with safety goggles, heavy gloves, steel-toed boots and our son’s old lacrosse helmet the cutting began. The first two cuts created the wedge that is removed on the side of the tree that it will fall toward. Next was the horizontal cut on the opposite side that does NOT go all of the through to the wedge. From this point the tree should fall into the first wedge and drop.

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This tree did not want to go down quickly and it took several additional very minor incremental cuts until it began to fall forward at an unbelievably undramatic rate. The trunk didn’t even hit the ground, the remaining branches on the top kept it perpendicular to the plane of the earth.

So wouldn’t the next step be to cut the trunk it manageable pieces? Well, it would unless your son is looking for a 125 lb. log to use to practice a caber toss for next year’s Scottish games! It sits behind our shed waiting for him.

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I had asked my husband to leave about a 2 ½’ stump hoping that I could do something decorative or whimsical with it. A great garden shop that I visit in Manchester had just the bowl portion of a birdbath, the base having been ruined at some point. I brought it home and my husband drilled a hole in the center of the stump so that the base would nest securely in it. I also applied polyurethane to the bark of the stump so that it was the same shade and finish of the bowl. They look great together.

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I didn’t really see any distinct indications as to the demise of the tree. There were few bored holes near the top which could have been the result of woodpecker or sapsucker feeding. If they were from a borer I didn’t see any tunnels or galleries that went on extensively. In fact, the heartwood, sapwood, and cambium layers all looked surprisingly healthy. The problem could have been root-related but as we didn’t dig out the stump that will remain a mystery.

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Did you know that the Europeans that arrived in North America in the 1600s that Connecticut was more than 90% covered by forested land? Even though the Native Americans burned the forests in the spring and fall to eliminate underbrush and provide a better habitat for the game that they hunted their habits did not have a very big impact on the landscape. The influx of colonists however, with their need for lumber for housing, furniture, and barns, not to mention wood for fuel and cleared land for farming caused forested acreage to decrease steadily until it reached an all-time low in 1820 when only 25% of the state of Connecticut was considered forested. This also affected the animal populations that depended on the wooded areas for their habitats but also led to an increase in soil erosion.

When the Erie Canal opened in October of 1825 it unintentionally caused this trend to be reversed. As it became easier to transport produce from large mid-West farms the smaller farms of New England began to disappear. Percentages of forested land increased to the point that by the 1950s 70% of the state was once again forested.In fact, a recent photo opportunity showed a freight train that was hauling lumber from California and Canada, not Connecticut.

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Connecticut is one of the most densely populated states and even with the effects of urban sprawl we are still considered one of the most heavily forested states with the current percentage close to 60% according to the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The DEEP works with private landowners, state and town municipalities, and local forest industries to protect Connecticut’s forest resources. Among the information that they share is their work with two current invasive species that are causing harm to our hardwood trees: the Asian Longhorned Beetle and the Emerald Ash Borer. The insect images are from the DEEP website.

Connecticut, along with the rest of the New England states, is known for its spectacular displays of fall foliage. This year’s water shortage may affect this year’s show but not as much as a reduction in our forested areas would. Nowhere in Connecticut are you too far from a forested area and the beauty that they provide year-round.

Susan Pelton

It’s not generally good news if you discover holes in the bark of your trees.  Common causes of holes in trees include wood boring insects and birds.  In the case of insects, it is usually the larval stage that feeds within the tree while the adults feed on leaves or other external tissues.  In spite of this, it is most often the adult stage that created holes in the bark.  These may be either entry holes caused by adult beetles entering the tree to lay eggs or exit holes created when mature beetles or moths emerge following pupation.

Bark beetles are very small, often just a few millimeters long in the adult stage.  A typical life cycle would go as follows:  Adult beetles mate and females bore through the bark of host trees, leaving a tiny round entry hole.  Once below the bark, she excavates a parent gallery and lays eggs in niches along its length.  When the larvae hatch they tunnel outward in a pattern (gallery) characteristic of that species which can aid in identification.  They feed on the living cambium layer between the bark and the wood and when the cambium layer is killed all the way around the tree no new conductive tissue is produced for movement of water and nutrients in the tree and the tree dies.  Once the larvae mature, they pupate in their galleries and emerge as adults through new exit holes in the bark.

Bark beetle exit holes in ponderosa pine.  (http://www.fs.fed.us)

Bark beetles are often attracted to trees stressed or weakened by other agents such as drought stress or other pests and diseases.  In addition, some species emit an aggregation pheromone from an attractive host tree that attracts many more bark beetles of that species.  When many entry and exit holes occur together it looks like shotholes and there are certain bark beetles that are known as shothole borers.   Some bark beetles carry fungal spores on their bodies and when they create their parental/egg laying gallery, the fungal spores are introduced into the host tree where the fungus can develop in the wood.  These fungi may or may not have a direct impact on tree health and the fungus is sometimes a source of food for the larval insects.

D-shaped emerald ash borer exit hole (PA Dept. of Cons. & Nat. Res. – Bugwood.org, larval galleries of the emerald ash borer (wikipedia).

D- shaped or oval exit holes are typical of Buprestid beetles including the emerald ash borer (D-shaped).  Common names of beetles in this group include metallic wood boring beetles or flat-headed borers.  There are over 15,000 species and some have brilliantly colored metallic looking elytra (wing covers).  Holes are relative to the size of the beetles which are small to medium in size.  The D-shaped exit hole of the emerald ash borer is about 4-5mm across and the beetle is just under ½” long.

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Asian longhorned beetle exit hole and adult beetle. (US Forest Service photos).

Round exit holes that are larger than those of the bark beetles are created by round-headed or longhorned beetles as they exit trees (family Cerambycidae).  In this family, eggs are often laid singly in the bark and newly hatched larvae tunnel into the wood to feed until they pupate and emerge as adults.  The Asian longhorned beetle falls into this group and the emergence holes are deeper than those of many other similar beetles.  Pupation of the Asian longhorned beetle occurs not far below the bark but these larvae tunnel throughout both the heartwood and sapwood of the tree.  Because of this, they tunnel out toward the bark to pupate, creating a tunnel from deeper in the tree.  There are a number of native longhorned and other beetles that created similar exit holes.  If you are concerned that you may have a tree infested by Asian longhorned beetles be sure to contact the plant diagnostic lab in your state (at your state’s land grant university of state agricultural experiment station) for a definite identification.

Sugar maple borer scar and black and yellow adult beetle.  (Scar photo: S. Katovitch, USFS, bugwood.org, Beetle photo:  R. Kelley, VT Dept. of For., Parks and Rec., bugwood.org.)

Some borers create somewhat longitudinal or horizontal scars on the surface of woody stems and branches.  Examples are the rhododendron borer and the sugar maple borer.  Rhododendrons may be attacked by two types of borer.  The rhododendron borer is the larva of a clear-winged moth while the rhododendron stem borer is a longhorned beetle.  Evidence of damage begins as wilted then dying shoots and stems.

woodpeckerdamage3Woodpecker damage, left.  J. Allen photo.

Sapsucker damage and yellow-bellied sapsucker. (injury photo: R. Cyr, Greentree, bugwood.org., bird photo: E. Verhasselt, bugwood.org)

At least two types of bird create holes in the bark of trees to access food.  Woodpeckers create large, irregular and rough-edged holes as they peck away at the bark to get to insects, including borers underneath.   Sapsuckers also peck holes in trees but they are smaller, uniform in size, round and often occur in rows or grids of multiple feeding sites.  As their name implies, sapsuckers feed on tree sap, not insects.

Maplesyruptap.publicdomainA final interesting cause of holes in sugar maple.  Taps used for extracting sap for maple syrup production can also create round holes in that type of tree and they look very much like the exit holes of some of the larger wood boring beetles!

J. Allen

The birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus) is one of those things in nature that you might see on a regular basis, maybe even every day, and wonder in passing what it is or what it’s called, only to forget about it until it jogs your memory again.  There’s not much that seems to stand out about it and it’s probably not something you’d try to remember to describe to your friend at work the next day.  But, just because it’s common, it is kind of nice to find out what it is and learn a little something about it, at least I think so.

This year's birch polypore fruiting body (lower) perpendicular to last year's after the tree fell.

Current year’s birch polypore fruiting body (lower) perpendicular to last year’s after the tree fell.

The birch polypore is a fungus that produces a fleshy, bracket-like fruiting body on the wood of colonized birch trees.  It causes a brown rot type of wood decay but only in weakened or dying trees.  Once the tree dies, the fungus can continue to thrive on it for some time.  The fruiting bodies, the fleshy spore-producing structure, is annual in this fungus and will be produced once the wood in the tree is quite extensively decayed.  It’s called a polypore because the lower surface of the fruiting body is made up of many tiny, vertical pores up to about a centimeter high.  On the walls of all these pores, spores are produced in late summer through early fall.  A single fruiting body will produce millions of spores.  Even though these are annual fruiting bodies, producing spores for just a single season, they will darken and stay on the tree for a year or more if undisturbed.  An infected tree will often have many brackets, giving them a stepped appearance on the trunk of a still-standing host tree.

A series or group of birch polypore fruiting bodies on the trunk of a black birch in winter.

A series or group of birch polypore fruiting bodies on the trunk of a black birch in winter.

The birch polypore is so-named because it is only found on birch trees in nature.  It occurs throughout the northern temperate parts of the world wherever birch trees grow.  The fruiting bodies or ‘brackets’ are said to have a mild ‘mushroomy’ odor but they are not considered edible.  Decayed wood may have a pleasant green apple aroma.

Historically, strips of the leathery brackets have been used by barbers for sharpening their razors or strops and an old common name in some areas is the razor strop fungus.  Early man used dried pieces of the fungus to start fires using flint stones and the smoldering fungus could be carried from one site to another then fanned to flame again, serving a very useful purpose in the days before matches and lighters.  According to one reference (http://www.first-nature.com/fungi/piptoporus-betulinus.php), there were two pieces of this fungus on a cord around the neck of Ötzi the Iceman, the 5000 year old mummified corpse found by hikers in the Ötztal Alps in 1991.  More recently, scientists have extracted an antibiotic, piptamine, from the fruiting bodies.  It is not, as far as I can find, currently used in medical treatments or even commercially available.

J. Allen

 

Winter finally hit us with measurable snow and cold, real cold that hurts breathing, skin and arthritic joints. Winter weather can also affect us psychologically, putting us in a ‘down’ mood. Well a cure can be had by visiting a warm, indoor plant growing facility. Nothing lifts my spirits more than basking among foliage and flowering plants, and soaking up the heat and sun. They can found locally just about wherever you live or seek them out when traveling. Plant conservatories are living museums of plant material on view, usually not for sale. Garden centers with heated greenhouses are a lovely substitute, and you might just find something to purchase and enjoy at home.

I visited Rawlings Conservatory & Botanic Gardens in Baltimore last weekend while visiting my daughter and new grandson. The baby seemed to enjoyed the outing, as much as a two month old can. He didn’t cry anyway, and he did watch the orange koi fish in the water feature. Rawlings was a great escape outing for the new mom.

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Plants growing vertically to cover the wall.

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Turtle and Koi fish make unusual playmates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rawlings Conservatory has five separate environments suitable to the corresponding plants they hold. The Mediterranean House, the Tropical House, the Desert House, the Orchid Room, and the Palm House all showcase plants from around the world.

The Mediterranean House held citrus trees of various types, lavender, rosemary and scented geraniums to name a few among the many plants in this glass house.

I spotted insect feeding damage on an citrus leaf, but could not find the pest. Even well managed garden settings must deal with some offending creatures. After all, they are part of the environment, too.

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Insect feeding damage on a citrus leaf.

The Tropical House held rain forest plants over our heads and below our feet.

The Desert House contained cacti of many different species. Its  air was warm and dry, perfect for growing succulents.

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The Palm House contained plants typically collected during the Victorian era, 1838-1901. Some palm trees were very large with orchids growing up and into their canopy.

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sago palm, cycas

Sago Palm

The Orchid Room is filled with different types of orchids. The scent was incredible and intoxicating, radiating from the multitude of pots mounted on a metal grid walls to elevate and allow light exposure to the plants within this incredible room. I didn’t want to leave.

 

Find your own escape from the cold at indoor plant venues available around our State of Connecticut at the links below. Let us know in the comment section of ones you would like to share with other readers here.

UConn EEB Greenhouses – http://florawww.eeb.uconn.edu/visiting.html

CT Flower and Garden Show – Feb.18 though 21, 2016. http://www.ctflowershow.com/

Elizabeth Park in Hartford, http://elizabethparkct.org/greenhouses.html

 

-Carol Quish

 

 

 

 

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