White Poplar

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These trees, which have intrigued me for so long, are most likely Populus grandidentata, the White Poplar or American Aspen.

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Their light colored bark, graceful form, and shimmering foliage always catches my eye as we drive past them on the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown Island. 

Part of what makes them so striking is their grouping.  It is as though a seedling tree were planted on each point of a five pointed star.  This lovely group of five trees gives the impression of a group of five very tall chlidren dancing in a ring, hands clasped, and heads looking back and up at the sky.  When the wind blows through their branches  they are alive with movement.

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It has taken me months to learn their name, and I’m still not positive.  Now that the flowers have emerged, I’ve been able to sort through photos and information online to more closely identify them.

They definitely belong to the Populus genus, along with so many other light barked trees.  The Populus grandidentata, is also known as “Bigtooth Aspen” for the relatively large “teeth” along the edges of each leaf.  This species is native to the Northeastern United States, unlike the “Quaking Aspen” which is a native of Northern Europe and Asia.

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Preferring the more northern climate zones, these American Aspen trees are living on the very southern edge of their range.   They grow north into southern Canada, around Nova Scotia, and west to areas around the Great Lakes.

Of medium size, roughly to 80′, these trees are considered fast growing.  They demand full sun, but will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions.  They produce high quality, very straight grained timber.

Because these tress prefer full sun, they tend to colonize disturbed areas ahead of other species of tree.  They don’t do well growing up through an area already forested.

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They are also extremely beautiful, in all seasons.  We drove past them late in the afternoon, as the sun was low towards the horizon earlier this week.

The late afternoon sun caught and reflected in their newly emerged catkins, lightng these trees up like torches.  The catkins carry the pollen, but will also produce the seeds further into the summer.  The seeds will disperse on the wind.  A lively group of “children” grow across the road, in the edge of the treeline.

The American Aspen will also produce “clones” growing from their very shallow roots.  Should the tree be damaged in a storm, or perhaps cut, new trunks will sprout from the roots to create a stand of trees, identical to the parent.

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These trees are a relatively recent addition along the Colonial Parkway.  This stretch was completed in the 1950s, which makes it roughly 60 years old now.

This stand of American Aspens was most likely planted around this time.  These trees aren’t considered long-lived.  Although individuals may last a century, many experts say that individual trees go into decline at around 60 or 70 years.

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This stand is mature, but appears to be still very healthy and vibrant.  There is a sunken area in the center of this stand, where water collects when it rains.

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It makes me wonder whether perhaps a single tree once stood here, and this cluster has grown in its place.  Perhaps it was cut when the Parkway was built, and this group grew from its original roots.  It remains a mystery.

Perhaps someone reading this knows these trees, and perhaps can share what they know about them.  Until then, we’ll continue to stop and appreciate their beauty, and also to photograph them as the season progresses.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome  2014

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Witch hazel, Hamamelis, our earliest golden shrub to bloom each spring.

What a golden day it has been here today. 

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From sunrise to sunset, we’ve enjoyed the kiss of spring.

Hazel catkins lit by sunset's glow.

Hazel catkins lit by sunset’s glow.

Smiles just bubbled up naturally when one walked out of doors into the warmth and bright sunshine.

I went searching for gold today; for that brilliant joyful golden yellow which heralds spring in Virginia.

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And I was richly rewarded.

I hope your Saturday has been golden and full of joy; doing things you love.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is. 

And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want,

but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” 

Mark Twain

American Hazelnut

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Our hazel trees, Corylus americana,  have decorated themselves with golden catkins, which appear to grow a little longer and a little more luminous each day.  These male “flowers,” which first appeared in early winter, are now full of pollen, ready to fertilize the emerging female flowers.

The most flagrantly “ready” reproducers in our winter garden, calling more attention to themselves than even our frisky birds, these gorgeous hazel trees have taken root in several areas in our back garden and along the edge of the forest.

Long catkins, full of pollen, glow in yesterday afternoon's sunshine.  The tiny red buds are flowers nearly ready to open.  A nut will eventually form to replace each fertilized flower.

Long catkins, full of pollen, glow in yesterday afternoon’s sunshine. The tiny red buds are flowers nearly ready to open. A nut will eventually form to replace each fertilized flower.

Hazel trees, closely related to the birch, are monoecious.  That is, they produce male catkins full of pollen separate from the female flowers.  Both may appear on the same tree, but hazel nuts will only grow from the flowers.  Looking carefully at the photos, you might notice the bright red flowers ready to break bud, yesterday.

A mix of rain, sleet, and snow fill our skies today, as the temperatures plummet. We expect north winds to bring us temperatures in the teens by midnight tonight.

A mix of rain, sleet, and snow fill our skies today, as the temperatures plummet. We expect north winds to bring us temperatures in the teens by midnight tonight.

The flowers, cautiously waiting to open, have been bathed in sleet and snow today.

These small trees grow as multi-stemmed clumps.   They spread a bit year to year, as they grow thicker and taller.  The individual trunks remain slender; more shrub than tree. Growing to around 12′ tall, the crowns may spread to be a bit wider.  These native trees begin to grow wherever a buried nut is forgotten by the squirrels.

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Preferring full sun, the Corylus americana  also does well in partial shade, at the base of larger hard wood trees.  Giving fewer nuts in shade, the tree still grows happily in moderately moist soil.  Its small nuts ripen in late September or early October.  Not that it matters… ours are usually long gone by then, enjoyed by birds and squirrels.

The long, pliable stems of the hazel can be cut and used for fencing, plant supports, and even to make the framework of baskets.  This is a “cut and come again” shrub which welcomes moderate harvesting.

Branches cut now make a beautiful and long lasting addition to indoor arrangements.  They give structure when used with early bulbs, hellebores, and even other branches, which will soon flower.

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Evergreen Eastern Red Cedar grows near this clump of Hazel.

Although deer enjoy the nuts in late summer and autumn, they don’t generally bother the hazel’s leaves or new shoots.  This is another shrub which can co-exist with grazing deer.

A welcome signal that warmer weather is coming, I was thrilled to notice the tiny red buds on our hazels yesterday.  New leaves are still several weeks away.  But the hazel  flowers are anxious to open to fresh pollen, and lead our garden into a new season of fruitfulness.

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Hazel catkins outside our window this morning.

Hazel catkins outside our window this morning.

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