February days in the high 30s and 40s and nights in the high 20s and 30s have induced sugar maple (Acer saccharum) sap to rise. One of the side projects of David Wiesenberg, owner of the Wooster Book Co. (trees are his books — literally), is to tap two black maples (Acer saccharum subspecies nigrum) for their sap. He reports recent collections of about a gallon or more a day. My wife, Laura, tasted the sap and it is not sweet, testament to the fact that it takes more than 40 gallons of evaporated sap to yield a gallon of sugary sweet maple syrup.
This is just another gift of the wonders of photosynthesis, the process we all depend upon to jump-start the food chain.
What else is happening now? Dandelions are braving winter winds and sporting their radial sunny blossoms. Hybrid witch hazels display their strap-like yellow and rust-red petals now and it is quite worth it to get to the arboreta or your own backyard for the show that runs from January through March and into April.
Plant lovers are flocking to wintertime programs to plan for the coming season. While giving talks in New Mexico two weeks ago, I checked out some plants at the public Albuquerque Garden Center. There were pecans, also a good plant for Ohio, and crape myrtles, which are also now surviving winters as far north as Ohio State University’s Secrest Arboretum in Wooster.
There were numerous pines, from the wonderful orange-red trunked ponderosa pine to shorter leaf types and, with Albuquerque’s 6 to 8 inches of rain each year, some evidence of drought stress in the form of needles curled and stunted in development due to lack of water. Something we can only imagine here.
There were also numerous redbuds there, which always amazes me, since I think of redbuds as acclimated as understory trees with good organic soil in Ohio, protected from full sun and drought. Albuquerque is hot, dry, sunny and with organic matter of .5 to 2 percent, where we shoot for 5 percent here.
The redbud survivors there though have genetically adapted over time, and have thicker and shinier leaves, better to deal with and reflect sun. Which brings us to a recent topic of a “ChArrbette” and a Sustainable Landscape Maintenance class I taught in Columbus this week.
Our ChArrbette is a hybrid of a design charrette with special reference to planning on which trees to add to the OSU campus as we consider our OSU Tree Campus USA “Tree for Thee and a Tree for Gee” program and our adding of trees in the new Riparian Olentangy River Corridor along the western OSU campus in Columbus. Gordon Gee is OSU’s president, and he loves trees and the sense of place they provide for students, faculty, staff and the surrounding Columbus community forest.
Here are a few trees we discussed last week. One was pecan, a species of tree that does well in Georgia, Texas and New Mexico where there are ample orchards and also in the Midwest, as indicated by its Latin name, Carya illinoiensis. Pecans are a type of hickory, and do well on the OSU campus and in Northeast Ohio in dry sites and in upland areas.
It is a tough tree and a great survivor once established. We have a related shagbark hickory (Carya ovate) in my backyard, aka the Chatscape, and even a runaway brush fire years ago has not deterred its development.
We also discussed adding ample pawpaw trees to the riparian or riverine areas on campus. This native fruit tree is one of my favorites with its squat teddy bear brown flower buds (now) that morph into emerald green pendants in six weeks or so and then emerge into “lurid purple flowers” (in the words of horticulturist Michael Dirr) a few weeks after that.
Pawpaws grow in patches and are handsome pyramidal landscape trees or in groves of shoots from a single root system in understory woodland sites. They are great for rivers-edge plantings.
We discussed serviceberries, a great tree for birds and a great tree for us in the form of serviceberry pies and jams. It reminds me that I feel jilted by city of Akron arborist Bill Hahn who raves about his serviceberry pies, though have I tasted one in the past decade or so? I think not. Serviceberries are also excellent native trees for landscape and woodland sites, though they do suffer sometimes if planted in the harsher versions of street tree locations.
Finally we talked of redbuds, small trees in the bean family, with their bilaterally symmetrical zygomorphic flowers that differ from actinomorphic flowers with their radial symmetry, say like a dandelion. Redbuds also have wonderfully zig-zag stems and an unusual characteristic for the flowers and fruits: they are cauliflorous, in that the flowers and fruits come off of the main stem or trunk instead of off of new shoot growth.
Theobroma cacao, the cocoa tree that gives us chocolate, also is cauliflorous.
Enough you say, enough of this jargon, these crazy botanical words of zygomorphic, cauliflory and riparian! It is a common criticism of us adults, if words are not of our area of interest or specialty. But let’s take a cue from my wife and her second-grade students at Hazel Harvey Elementary in Doylestown. They love big words and do not fear them as much as us fuddy-duddies. At the age of 3 or so children are drawn to words such as “tyrannosaurus” and the like. There is increasing research that shows this, and that this is especially true of words that relate to the natural world, past and present. So, let us stay forever young.
Jim Chatfield is a horticultural educator with Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden, write: Jim Chatfield, Plant Lovers’ Almanac, Ohio State University Extension, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.