Jim Chatfield


Many trees are barren, save for the clinging marcescent leaves of beeches, oaks and flowering pears, the last roses are now past and even tough pansies are drooping and spent with recent freezing temperatures.



Are these to be merely memories of seasons past and hopes harbored for seasons to come? In many ways, yes. But savor those memories as you plan for next year’s gardens and landscapes and enjoy the unique charms of winter.



This week, let’s remember that magical 11-12-13 Wednesday earlier this month when in Wooster, aided by an early morning snow, the ginkgoes outside the Regional Extension Office at the Ohio State University Wooster campus dropped probably 90 percent of their golden-yellow leaves in a single shower day of defoliation.



What a scene to go with the clumps of snow and the rapidly bluing sky. What a scene of multicolored sweetgum leaves nestled in the soft, second-of-the-season snow. On that same day, as I arrived in Columbus, the last flowers of the season were doing just fine; the strap-like petals of our fall witch-hazel were blooming along with their central Ohio snow on the OSU Columbus campus. As for our current landscape beauty, enjoy now the season of evergreens, and how the soft snow recently capped off pines and how ponderosa pines at OSU’s Secrest Arboretum in Wooster were profiled in the dusk of a recent late November day. The cinnamon bark of paperbark maple glows in the fire of the sun, which also highlights the architecture of this maple’s large helicopter-winged fruits.



And if you come upon hemlocks in the woods or parks or landscapes, channel Robert Frost and his words: “The day the crow shook down on me the dust of snow from a hemlock tree has given my heart a change of mood and saved a part of a day I had rued.”



So dream of the past and future flowers of landscape bottlebrush buckeyes, greenhouse bougainvilleas, wetland buttonbushes, dream of crab apple and azalea blooms, the delicacy of Queen Anne’s lace. Enjoy the next few months the holiday fruits of winterberry holly, from the orange Winter Gold for this Thanksgiving weekend to the vibrant Winter Red and other cultivars of December and January landscapes and indoor arrangements to come.



As to springs and summers past and soon once again to come, repose this winter with a good book on the joy of flowers, which brings us to the book Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers by photographer Robert Llewellyn and essayist Teri Dunn Chace. The book introduces us to the form and function of flowers through the lens of 28 plant families, the Amaryllidaceae to the Violaceae.



As Teri Dunn Chace notes in the introduction: “I hope you will discover, as I did when I looked through these photographs, a sense to it all. As varied, weird, wonderful, sexy, and graceful as flowers are, ultimately they have always been the plant world’s supremely resourceful way of staying alive.”



To quote Goethe, both botanist and literary artist, these sexual reproductive organs of the Angiosperms, these plants with enclosed seeds, “a flower is a leaf mad with love.” Hopefully this book will whet your appetite for the flowers which we must mostly wait until next spring and summer for, though the book does also detail such indoor winter flowers as the Amaryllidaceae’s paper white narcissus with its corolla of petals and the short trumpeted corona at the flower’s center. Not to mention the welcoming harbingers of spring of woodland violets and the even earlier snow-tolerant pansies of the Violaceae family. More importantly, run out to your local bookstore and get some copies for your nurture of nature family and friends for holiday gifts.



Let’s discuss the two winners of last week’s Name That Plant contest. First of all, there was a wonderful response to the contest (over 50 entries). About 30 percent of respondents correctly identified the plant as sweet birch (Betula lenta).



I checked emails on my phone Saturday morning around 10:30 and replied with the good news to the first correct one I noticed, though later I discovered that there was an earlier correct entry, at 6:43 am. So there are two winners. They are Mimi McDonald and Mitch Weberm both of Akron.



Weber later noted a grove of these he has admired for years in Northeast Ohio and McDonald noted: “I just happened to read your article early this morning, and thought I’d do a little detective work to try to guess your mystery tree. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m a nature lover, but definitely not very knowledgeable or learned.” Until now.



Sweet birch is also known as the cherry birch, due to its cherry-like bark, and the black birch. Many years ago, when I worked at Geneva Hills Camp near Lancaster in southeast Ohio, we even called it blue beech, though it is certainly a birch and not a beech (the genus Fagus).



What I remember from then is what I like the most about it now. We were chain-sawing trees in a mandatory line-clearing project for a power line right-of-way through the camp. The aromas! Ah, the sweet wintergreen aromas of sweet birch sap — tapped in the old days to make birch beer.



Name that plant



This week, our mystery plant is not a native tree such as the sweet birch, but rather an Asian species. This species was introduced to the U.S. almost 150 years ago, and is not and hopefully never will be invasive in natural areas in Ohio and elsewhere.



It is a tree that can grow to a height of 100 feet but more commonly 40-50 feet. This tree is happy here in Northeast Ohio, and can be seen at local campuses and arboreta, and many landscapes, including my own, in which two of these trees were at the height of my daughters when they were about 5 and 7 years old 23 years ago, along with two at the 5’6” height of my wife and my 6’3” height. All four are now over 30 feet tall.



Our mystery tree has a number of wonderful foliar features, including a range of leaf colors as the season progresses, from rosy in spring to blue-green in summer to apricot-colored in fall. Like sweet birch, there is an aroma that I love associated with this plant. Your pictorial clue is of one of the genders of their monoecious (“one house”) flowers, which are inconspicuously subtle though at the same time very attractive.



Remember, the prize, the book Seeing Flowers, goes only to the first to contact me with the correct answer of this species (Latin and common names).



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 chatfield.1@cfaes.osu.edu or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.