Plant Classification of Trees and Shrubs

Genus. Species. Hybrid names. Cultivars. The following article on plant classification is for the more scientifically-minded and botanically-inclined who may desire to dive a bit deeper than our usual posts on the topics of landscaping, pruning, or transplanting. This time around, we’re sharing this resource with you directly from The Complete Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs – a fantastic and thorough reference guide that contains in-depth descriptions of cultivation requirements for pruning and planting various trees and shrubs. While we recommend having a copy of this guide for your own landscaping needs, first enjoy this passage on the taxonomical categorization of trees and shrubs on your property…

Although trees and shrubs can be classified in many different ways, the only classification that has a really wide application is what biologists call natural classification, that is a classification based on the branching of the evolutionary tree.

The advantage of a classification that reflects evolutionary branching patterns is that is allows the highest level of prediction of a plant’s properties. For example, if we recognize that a particular shrub belongs to the legume family (Fabaceae) on the basis of its pea-like flowers and pods with a row of seeds, then we know that there is a strong likelihood that its roots will have nodules containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria that allow the plant to thrive in infertile soils. The ability to produce these nodules must have arisen in one of the earliest ancestors of the whole family and has been inherited by nearly all surviving members – but it is not one of the features by which we recognize the family.The rules governing the scientific naming of plants are laid down in the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN), updated at 5-year intervals by international congresses of botanists. But this code only gives rules about the correct form of names (mostly of Latin or Greek origin) and or priority among competing names, making no attempt to lay down which classification should be followed.

Major Groups of Plants

The great majority of trees and shrubs described here are flowering plants – that is, they belong to a large natural group in the kingdom, believe to have descended from a single ancestor that first appeared at some time during the Age of Dinosaurs, perhaps around 140 million years ago. The term angiosperms is also used for the flowering plants by biologists. They are characterized by having seeds fully enclosed in a fruit and by possession of flowers, which appear to have co-evolved with the insects that in most cases are required to pollinate them. There are at least 300,000 species of flowering plants in the world, of which more than half are likely to be trees or shrubs.

But trees and shrubs include one other major group of plants, namely the conifers. These comprise only about 600 present-day species, but some of those species form vast forests in far northern regions. Conifers are characterized by having their seeds sitting on the scales of cones, and their pollen is also borne in small sacs on the scales of other smaller cones, not in flowers. Their evolutionary history goes further back than flowering plants, to around 180 million years ago.

Some very interesting plant groups may also be included in a broad definition of trees and shrubs. Among the oldest are the tree ferns, arguably no proper trees or shrubs, but in contrast the ginko is without doubt a tree. The single species Ginko biloba is the sole survivor of a more diverse group that first appears in the fossil record almost 250 million years ago. It was traditionally grouped with the conifers but is now known to have branched off before these evolved their present characteristics.

The cycads are plants with palm-like fronds and large cones. Together with the conifers and ginko they are part of the broader group known as gymnosperms, or naked-seeded plants. The cycads are of a similar geological antiquity to the conifers, though now reduced to about 200 species scattered through warmer regions of the world. Popular articles sometimes call the cycads “dinosaur food”.

There are another three small groups that have been classed as gymnosperms but which molecular evidence now shows to be small offshoots of the common stock that diverged into the gymnosperms and angiosperms. These are each represented by a single genus, namely Ephedra, Gnetum and the bizarre Welwitschia, each of them with no close relatives.

Levels of Classification

All the plants covered in this book are what botanists term vascular plants, characterized by stems with distinct zones of conducting tissues that are able to carry water some distance from roots to leaves. The ferns and their allies (such as club-mosses) are the most primitive vascular plants.

Vascular plants are next subdivided into those reproducing by spores, the pteridophytes, and those reproducing by seeds, the spermatophytes. In this particular context, the only pteridophytes are tree ferns: all other trees and shrubs are spermatophytes.

Traditionally the angiosperms (flowering plants) are divided into two great classes, the dicotyledons and the monocotyledons. Nearly all woody plants belong to the first of these, which includes about two-thirds of all flowering plants species. Dicotyledons are usually recognizable for having net-veined leaves, flower parts in fours or fives, and two seed leaves (cotyledons). Monocotyledons usually have parallel-veined leaves, flower parts in threes, and a single seed leaf. Monocotyledons covered in this book include palms, yuccas, aloes, dracaenas, cordylines, strelitzias and bananas.

The flowering plants are usually treated as a division in the formal hierarchy of plant classification, and the monocotyledons and dicotyledons as the two classes belonging to it.

The most important levels in this hierarchy are shown in the following list, with the tree Magnolia campbellii subsp. mollicomata taken as an example to illustrate where it belongs at each level of the hierarchy.

  • Division – Angionspermae
  • Class – Dicotyledonae
  • Subclass – Magnoliidae
  • Order – Magnoliales
  • Family – Magnoliaceae
  • Subfamily – Magnolioideae
  • Tribe – Magnolieae
  • Genus – Magnolia
  • Subgenus – Yulania
  • Section – Yulania
  • Species – Magnolia campbellii
  • Subspecies – Magnolia campbellii subsp. mollicomata

The levels picked out in bold are the ones commonly used by both botanists and gardeners.

Below the level of species there is great confusion in plant names. Subspecies is the only rank below species shown in the list above, as this is the primary subdivision of a wild species and is sometimes regarded as a species still in the process of evolving. Historically, though, it is the rank of variety (strictly speaking “var.” stands for the Latin varietas) that has been most often used, but this is full of ambiguity.

And then there is the level of form, which in the botanical system comes below subspecies and variety (the abbreviation “f.” correctly means the Latin forma, which is the same thing. Botanists generally use this level to signify an aberration from the typical state that may occur repeatedly in the wild and involves only one character. An example of this is Gleditsia triacanthos f. inermis (thornless honey locust), whose only difference from other forms of this species is the absence of thorns, a feature which is observed to recur in wild populations.

Hybrid Names

The International Cod of Botanical Nomenclature states that the name of a plant known to be a hybrid between two species should be of similar form to a species name but with the multiplication sign x inserted in front of the specific epithet. Thus the hybrid between the horse chestnut species Aesculus hippocastanum and Aesculus pavia is Aesculus x carnea.

And once a name is published for that particular combination of species, then any hybrid konwn to have that same parentage must take the same hybrid botanical name, though it may be distinguished by a different cultivar name (see the following text). The multiplication sign can also be used to indicated a hybrid even in the absence of a published hybrid name, by placing it between the names of the two parent species; an example of this is Rhododendron aurigeranum x R. zoelleri.

There are cases of hybrids occurring between plants of different genera, and these may be named with a generic hybrid name. This is signified by placing the multiplication sign before the hybrid genus name, for example x Crataemespilus grandiflora for the hybrid between Crataegus monogyna and Mespilus germanica. Note that such names are usually formed by combining parts of the names of the parent genera.

Of much rarer occurrence are graft hybrids, which result when tissues of two different plants get mixed together at a graft union, without any sexual combination of genes. The best known cases are generic graft hybrids, and they are designated by putting a + sign before the graft hybrid name, which is formed in a similar way to a normal generic hybrid. One such involves again Crataegus and Mespilus and has been named + Crataegomespilus to distinguish it from Crataemespilus.

Cultivars

The concept of a cultivar as a distinct kind of name only crystallized after about 1950, though plant breeders had obviously been using non-Latin names since the mid-nineteenth century – for example, Camellia “Aspasia”. In 1953, the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants was published, in which cultivar was defined. In the case of trees and shrubs a cultivar is nearly always a single clone and must therefore be propagated by cuttings, division, grafting, budding or tissue culture. Although numerous closes may arise during a breeding program, it is only when one is selected for its superior qualities and named, that for practical purposes a cultivar comes into existence.

A cultivar name differs from a botanical epithet (of a variety or subspecies) in its style of printing. It has initial capitals and is not italicized, and is usually enclosed in single quotation marks. An alternative to quotes is to precede it by the abbreviation “cv”. It may follow a species or hybrid name (Acer palmatum “Sango-kaku”, Acer x conspicuum “Silver Vein”), a subspecies or varietal name (Acer pectinatum subsp. forrestii “Alice”), or may follow immediately after a genus name (Rosa “Iceberg”). This last style is usual when more than 2 species are involved in the parentage of a cultivar, or where the parentage is unknown.

One of the features of cultivar names is that they can be attached to whatever botanical name is thought to reflect their true genetic origin, without the need of formal publication and regardless of changes in botanical classification. So, if the shrubby Senecio species from New Zealand are now reclassified into the genus Brachyglottis, their cultivars are all shifted automatically into the genus, and Senecio “Sunshine” becomes Brachyglottis “Sunshine”.

Preparing Your Soil for Tree Planting

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The following are instructions on how to properly prepare your soil for tree planting taken from The Biodynamic Orchard Book – a wonderful resource for planting fruit trees, berries and shrub! Read on and enjoy…

The treatment of fruit trees, berries and shrubs should be undertaken with the aim of producing healthy plants and fruits, while avoiding the use of poisoning sprays. To make it possible to product the desired results without insecticides to pesticide sprays depends on many factors, not all under the control of the grower. Therefore we will discuss some of the issues the grower will encounter and some practical measures to be undertaken in the two phases of the work: the conversion period and the final goal. The grower needs to have patience and perseverance and should not expect an orchard free of pests immediately in the first or second year of the conversion phase.

The biology of trees, berries and shrubs – that is, of all wood-developing perennial plants – is entirely different from that of an annual or biennial plant. While the annual seeks tis nutrients in the surface layer of the soil, the tree grows two root systems – one with feeder roots near the surface, the other sending mechanically supporting and feeder roots into the deeper layers of the subsoil.

When planting trees or reclaiming older stands, both layers of the soil need attention. The preparation of an orchard begins, therefore with the selection and pre-treatment of a suitable field.

Preparation of the Soil for Tree Planting

If a field has never been cultivated, it ha a natural structure: the humans gradually becomes less as the depth increases. Natural strata such as hardpan or clay pan or podzol layers may, however, exist. If the field was previously under cultivation there will also be the hardpans and plow soles resulting from this. Now there is noting a tree dislikes more than a hardline and wet feet, that is, standing moisture in the root area, which hinders the even development of spreading root system. Each disturbance of the root system is reflect in the growth of the tree, specifically of the crown. The results can include abnormal growth patterns, canker, bleeding and gumming, and susceptibility to pests.

The soil should be carefully prepared by deep subsoiling in order to break the hardpan and establish water and air circulation. A plan root absorbs and needs oxygen for its health; it absorbs the same amount of oxygen as its own root value every day. Poor drainage should be tackled at once. Ay measure which helps establish a crumbly soil structure is an advantage. An orchard field should also be well leveled and graded; this facilitates later cultivation, mulching and irrigation.

In the first year of an orchard, subsoiling, plowing, disking and grading should be done prior to any planting. A nourishing cover crop such as rye or soya beans may be grown and sided under after well-rotted manure or compost has been spread. The more humus a soil contains, the better it is for fruit trees Where manure amor compost has been well worked into the soil, roots will develop faster. Once the trees are established, it is difficult to work in the depths of the soil’ this has to be done first. Here we can already see some of the issues involved in reclaiming an older orchard – situations may. exist with regard to hardpan and generally unfavorable structure, which cannot be overcome. No fertilizer or spray applied on can overcome the circulatory disturbance of a tree who’s root is stopped by a hardpan or standing moisture.

In shallow soils and soils with high groundwater level, it makes little sense to select high stemmed or other trees which require a deep-growing root: choose dwarf types instead.

If you’re using biodynamic method, you will have already treated the disked-in manure and compost with preparations 502 and 507 or the biodynamic compost starter. This adds already digested organic matter and humus. Trees don’t like raw manure or raw organic matter. In woods, the raw organic matter remains on the surface; only leaf mold humus is in touch with the roots. The process of humification in woods is slow but the grower has, for practical reasons, to speed it up. When the cultivation begins, the soil should be pre-treated with biodynamic field spray or preparation 5500 in order to stimulate humus formation and to activate the availability of the minerals and to encourage the fixation of nitrogen. Let us assume this has all been done correctly. Then after a year of preparatory treatment, the field is ready for the planting of trees. If these things have not been done correctly, then the conditions may already have been created for many biological causes of diseases, pets and crop failure.

If you’ve already planed the seedling trees, you still have a chance to catch up by thorough interrow cultivation, going as close to trees as possible without hurting the roots.

An interesting disease phenomenon was observed in Germany some years ago. Some arable fields with low productivity which, for many years, had been cultivated for crops, had been forested. Then after thirty years, the fir trees began to die off. The roots, it was found, had grown into the blow sole and other strata which had been affected by the previous cultivation.

When preparing a tree planting bed, make sure that even green manuring is well decomposed. An important question is, should the planting hole be large and deep or narrow? W are inclined to suggest a narrow hole just deep enough to hold the tree and its initial root development. The reason against large holes Is that there is a greater amount of settling and loose soil so that the tree tends to shake loose and rattle in the hole. Also, in a large hole with looser soil, the tree may grow fast at the start. Then when the roots reach the native soil they will stop or grow very slowly causing circulatory disturbances in the rising sap. Cankerous growth, gum bleeding and undernourishment are the consequences. We prefer a slower but steadier growth from the beginning. The tree needs a firm, well developed root system. It’s better in the long run to have the first crop a year later and have a healthy tree.

Fill the planting hole with a mixture of soil and very well rotted, earthy compost. Be sure that the soil is tightly pressed around the tree so that it doesn’t wobble.

Landscaping With The Quaking Aspen

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One of my favorite books explains how you can take common native trees and incorporate them into your landscaping called “Landscaping with Native Trees”. Not only do natural/native trees create visual interest, but it also makes it feel as if they perfectly belong in the environment. This book details out a list of native trees that you can add to your property that will also be disease and pest resistant!

Description

Apsen is a tree born of fires, landslides and other disasters. It colonizes disturbed areas and masses at the sunny edges of forests and meadows, where its white bark and gentle grace make it a favorite subject for nature photography. Aspens grow as clones – colonies of stems with a common root system. Fires and other disturbances periodically clear away the older stems, allowing ever more vigorous new sprouts to grow.

Quaking aspens are slender and graceful trees. Their white bark and delicate branching pattern might contribute to the illusion of small size, but aspens can become quite large on favorable terrain. The biggest single quaking aspen tree known was found in Ontonagon County, at the western end of Upper Michigan. It is 109 feet tall and over 3 feet wide. The closely related bigtooth aspen can grow even larger. One specimen in Marquette, Michigan is 132 feet tall and a venerable specimen in Caroline County, Maryland has. turns 4 feet 7 inches in diameter.

Leaves

Quaking aspen derives both its common and scientific names from its foliage. The round leaves hang from flexible, flattened petioles and tremble with the slightest breeze. The scientific name actually means “like tremula”, a reference to the nearly identical European aspen, which I known for its similar shivering movement. The leaves are very finely toothed along their margins.

We have experimental provenance plot of aspen at Starhill Forest in Illinois; the trees have been propagated vegetatively from more than 30 locations across the entire natural range. The leaves vary in size, shape, fall color and phenology, spending on where the parent tree grows. Most turn bright gold in the fall, and some close from the Rocky Mountains include a little orange. Those from the East generally. have the largest leaves, up to 3 inches in diameter; those from central Alaska and the southern Rocky Mountains seem to have the smallest.

The Foliage of bigtooth aspen is similar, but it has course, irregular teeth along the margins. The two species are easy to tell apart in early spring because big-tooth aspen leafs out later, and its new foliage is covered with a white wool, as though cotton balls decorated the crown of the tree. The two species are more difficult to distinguish from a distance during the other seasons.

Flowers and Fruit

Aspens like all poplars, are dioecious, and each clone is either staminate or pistillate. In the high mountains, staminate clones seem to survive better than pistilate ones, but the genes are evenly mixed in most areas. The flowers are small catkins similar to those of willows and they are not particularly conspicuous. Those of the bigtooth aspen open later than those of the quaking aspen.

Female trees release great quantities of seed in early summer every few years, but the tiny seeds are so perishable that few remain viable long enough to sprout. This doe snot pose a challenge to the tree’s survival because almost endless generations of clones may grow from a few seeds that do not take root.

Seasons:

  1. Fall- the golden foliage, backlit and shivering on white stems along stands of dark evergreens is perhaps the most popular of all nature photographs for calendars.
  2. Early Spring – As the misty lime green new leaves of quaking aspen and the white leaves of bigtooth aspen expand.
  3. Summer – when the foliage dances in the wind

Native and Adaptive Range

If you live anywhere in the cooler portions of North America, quaking aspen trees are probably near. Aspen ranges from northern Alaska to the mountains of Central Mexico, eastward across every portion of Canada that has a growing season long enough to support tree growth, south through the moist, cool highlands of Virginia and Missouri and throughout the the mountains of the West. Our testing indicates that trees of western mountain origin are not as vigorous in the Midwest as those from local and more eastern sources. Root cuttings or small sprouts should be gathered locally when you are planting near the limits of species natural range. Locally adapted provenances of quaking aspen are hardy north into USDA zone 3.

5 Popular Composting Myths

Composting is good for the planet. It helps to divert waste away from our landfills and in return, it helps contribute to fewer greenhouse gases. If you’ve ever wanted to start composting, here’s a great article from “Garden Myths” by Robert Pavlis that shows you how to properly start composting.

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Myth #1: Compost Needs the Sun to Warm Up

The myth contains some level of truth. Most o f the heat generated in compost piles is the result of microbes digesting the organic matter. Their metabolic activities generate heat, which results in warmer piles. A warm environment will keep microbes active, but if the proper ratio of greens, browns, water and air are present, the microbes will generate their own heat, in which case composting can be done in full sun or shade.

In cold climates, the extra warm of the sun is helpful if the pile is made in early spring or fall, since it kick-starts the microbe’s activity and keeps the pile warner for them at a time when they don’t generate enough heat themselves.

A sunny location can also be a problem if it dries the pile too much. Th eright level of water is essential for composting process.

Myth #2: Eggshells Are Good for the Compost Pile

People routinely add eggshells to the compost pile, believing they add value to the garden. That is mostly a myth.

Chicken eggshells contain a variety of nutrients that plants can use, including 50 ppm calcium, 39 ppm sulfur, 12 ppm sodium and 5% organic matter. The organic matter might be a surprise since it is not mentioned very often. Eggshells consist of a hard outer shell, and a soft inner white skin. The inner skin contains the organic matter and can be higher than 5% if they are not washed.

The organic matter, sulfur, magnesium, and potassium are beneficial for the garden, but you need a lot of eggs to add any significant amount. Sodium, at even low levels, is toxic to plants, and soil usually has lots of calcium, the exception might be sandy soil.

The problem with eggshells is that they do not decompose in slightly acidic or alkaline soils. Even when pulverized into a fine power, they take many years to add any value to the garden. When people hear this, they object and say that they know they decompose because they disappear. They disappear because they get broken into smaller and smaller pieces until you can’t see them, but they have not chemically decomposed.

Eggshells decompose more quickly in acidic soil, but it is still a very slow process. Consider the face that archeological digs find intact eggshells that have been buried for hundreds of years. You garden is no different.

Myth #3: Compost is Acidic

The pH of compost depends very much on the material you put into it. Wood products like sawdust will make the finished compost more acidic. If you use more manure or add some ashes from the fireplace, it will be more alkaline.

As the material decomposes, it goes through pH swings. In the initial stages, it forms organic acids that make the compost pile more acidic, lower the pH. In these acidic conditions, fungi grow better than bacteria and take over the pile and start to decompose the lignin and cellulose in plant material. As this process continues, the pH rises and bacteria become more populous. Therefore, the pH of your finished compost also depends on when you consider it to be finished. If you run things, it might still be more acidic. If you wait longer, it will be more alkaline.

Although the pH of commercial compost varies between 6 and 8, thelist can be used as a guide to estimate the pH of your compost:

  • Yard debris 7.7
  • Mixed manure 7.9
  • Leaf 7.2
  • Manure 6.4
  • Bark compost 5.4

Myth #4: Compost Will Acidify Soil

The claim is popular and is based on the assumption that compost is acidic.

Homemade compost is rarely acidic, so it won’t acidify soil. Even acidic compost is not likely to change soil pH.

One of the benefits of compost is that it buffers pH. As ions produces from decomposition process, it absorbs them and prevents them from affecting the pH of the soil. This buffering action has the effect of moving the soil pH cloer to neutral, but don’t expect huge swings.

Myth#5: Compost Tumblers Make Compost in Two Weeks

Manufacturers of compost tumblers claim that you can make compost in two weeks. This sounds like a great idea. Instead of waiting months, you can have instant compost.

A compost tumbler is some type of container that can be easily turned. It is usually made from a plastic barrel that is raised up on legs and fitted with a hand crank. Compost matures faster if it is turned on a regular basis, and compost tumblers are designed to make the turning process easy – you just turn the handle.

One reason compost piles are slow is that the microbes do not get enough air. By mixing up the ingredients more frequently, air is added and it matures faster. The is certainly sound science.

Compost tumblers do have benefits:

  • Turning most tumblers is easier than turning a compost pile
  • Since it’s a closed system, rodents an other animals will not be a problem
  • Some people feel it looks better
  • It may produce fewer odors

Native Denver Trees: Cottonwood

Two species of cottonwood trees, the narrowleaf cottonwood and plains cottonwood, are not only abundant throughout Denver, but also a sight to behold. These majestic trees can tower as high as 60 feet high, and the female trees are well-know for releasing their cottony “snow” in the springtime (which also happens to be a source of great annoyance for many allergy sufferers)! The following profile of the cottonwood tree from Landscaping with Native Trees – a fantastic resource for extensive tree descriptions – contains just about everything you ever wanted to know about one of America’s most beloved species! Read on and enjoy…

Description

“Cottonwood” is a name that means different things to different people. Cottonwoods of various species and varieties are found almost throughout North America, and all look and behave very much alike. They are rugged, water-seeking trees that grow faster and larger than nearly of their associates in any region of the continent. But they are also weak and very prone to damage and decay, and female trees release a summer snow of cottony seeds that become entangled in window screens from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Cottonwoods are most appreciated in the Great Plains, where other trees are rare and more difficult to grow. Here, they make vast riparian forests that shade the rivers and furnish the structural bones upon which wildlife habitat is built. Kansas, Wyoming and Nebraska have each designated a cottonwood as their state tree, but there is some confusion whether the honored tree is the eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) or the closely related plains cottonwood (Populus sargentii). Some authorities consider them to be varieties of the same species; their ranges do overlap in Kansas and Nebraska.

We have known old, hollow cottonwoods that had enough room inside for a poker game. The current national champion, in a pasture near Minadoka Dam in Idaho, has the spreading form characteristic of plains cottonwood; it is only 85 feet (26 m) tall but has a trunk 11.5 feet (3.5 m) in diameter. A comparable specimen 96 feet ((30 m) tall with a trunk 11 feet (3.2 m) in diameter grows in Gosper County, Nebraska. For many years, the recognized national champion was an eastern cottonwood growing along the Illinois and Michigan Canal in Illinois. Before it fell in 1991, entire grade-school classes could convene within the massive tree’s hollow base (although the entrance was too small to admit most teachers).

Leaves

Toothed and triangular, the leaves average about 4 inches (10 cm) long and broad. Those on the shoots of western species and varieties are generally smaller and more leathery, but the leaves on vigorous shoots of any species grow much larger. We have found that trees from different geographic regions planted together at Starhill Forest in Illinois retain the foliage characteristics of their home habitat.

The leaves hang from flexible petioles and clack together even when the breeze it too subtle to be felt on the ground. Their music is especially pleasant in late summer, when the leaves begin to dry and their sounding boards resonate. Cottonwood foliage becomes a warm yellow if the tree has had an insect-free summer and a gradual transition to fall.

The autumnal display is made more dramatic by the typical, fungus-induced early abscission of the oldest leaves, which, in falling, highlight the bare structural form of the branches.

Flowers and Fruit

All cottonwoods are dioecious, so only female trees bear the cottony seeds for which they are notorious. The fruit capsules begin as strings of green pearls in the early spring, and the ripe capsules split open synchronously to fill the late-spring air with a beautiful but messy display of cottony snow.

Seasons

  1. Fall (there is something unforgettable about a grizzly old cottonwood on a lonesome ranch, its foliage reduced to a smattering of golden leaves rattling in the breeze, the scene lit by a ray of sunshine breaking through the dark clouds of a lowering sky).
  2. Late spring (the cotton is truly the best and the worst of this tree; it is festive in wild areas where it may be enjoyed without inconvenience).

Native and Adaptive Range

The combination of eastern cottonwood and plains cottonwood blankets low ground and riparian habitats across the eastern and midwestern United States. Plains cottonwood extends into Alberta and Saskatchewan, north at least to Saskatoon. Other species, which are similar in most details, range north throughout much of Canada, west to the Pacific Ocean and southwest into Mexico, where cottonwoods are known as los alamos. Our eastern native species is adapted from the Gulf Coast north into USDA zone 3, but local races exist. So if you are doing some planting, look for trees of local provenance.

Culture

Cottonwood is probably our fastest growing largest tree. It is fairly easy to transplant when small, but it grows so readily from unrooted cuttings that transplanting an established tree seems pointless. Seed is perishable and difficult to handle. Tiny seedlings volunteer everywhere, however, and they may be moved about with abandon as they germinate.

The trick with propagating cottonwood is to start in late winter with a hardwood cutting of known gender. Plant it in open, weed-free soil, give it excessive amounts of water and get out of the way. We have seen groves of cottonwoods that grew more than 100 feet (30 m) tall in less than 20 years. Soil type is not critical, but the trees must have water, full sun and little competition to flourish.

Problems

Whole books have been written about the insects and diseases of cottonwood. Two cankers, Cytospora chrysosperma and Dothichiza populea, are especially troublesome on trees that have been injured by pruning or extreme weather. The trees are notoriously prone to damage from lightning, beavers, ice, wind, insects, decay and nearly every other force known to nature. Yet they are so resilient that some live to take their place among the largest of our deciduous trees. A few of the vulnerable cottonwoods that shaded Lewis and Clark on their Journey of Discovery in 1804 are still growing along the Missouri River.

Cottonwoods’ worst problems are amplified by their sheer size. This translates into massive, brittle limbs and extensive, invasive roots. Then, if your trees are females, there is the cotton. Some communities have actually passed ordinances prohibiting the planting of female cottonwoods. The cottonwood is a picturesque, fast-growing giant at its best where its negative traits are of no consequence.

Cultivars

Because cottonwood has immense value for paper pulp, many superior production clones with elaborate pedigrees are grown in forestry plantations. Cottonwood has been used in a vast forestry hybridization program with Europe, Asian and western North American poplar species. Several nurseries offer “cottenless” ornamental cultivars, which are nothing more than staminate trees growing one need only look around during the blooming period for a male tree, then return in late winter to harvest a dormant cutting.

Related Species

Eastern cottonwood and plains cottonwood are the primary species in the eastern and midwestern United States. People in the northern part of our area will find balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) an aromatic species that ranges north as far as the Arctic Circle. IT has narrower leaves than cottonwood, and it seldom grows as large.

Swampy areas in the eastern United States sometimes support swamp cottonwood (Populus heterophylla). It has beautiful emerging foliage in early spring and becomes a large, tall tree, like eastern cottonwood. The national champion (named “the Little Big Tree” from associations with Native American lore) grows along the Black River in Spencer, Ohio, and stands 140 feet (43 m) tall with a straight trunk nearly 9 feet (2.75 m) in diameter.

There are other cottonwood-like poplars in western North America. They include black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa), a giant tree of the Pacific Northwest; narrowleaf cottonwood (Populus angustifolia) of the Rocky Mountains; and several varieties of Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) in the Southwest. The aspens are poplars, too, although they have more in common with some European and Asian species than with other North American poplars. They are covered separately.

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Enter a cottonwood grove on a hot summer day and you will receive a standing ovation from the clapping leaves and the comfort of the dappled shade. In the nearly treeless landscape of the Great Plains, this can be a memorable and welcome experience. If contemporary life were not so dependent on window screens, air conditions, swimming pool filters and all manner of sensitive gadgets that clog and choke, we might also appreciate the drifting summer snow of cottonwood seeds, just as it must have been admired by the early Native Americans who revered this great tree.

The Arapaho believed that great cottonwoods cast the stars into the sky, and many tribes found mythic and pragmatic value in virtually every part of the tree. The famous photographic portfolios of Edward Sheriff Curtis, compiled at the beginning of this century as the sun was setting on the ancient ways of Native American life, help document the importance of cottonwoods to his subjects. Two of his more dramatic images depict a Navaho weaver’s loom set beneath the exposed root of a huge cottonwood and a ceremonial hat made from cottonwood leaves for the Sun Dance of Cheyenne.

How Trees Reproduce: With Help From Their Friends

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Have you ever wondered how trees reproduce and make baby trees? Trees actually reproduce through cultivation and sexually by using an exchange of pollen between the female and male reproductive systems.

Trees are considered asexual, however, a single tree can have both female and male flowers. They also rely on evolutions and adaptations to prevent self-pollination. These type of adaptations could include the shape, color, or even smell of its flower. It also might have different cone structures that help to make sure that the tree doesn’t self-fertilize. 

Here are a few types of ways that trees pollinate: 

Wind Pollination

Many trees rely on the wind for pollination. That’s often why during the Spring months the air becomes filled with pollen, which often triggers allergies in humans. Trees shed pollen in hopes that the wind will blow it only other trees. The pollen is so small and light, it’s designed to be easily carried away by the wind. The goal is that it will be carried a far distance to another tree of the same species that also produces female flowers to pollinate. The way that each tree collects this pollen is completely different, but they are all designed to better trap the pollen floating in the air. 

Pollinators

Some trees also use insects and animals to help with pollination.  In fact, pollinators play a massive role in helping plants reproduce. The most common types of pollinators are bees, butterflies, wasps, beetles, bats, and hummingbirds that you often see hovering around flowers. When it comes to trees, they often draw in these types of pollinators with beautiful flowers. Each tree has a different type of flower that draws in a unique pollinator that’s designed to attract them. 
Birds are also terrific pollinators. Many birds have beaks that are specifically designed to crack open cones or tree nuts, which ends up spreading the seed. Birds can also transfer pollen on their beaks from one flower to the next. 

Seed Distribution

One pollination occurs, the seeds that the pollination produces still need to be distributed. They can be distributed in several different ways depending on the type of seed and its adaption. Fruiting or nut trees are encased in a shell and are dropped to the ground. They can either sprout there or they might be eaten by other animals who spread the seeds when they defecate. These seeds can also get carried away through water run off or attach themselves to animal fur. 
Trees that produce nuts are collected by animals that burry nuts, like squirrels who store them for later. Some of these seeds (forgotten by the animal) grow into new trees. 
Other types of seeds can get carried by the wind, like Cotten Wood trees. These seeds glide in the air until they are able to settle on the ground and can begin to grow.  

Cuttings

Humans can also help create brand new trees! Some species of trees can be reproduced by the cultivation of cuttings. Cuttings are just stems that are taken from a tree and then planted in the soil. With lots of loving care, the stems develop roots and can grow into an adult tree. This is referred to as asexual reproduction, so the tree is actually just a clone of the original tree. This method is a great way to populate trees or grow a field of trees with identical characteristics, like fruit or but trees. 


Do you have any questions about growing your own trees? Send us a message and we’d be happy to share our thoughts!

Tips for Successfully Transplanting Trees and Shrubs

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If you’ve ever wondered how to properly maintain the health of transplanted trees or shrubs, we’ve got your covered with this fantastic and informative passage from Growing Trees from Seed. As you might imagine, there are a number of variables that can cause stress to a tree and render a transplant procedure unsuccessful. These include but are not limited to: overwatering, extreme temperatures, mineral status, the species of tree, chlorosis, plant genetics, and soil conditions.

Read on to learn more, and feel free to comment. We’d love to hear your tree transplant success stories! And YES, we will help you with your next transplant – so don’t hesitate to reach out if you have doubts about the process…

Transplant Stress

Transplanted trees and shrubs may be killed by overwatering (drowning the roots) just as easily as by drought. An initial soil wetting is adequate for dormant bare-root plants. Once the leaves begin to unfold, the moisture loss from the plant increases. However, well-established roots are able to meet all but a hot, windy day’s demands for moisture from a moist soil. If the soil is moist, adding more water doesn’t remove heat stress. Instead, you need to reduce the plant’s need to cool itself by providing shelter or by giving the leaves a cooling shower at midday, when desiccation rates are highest. The effort you make to cool down your plants during periods of heat stress will pay off: it will dramatically increase their chances of survival. Of course, this is more easily done on private property, in close proximity to a watering can, than in the larger landscape.

Hickory, oak, and other species that are considered difficult to transplant can be protected out in the landscape by a temporary shelter. A few branches of pine, or some stick stuck into the ground and topped with burlap, will protect your plants while they are becoming established.

Soil Conditions

Some plants just do not grow well, often because the soil doesn’t suit the species. Soil that is too wet or dry for a particular plant will damage its roots, resulting in small leaves, weak growth or death. Plants that are grown in soil that is too alkaline for them may have an iron manganese deficiency, resulting in chlorotic leaves – leaves that are yellowish with green veins.

Alkaline soils tend to stress most seed sources of black oak, sassafras, holy and witch hazel, and severely stress striped maple and hobble-bush. Beech seedlings become more chlorotic in the absence of their specific mycorrhizal fungi. Horticulturists like to practice intensive care on chlorotic plants, using manganese and iron foliage sprays or adding peat moss to the soil in order to turn their plants green, but to what end? If acidic-preference plants are not in the right soil, they may never really thrive. You will be tempted (we all are at first) to use these horticultural life-support methods to help them, but, if time is limited, try to focus your efforts on the plants that are most suited to the planting site.

Why You Should Forgo Weaker Plants

English novelist and gardener Vita Sackville-West (1982-1962) advised, “Never retain for a second year, a plant which displeases you.” I have heard occasional stories of plants that were nurtured along and have grown into healthy trees of shrubs, but most weak plants belong on the brush pile. If the soil characteristics are not optimal, my experience has been that weak plants usually continue to decline.

When growing plants with special requirements on inappropriate soil, such as many of the oaks, red maple and tupelo, a few dark green healthy seedlings may flourish among dozens of chlorotic seedlings. They healthy ones may have a genetic trait for adaptation or tolerance and continue to do well. It is worth spending extra time on them.

10 Fascinating Facts About Trees

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Trees are fascinating living organisms. As the oldest living beings on our planet, they continue to create so many benefits for humans and the other species on our planet.

Here is just a short list of interesting facts about trees. 

Trees are one of the oldest species on this planet. Scientists believe that trees are over 400 million years old. It’s believed that frees first developed from fungi that could grow up to 26’ wide. 

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Trees can help with human’s stress levels! Various studies have shown that just being around trees can make us calmer by lowering cortisol and adrenaline. Spending time around trees lowers blood pressure and can greatly improve our mood. Being around trees can be fantastic for our mental health!

The largest living tree in the world resides right here in North America. Named General Sherman, this giant sequoia  lives in middle California in the National Sequoia park. This tree is 275 ft high, and has a diameter of 25 ft.  It’s also estimated that it’s 2,300–2,700 years old! 

Wondering how long tree seeds can stay alive? As long as you can store them in cold dry conditions, they can actually stay alive for hundreds of years. In fact, scientists in Israel have grown a tree from a 2,000 year old palm tree seed found during archeological excavations. 

Tree rings don’t just show us the age of a tree. The rings can also tell us the history of the earth’s changing climate.  For example, light colored wood can indicate that the wood grew in the Spring and the darker color wood grew in late Summer or Fall. Tree rings usually are wider in warm wet years, while the thinner rings indicate cold and dry conditions. 

The Dwarf Willow is the shortest tree in the world. It typically only grows 1-6 cm high and has shiny round leaves and branches that are only about 1 cm long. This tree grows in the Northern Hemisphere in cold regions. 

Bonsai’s are technically trees, but they aren’t a species of trees. They are actually alterations of large trees and are made from different species. You can take a cut from a larger tree to make a bonsai tree, which is then maintained to keep its small structure. 

The largest contiguous forest in the world is called the Taiga and is located throughout the northern hemisphere and expands through several countries. It mostly consists of pines, larches and spruces. Although it stretches through parts of Alaska, the largest portion of this forest is in Russia and Canada. 

The world’s oldest fossil tree was discovered in New York, dating back 386 million years ago. Scientists believe that the fossils they found were part of an ancient forest that stretched from New York to Pennsylvania. These trees played a very important role in developing life on the planet and helping to cool our planet, making it livable for future species. 

You can read some of our additional articles that highlight some of the major benefits of trees!

5 Benefits of Trees

Why Trees are Important to Wildlife

Termite Warning Signs

Termites can cause an incredible amount of damage to your home. It’s important to notice the warning signs and eliminate termites before they become an infestation on your property.

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What is a termite?
Termites are small insects that feed on wood and often make their way into our home. They are very small creatures who only grow to a half an inch. They often get confused with ants because they look so similar. Termites, however, have straight antennas, soft bodies, wings, and also have a milky color to them. 
They are almost aways found in colonies and they often eat for about 24 hrs straight per day!

What part of the tree does the termite eat?
Cellulose is the main food source for a termite. Termites will build their colonies in moist soils or wet or dry wood. Many times they are found in dead or decaying wood that is provides not only a consistent foods source, but shelter too. 

The types of termites that invade your home prefer to eat soft, moist, and fungus infested woods. They also like to eat this type of wood that is closest to the soil. 

Trees that termites tend to stay away from are redwoods, yellow cedars, and cypress. 

Signs your tree may be infected with termites:

  • Wood shavings around the base of the tree
  • Small holes in trunk of tree
  • Termite colonies around tree roots
  • Discarded wings of termites at base of tree
  • Clusters of small white eggs around soil at the base of tree
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Damage termites can cause
In forests, termites are a vital part of the ecosystem. They help to break down dead or decaying trees by consuming the wood. In more urban settings, termites can pose a hazard to properties and homes. Once termites invade trees on your property, they can create a potential hazard with falling limbs or even create a situation where a tree could fall on your home. Once an infested tree is removed, there’s less of an opportunity for it to invade your home, fence or garage and cause an incredible amount of damage. 

How to prevent termites?
Regular tree maintenance is the number one way to prevent termites from infesting your tree. Because termites tend to thrive in moist areas or within dead/decaying trees, it’s important to remove any dying branches from your tree. If your property also has stumps or dead trees, it can also attract termites. Removing these will stop potential termites from invading your property. The wood should be hauled off or burned to ensure that the termites are gone. 

Here’s some additional tips to prevent termite infestation:

  • Keep your yard super tidy and remove any tree limbs, logs, fallen trees, or any other types of dead wood that might attract termites
  • Burn any wood that’s been infected by termites
  • Avoid stacking firewood next to your house
  • Make sure your property has plenty of drainage so moisture does not accumulate in your yard
  • Remove mulch around areas effected by termites
  • Make sure there’s plenty of sunlight, which deters termites

Maintaining the look and health of your trees can be challenging, especially when it comes to insect infestations. That’s why our team of tree care specialists are ready to help yo!. Our knowledge and experience will keep your trees looking their best for years to come. When you need help, please reach out to us!

How Do Trees Conserve Soil?

All civilization depends on trees for our survival. Humans are dependent upon trees, not only for cleaning our air but also because they support our precious ecosystem. Our ecosystems rely on trees to help reduce soil erosion, prevent flooding and droughts. These all have a downstream effect when it comes to also improving the lives of humans who rely on soil to grow food and healthy water to drink. 

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Check out these fast facts about how trees help with soil conservation:

Trees Reduce Soil Erosion

Trees can naturally prevent soil erosion through their root systems and canopies. Trees have large root systems that help bind the soil together around the tree. The root systems not only help to stabilize the tree, but it also helps with drainage. The root systems prevent water from staying on the surface level and pulls it into the ground. The canopies of trees also reduce the impact of water forcefully onto the ground. Instead, the leaves and the trunks both act as a buffer to slow down the rain. The ability for the canopy to act as a buffer allows for a slower drainage once the rain reaches the ground. 

Trees Prevent Flooding

Trees drink a lot of water. In fact, an average tree can consume about 100 gallons out of the ground and discharge it into the air. It’s not too surprising then that trees are a natural defense against flooding. 

Flooding happens when heavy rains causes rivers or streams to burst their banks. When flooding happens, trees are able to absorb some of that moisture and excess water before it flows into rivers or even drainage systems. Essentially, trees act as a buffer. 


Aside from taking in a lot of water, trees also change the soil structure. Leaves that are shed from the tree, dead branches, and bark create organic matter. This type of matter allows the soil to hold more water.  Also, the little microbes that eat them create tiny tunnels in the soil, helps water seep in more effectively. 

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Trees Prevent Droughts

As we’ve learned above, trees play a vital role in the cycle of water. One of those roles is helping to protect our soil against extreme drought. Trees have an ability to hold in lots of water from rain, they also release that moisture back into the air in a process called transpiration. Trees have the ability to capture rain through their leaves which gets evaporated back into the air to form rain clouds. In fact, much of the rain is driven by this process. 

Trees Add to Soil Fertility

Trees drop leaves and dead branches, which contribute to the health of the soil. These types of organic matter will add nutrients to the soil and provide fertility for surrounding plant life. When they begin to decompose, microbes and insects feed off of them too. The soil becomes even richer when other animals come to feed off the insects and other plants become more established. This cycle contributes to an even richer soil fertility. 

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Trees are Important for Human Survival

If you take a look around the room you’re sitting in, most likely many of the materials around you were contributed by trees. The home you live in, the mail you get, the furniture you sit on all comes from trees! Aside from offering us protection from the outside elements, trees also offer food and medicinal benefits.