Thursday, January 22, 2015

Obstacles and Perseverance

Great works are performed not by strength,
but by perseverance.
~Samuel Johnson

I recently looked at some photos of some impressive trees in downtown Boston that I had taken last winter.  I hadn't taken the photos because the trees were impressive in size or in beauty.  They were, however, notable in their tenacity to keep growing despite their harsh environment.

Being next to a busy street and sidewalk was not the ideal situation for the trees.  Litter piled around the roots, something or someone had broken half of its branches, and the trees were stuck in a tiny strip between the sidewalk and a chain link fence.  The fence was obviously an impediment for the trees, as they struggled to stretch towards the sunlight.

But the trees, in their monumental effort to grow towards the sun, actually grew through the fence, enveloping the metal links in their very wood.

Honestly, looking at how all of the branches had been broken off on this side of the fence, the tree was probably safer growing into the other side of the fence.  The other side of the fence promised more sun and safety. This is one case where the grass was actually greener on the other side of the fence, and the tree knew it.

To overcome their obstacle and achieve their goal, the trees must have had to start out slowly.

Each day they needed to reach for the sunlight, growing just a little bit closer, melding and inching slowly into the fence, 

persevering over the days and weeks and even years...
...until finally making it to the other side.

Looks almost like Nature is demonstrating some sort of lesson, doesn't it?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Four Seasons of Sassafras

I've written before about the fascinating history of the North American native Sassafras Tree, how it became a medicinal fad for Europeans who thought it a cure for STD's, and how it's used as a flavoring for homemade root beer, tea, and gumbo.  But beyond its cool history, I love my Sassafras albidum just because they are some of the prettiest trees in my yard, all year-round.

In Spring they are one of the first plants to flower, making it a food source for early pollinators.

Their Summer leaves serve as food for the caterpillars of several different moths and butterflies, including the Spicebush Swallowtail and Tiger Swallowtail.  

Sassafras has several really awesome nicknames.  A couple nicknames are based on its uses as a flavoring, such as 'the Tea Tree' and 'Cinnamonwood'.  My favorite nickname for Sassafras, however, is 'the Mitten Tree'.  Sassafras has three differently shaped leaves, one of which is shaped like a mitten, which makes the tree easy to identify!

Sassafras leaves
Like Hollies, Sassafras are dioecious, which means they have separate male and female trees.  The female trees produce berries in late summer, which the birds enjoy.

Late Summer
It's hard to pick which season Sassafras Trees look most beautiful in, but it might be Fall.

The colors are simply gorgeous.

But I think the time I appreciate the Sassafras Trees in my yard the most is during Winter.  There's not a whole lot going on in my yard in Winter, but the bare branches of the Sassafras in my back yard have an amazing structural beauty.

The branches twist and curve, crookedly drawn lines that form a beautiful silhouette.

Sassafras trees do not transplant very well due to its taproot, but you can get smaller-sized saplings from native nurseries and online.   They do sucker into a grove, but can be grown as a single tree if the suckers are removed for the first few years.  They often grow in open woods, but they are also a pioneer species, one of the first to grow after a fire or in abandoned fields.

Some more stats on Sassafras
Native Range: Eastern North America
Planting Zones: 4 - 9
Height: 30 - 60 ft. (10 - 20 m.)
Spread: 25 - 40 ft. (7 - 12 m.)
Sun: Full sun - Part shade
Soil: prefers moist, acidic, loamy soil
Tolerates: poor, dry, sandy, or clay soil

I love my 'Mitten Trees' in all their forms.  I must admit, however, that as beautiful as the bare branches are now, I am looking forward to seeing the Sassafras Tree branches heralding in Spring with their yellow flowers.

Aren't they pretty?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Some Very Creative Captions...

One advantage of the bare winter yard is that it's actually easier to spot wildlife.  I love seeing what the birds and critters are getting up to in the winter (well, except for when they are munching on things I don't want them to eat...)  I also loved seeing the captions these people had for the photos in my last post:

Alistair: Come on then, put out the grub!
PamYou must have eyes like a hawk to get this picture.
JaneDoes my bum look big in this?

PamWhat IS Indie up to?
Alistair: Cooee is anyone there?
JaneDoh! She's spotted us!
Rose"And this, Bambi, is the best dinner buffet in town!" 

Alistair: Sniff, sniff, I asked for a nutty bagel.
MichelleWhat no cream cheese?
PamWhere's the lox?
DonnaWhere's the Cream Cheese?
JaneNom nom, scoff, scoff

Thank you to all of you who came up with the great captions!  You guys are more creative than me!  It's a cooold day where I am, so I'm sitting inside while enjoying watching the birds swoop around the bird feeder.  I hope everyone is staying warm!

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