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Zelkova Serrata or Japanese Zelkova, at Borough Hall
in Metuchen, New Jersey. (USDA Growing Zone 6)

A Tree Grower's Diary
Photographs and text by Julie Walton Shaver

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Monday, July 31, 2006

Coffeetree Sequel

If you're a regular to this blog, you might remember the story of the murdered coffeetree seed. Ahem. The one I killed by leaving the seedling outside in the pouring rain and it broke in half. My friend, Hayley, helped me plant a new one, and I stuck that one in the garage in a pot and forgot all about it. Lo and behold, it had been several weeks before it occurred to me to go check on the little tree and darned if it didn't grow to almost a foot tall!! It's a MIRACLE! I never even watered it! Imagine being stuck inside a hot garage, no water, no relief from the heat other than total shade and several garage door windows. I couldn't believe it survived, much less grew so well. (There is an off chance that one of the kids watered it.


So then I put her outside, next to the back door, shaded by the dwarf Alberta spruce most of the day, and um, we had a big storm, see, and um, well, the next day I thought, oh not again. But yay, she survived the big storm, no breakage. Perfect leaves.

Until today, that is, when I checked on her again and saw that she's being eaten by something. I lift my eyebrows in total astonishment that she's made it so well thus far. I think I'll just continue to let her be.

Julie's secret to growing trees from seed: plant, water, walk away.

(Those big transplanted trees, they need adequate water or else they'll die for sure a slow and painful-on-your-wallet death!)
Photograph of the week.
8:03 pm | link 

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Still Crying At the Senselessness of It All

It was just over a year ago when I heard the loud crash. My heart sank, for I knew exactly what was happening. My favorite tree was being murdered. Now there's a house there, and a family, and cars, and even some new trees, but when I look into that spot where the most grand purple European beech I'd ever seen stood tall and majestic, my heart sinks again. I used to look to her for a history lesson each time I walked by, wondering how big she was on the day my grandfather was born in 1899. I would wonder how it was that she came to live in that spot, and if children watered her as a seedling. I would watch the birds and squirrels flying and jumping and resting in her branches, and I would wonder exactly how was it that they parsed out living quarters. And then I would remember the size of that massive tree, plenty of space for all.

As I walked by the new house today, I wondered where had all the creatures gone, and it suddenly occurred to me that there are many new creatures in my yard now, rabbits and squirrels and birds I didn't use to know. Maybe they've come here because I bring acorns from the forest and scatter them about the yard. Maybe they've come because of my bread crumbs. Maybe they've come just to taunt the cat stuck inside the window sill.

I know I should be happy that a new family has a home in my neighborhood, and I honestly do wish them well here.

But I can't help being sad at missing that beautiful tree and all that she meant to me. I'm a selfish girl.

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes:You are truly a girl after my own heart! I also reflect when I pass "what used to be" in seeing urban developement all around it seems. My heart sinks as yours did when I see the large machinery move in ripping out the heart of the wonderful "greenspaces" filled with so many stories yet to be told if only the trees had a voice! IF ONLY THE TREES HAD A VOICE!

Ha, in Concord, Massachusetts, writes: Julie, Your photo essay of the Purple European Beech’s fall made me cry. I live in Concord, Massachusetts--I’ve never laid eyes on the tree—and yet I feel your loss. I also wanted to thank you for your detailed growth charts of your trees. We’d like to plant an October Sky Maple, and your growth chart is extremely helpful. Since your growth was so speedy, I think we’re going to forgo the landscaper’s pressure to buy the larger tree and start with a much more reasonably priced 2.5” trunk size. Great blog. I’ll definitely be reading. Thanks again,

Mandy from San Diego, writes: Found your site while searching for information on Purple Plum Trees. Your story about the beech tree had me crying. I love the way you write about the trees as he/she, as real, live beings. Just had to write and say how much I enjoyed your blog, and will be reading all of the other entries in it and sharing them with my girls whom I homeschool. Mandy

Matthew from Maryland, writes: I remember a year ago when you wrote about the fall of that magnificent beech tree, and it still pains me to look upon the photos of such needless destruction. At least this tree's last years were recorded and its majesty know by many; a great number of trees, both large and small, don't even receive that act of kindness before meeting the saw or bulldozer in the name of "progress." If only the trees could talk... I heard such was the inspiration for Tolkien's Ents - that he came up with them after witnessing senseless destruction of old trees and wondered what would happen if the trees could talk and fight back. Anyway, great website!
Photograph of the week.
11:23 am | link 

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Swamp Maple and the Pool of a Thousand Lives

We've had that inflatable pool almost as long as we've had the October Glory red maple tree behind it. Can you BELIEVE that? When I bought that pool at Target in spring of 2001, I figured that:

1) the pool would get a hole in it


2) the heavy pool sitting atop the tree's roots would crush her, cause her soil to compact, stress her out, bring on fungus and prickly heat and critters looking anywhere for a water source.

But no, 5 years of that inflatable pool, and both pool and tree have no leaks and no crumbly leaves. Fortunately for the swamp tree, the pool is filled (no chlorine), played in for a maximum of two days, then all the water released onto the root zone, causing the great flood for a minute or two, then disappearing into the ground, and up into our tree, rushing the sap along to leaves that will shade us eight months of the year.

Thanks to pool and tree, we are one cool family. (No pruners or pointy spades allowed in pool zone, please.)
Photograph of the day.
8:49 pm | link 

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dead Tree Glowing

Catching up on my mail after several weeks, this particular one in the pile caught my attention, subject line: "Glowing dead dogwoods." It reads as follows:

"i live in Mt,Enterprise TX .Over the last 10 years i have lost many dogwoods in my yard.I have a lot of shade and moisture. I know these conditions cause dieses and fungus problems,but i can't cut down other trees to save the dogwoods. I just watch them die slowly year after year.but this is the reason i am writing.i found a tree dead in my yard that was dead for quite a was about 15' tall and 4" in dia. I was able to pull it right out of the ground and put it on the burning pile to be disposed of later. that night i went outside in the dark and noticed something glowing green. i have seen glow worms in the soil at times and thought this was what i was seeing. but when i turned on my flashlight to see the worms there was not any.What there was on the ground was a root from the dogwood I had pulled up that afternoon. further investigation of the area i pulled up the dead tree had more green glowing pieces of root. the tree on the burning pile also glowed at the base. My question is what is going on with this tree and has anybody else witnessed this?"

The first thought that popped into my head was bioluminescence. (I just love using those big, smart-sounding words!) The letter-writer, who didn't provide a name, did exactly what I would have done: checked for glowworms. But there are plenty of other living organisms that glow, many of them microscopic. Bacteria found on rotting wood or decomposing flesh (ew) can often have a luminescence, which can be caused by radiant energy, such as ultraviolet radiation, among other things.

The photograph above is of a mushroom known as the "ghost fungus," apparently studied extensively at Parramatta High School in Sydney. (There are many nice pictures here.)

And here's another interesting article from the International Herald Tribune about
things that have been genetically engineered to glow in the dark in order to help scientists study cellular activity in areas that were previously invisible. My imagination went CRAZY at reading between the lines on this vague reference: "Jokesters have discovered the humor of a man-made glow." Now what do you suppose they're talking about? Genetically engineered body parts? Yikes!

I doubt that whatever is causing the letter writer's rotting dogwoods to glow is also what killed them. I think it's more a combination of factors. (But I haven't seen the trees, don't know the climate of the area, and haven't even seen any pictures, so don't take my word for it!) Dogwoods are having a tough time of it combating anthracnose. That's the first thing I'd check for. If the trees are suffering from that, it takes a lot of tender loving care to keep them healthy, starting with removing any dead wood and disposing of it in the trash (the trash collector might freak out if your trash is glowing!), followed by raking up all the leaves as soon as they fall in autumn. They need to go out with the trash too, not in the compost pile. Be sure to disinfect the pruners!

And you never know, you might be able to harvest that glowing wood of yours and sell it to some research lab so that someday we can all have trees that glow green through the dreary cold gray of winter. (All of a sudden, I have a newfound appreciation for the beautiful cold gray of winter.)
Photograph of the day.
10:56 am | link 

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Where Oh Where Has the Tree Lady Been?

I have to apologize for my extended absence from the tree blog lately. As you might have noticed from the mass of pages in this site (80 pages brought over from Coffeedrome and redesigned in only about a month's time), I am good at focusing intensely on something for an extended period. Problem is, I can really only focus intensely on ONE thing at a time, and for the last few weeks, I've been away a lot with the kids (summer vacation, you know), plus, I've been making my photography business official, complete with a brand new, made-from-scratch, Web site —, in case you'd like to take a look. (Feedback is welcome.)

Meanwhile, guess what, the trees are still there, shading the yard and growing and drinking and waving and singing for me. Don't you just love that about trees?

Oh, the goose picture was taken on one of our trips to Roosevelt Park, one of my favorite places to study the effects of extensive and murderous amorous carvings on tree trunks. (I am a pro at getting trees into this blog, even if I don't have any new pictures to put up!)
Photograph of the day.
10:48 pm | link 

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"The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today." -- African proverb

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While the Tree Grower's Diary has been in existence since 1996 (as a notebook) and since 1999 (at Coffeedrome), this new, independent site was launched on April 4, 2006. The blog posts here go from April 2006 through 2007. After that, all Tree Growers Diary blog posts appear in my main blog, the City of Nouns. Click here to go straight to the tree category.