Eastern Redbud, the March 2015 Tree of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

The Eastern Redbud, cercis canadensis, is among the first trees to bloom here. Blooming occurs in March-April when the buds turn into pink, white, or pink-purple legume-shaped flowers in clusters, depending on the variety, for up to three weeks. This tree is a breath of fresh air after a long and cold winter. The flowers are followed by bean-like seed pods several inches long, which drop from the tree when fully developed.

Redbud, a native deciduous tree, is found in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9, from New England and the middle Atlantic states, south to Georgia, and to Illinois and Wisconsin in the Middle West.  Ewing is in zone 6b.

The Redbud leaf, from three to five inches long, is heart-shaped and alternately arranged on a zig-zag branching habit, and is reddish-purple when new.  By summer the leaves turn shiny green, but gradually change to yellow in the fall. One variety, ‘Forest Pansy’, has purple leaves. There are, among more than 20 varieties of Eastern Redbud, some with variegated, green and white leaves.

The Eastern Redbud typically ranges from a mature height of 8’ to 20’, depending on the variety, with a spread of 6’-35’.  Some varieties have a weeping habit and this usually small-sized tree normally has multiple trunks. A specimen in Morris County has been documented as having a trunk 8’-2” in diameter, a true “Champion” Tree. Redbud does well in most soils, but not in very wet, poorly drained soil.  It likes full sun or light shade. This tree, used as an ornamental specimen, is best planted young as it does not transplant well.

Diseases do not seem to be a great problem for this beautiful tree, although Canker and Verticillium Wilt do occur. Some caterpillars enjoy the leaves as do Japanese beetles, borers and web-worms. Regular watering, pruning out dead branches, and fertilization help keep Eastern Redbud healthy.

Another name frequently used for Eastern Redbud is “Spicewood Tree”, because in the southeastern mountains of Appalachia the twigs were once used as seasoning for wild game such as venison.

In the past, the bark of the Redbud was used as an astringent in the treatment of dysentery. The flowers can be eaten in salads, or fried. Cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks and pheasants, deer and squirrels enjoy the seeds.

January Tree of the Month – Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir is a “false fir”, as its botanical name, Pseudotsuga menzesii  implies : pseudo = false, and Tsuga is the genus name for hemlock, which resembles firs. Despite its name, this tree is a handsome, large evergreen, named after David Douglas (1799- 1834), a Scotsman reputed to be the greatest of all botanical explorers.

Douglas Fir is native to the western United States and Canada but now grows all over the country, including Ewing, NJ. It is among the tallest conifers in the world, second only to Coast Redwoods, and has been known to reach 330’ in its native habitat; 40’ to 80’ tall and 12’-20’ in spread is more common, however, and its USDA Hardiness Zone is 4-6 (Ewing is USDA Zone 6b).     It is reported to live more than 500 years in good habitats, and one tree is reported to have survived 1000 years.

The leaves ( needles), are flat and spirally arranged on the stems. The bark is thin, smooth and grey in youth, turning reddish-brown and ridged, with resin “blisters” in maturity; the needles are deep green; it has a resinous, fruity odor. The pendant cones are oval, usually reaching 2-3” long and have long bracts projecting from the scales. The cones persist into winter. The shape of the tree is open-pyramidal with straight, stiff branches. The lower branches in older specimens droop but are retained for a long time.

Douglas Fir does poorly in windy or crowded areas. It needs deep, cool, well-drained, neutral to slightly acid soil, and full sun. It seems to be fairly fire and drought-tolerant. It transplants well balled and burlapped. Be warned, however, that Pseudotsuga menzesii hosts many insect pests and needs monitoring in residential and park landscapes.

This is a very ornamental tree which is outstanding in the landscape as a specimen or in a group. The seeds are important food for mice, voles, chipmunks and squirrels, and the tree is a favorite habitat for many species of birds. The needles are a favorite food for porcupines and blue grouse.   The buds are used to flavor eau de vie and colorless fruit brandy, and it is very popular as a Christmas tree, especially since the needles do not fall easily.

This tree, with its very strong but lightweight wood, yields more timber than any other North American tree: it is used for dimensional lumber, timbers, plywood, railroad ties, furniture, posts, fencing and flooring.

Ann Farnham, LLA

Email the Ewing Environmental Commission with your suggestions for the Tree of the Month.

Tree of the Month – Christmas Trees

Among the pleasures we enjoy in December is choosing a Christmas tree. The choices are many: the firs (Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir), pines (Scotch, Eastern White), red cedars, and spruce (Colorado Blue, Norway, Concolor). Throughout the United States there are more than 35 different evergreen species grown for the holidays. They are available either cut, in containers, or balled and burlapped.

If you choose to purchase a cut tree, try to prevent the trunk from being exposed to the air for more than three to six hours; it should be put into a container with water as soon as possible. Next, trim off the lowest branches which might interfere with the tree’s staying upright in a stand, and then remove ragged branch tips or unattractive branches. Saw off an inch of the trunk so the tree can absorb water freely, and fasten it to its stand, which should contain plenty of water. The water, especially at first, should be replenished often.

Artificial Christmas trees are often made of PVC, a dangerous chemical, are not biodegradable, and do not have the wonderful fragrance of a real tree. However, they may be used for many years and are maintenance free.

A live tree, while somewhat more labor intensive to care for, may also be planted in your yard after its holiday use, and enjoyed for years to come. You must do some planning before you take the tree home but it is well worth while.

  1. Determine what spot on your property affords the correct exposure (full sun) and room. Check a good source or the internet to determine how much space your particular species of tree will require when mature.
  2. Dig the hole NOW before the ground freezes. Digging a frozen hole is no fun. Make the hole approximately 2 times the width of what you expect the container or root ball will be. This is important; and do not dig the hole any deeper than the height of the container or root ball. Fill the hole with leaves or mulch as insulation, and cover the hole and the pile of soil with a tarp and more leaves or mulch to avoid freezing. Throw away whatever sod was dug up as you do not want it included in the backfill.

Your live tree should be indoors as briefly as possible; place it at first (in a waterproof tub or container) in a garage or porch to allow it to acclimate to warmer temperatures. You can water it lightly and frequently, or place ice cubes over the root ball to keep the moisture levels up. Spraying the tree with an antidessicant such as Wiltproof will help control moisture loss through the needles.

When the tree is ready for planting, roll it into the hole and orient it so that its best side faces your house or the street. If the hole is too deep, add soil into the bottom and compact it until it is the right depth. Remove as much of the burlap around the root ball as possible; if it is in a container, remove the container. If it is in a wire basket, cut off as much of the basket as you can. Then, begin to backfill with the soil you set aside. Water it thoroughly and slowly as you fill the hole; this will push out air pockets and saturate the sides of the hole as well as the back fill.

It is not necessary to stake or guy the tree. Cover the area – to the drip-line- with 2-3” of double-shredded, hardwood bark mulch, keeping the mulch 2” away from the trunk. Water your Christmas tree every day for a week, twice the second week, and then once a week until the ground freezes and your hose becomes useless.

By Ann Farnham, LLA
December 2014

Best Wishes For The Holidays From Your Ewing Environmental Commission!

Ewing Environmental Commission’s Tree of the Month – Osage Orange

The Ewing Green Team is delighted to bring the Ewing Environmental Commission’s Tree of the Month Series to you.  Our publication of this series begins with the November 2014 entry, the Osage Orange, aka Hedge Apple, Monkey Ball, Bois d’arc.

In the fall, walking along roadsides, old home sites, or the edges of fields, one often comes across a strange looking, greenish-yellow, round and rough-surfaced fruit on the ground; it is from the Osage Orange tree, Maclura pomifera. We have chosen this unusual, very tough, native American tree to be the November Tree of the Month.

The Osage Orange tree was once found primarily in the Red River drainage areas of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, in blackland prairies and post oak savannas and was originally used by the Osage and Comanche Indians to make bows and war clubs. It was naturalized extensively throughout the country from the Rocky Mountains to the East, North of Florida to Ontario, by the efforts of early American settlers as well as the native Americans who would travel hundreds of miles to gather the wood for their bows and clubs. The wood was unequalled for prickly hedgerows, windbreaks, posts, fences, furniture, tool handles, and railroad ties in addition to archery bows.

It has been planted in greater numbers than any other native, American tree, and recently has been used for strip-mine reclamation as it is so site-tolerant. It is hardy from USDA Zones 4-9 (Ewing is USDA Zone 6b).

The fruit, which ranges in size from 4” to 6” in diameter, is actually a group of fruits, each with a seed, all covered within a rough, round, yellow-green rind. The “orange”, which has no relation to citrus oranges, is filled with white, bitter, milky juice which can be irritating to the skin; it is not poisonous, but has a chemical-like flavor and unpleasant texture. It is not readily eaten by animals, but squirrels do eat the seeds. The Osage Orange fruit is very messy on the ground, and beware of standing beneath a fruitful, female tree in an autumn wind when the fruit is ripe!

This tree ranges in size from 20’ to 40’ although it can reach 60’. It is fast growing, has a short trunk, and develops a rounded canopy. The trunk is deeply furrowed, an ashy brown to orangey brown, and has scaly ridges and deep fissures. The leaves are alternately arranged, smooth-edged, bright green above and lighter and fuzzy below; they are 2”-5” long and half as wide. Sharp, 1” thorns develop in the axils of the leaves. The fall color is bright yellow-green.

Osage Orange is dioecious, meaning that male flowers are borne on one tree and female flowers on another. It is wind pollinated. The inconspicuous male and female flowering usually occurs in June when the leaves are fully developed.

The wood, has many uses as it is exceptionally rot resistant, very hard, heavy, immune to termites, flexible and strong. It is said to have the highest BTU content of any commercial U.S. wood and it burns long and hot (never use it without a screen, however, as it pops sparks for long distances). Fence wood used to be installed green, as the dry, seasoned wood was too hard (said to be 2.5 times harder than white oak) to accept nails and staples. The wood is straight grained; several dyes can be extracted from it.

This is obviously not a residential or street tree, but is picturesque in natural settings and parks, and is a valuable habitat for pheasants, quail, and other birds. Male tree varieties are favored and available as they do not bear the messy “oranges”. Osage Orange is tolerant of almost all soils and conditions and is not favored by pests and diseases. It thrives, however, in moist soil and full sun and prefers no competition from other trees.

During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt, with the W.P.A. project “Great Plains Shelter Belt”, had many miles of Osage Orange trees planted as wind breaks to modify the weather and erosion. Until barbed wire was invented in the 1870s, prickly, dense, Osage Orange hedgerows, tightly pruned, were used to keep pasture animals contained. Remains of these can be seen today around Ewing.

Meriwether Lewis, of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition to the west in the early 1800s, sent slips of Osage Orange to Thomas Jefferson. The scientific name, Maclura, is named after William Maclure (1763-1840), a Scottish geologist who was president of the American Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia for twenty-two years.

By Ann Farnham, LLA