tree

Posted by Ellen

Fog swallows the tips of new skyscrapers around an old tree in the Pudong Financial District of Shanghai.

Posted by Ellen

In the middle of Fairy Lake, near the remote town of Port Renfew on the west coast of Canada's Vancouver Island, sits an old Douglas fir log, partly rotting where it's exposed to the air but mostly submerged in the still waters of the lake.

On the rotten tip of the log is another Douglas fir tree, alive and growing but not exactly flourishing; its roots struggle to maintain purchase on the log and to pull nutrients from the rotting wood. Without soil to grow in, it is stunted, a natural bonsai tree, starved but somehow much more interesting and impressive than all the millions of ordinary fir trees growing fat and happy where trees are meant to grow.

Posted by Ellen

One week ago, on a chilly but sunny New York afternoon, this espaliered pear tree in the Cloisters medieval garden was trying really, really hard to leaf out.

Posted by Ellen

In Harvard Yard, Cambridge, MA. Surely buried in snow at the moment.

Posted by Ellen

The gnarled little trees called wallum banksia thrive in the sandy heathlands along Australia's east coast, from Queensland down into northern New South Wales around Sydney. Tall spikes of yellow-green flowers linger for months on the branches, drying out and turning brown and then gray; the knobby fruits–seed follicles–may hang on the plant indefinitely, at least until a brush fire sweeps across the countryside, which is something that happens there about every seven to twelve years.

Wallum banksia are not harmed by fire, nor by salt spray or nutrient-starved sandy soil or extended drought. The species has evolved to thrive in extremely harsh conditions, in a habitat which, like the species itself, is known as wallum.

Fire may burn up the leaves and branches, but it also pops open the seed follicles, allowing new little wallum banksia to sprout up all around the old ones. Also, the roots often push up new growth after a fire, helping the species reclaim the territory from other opportunistic seeds that might be trying to spread thereabouts.

The specimen pictured here is not in Australia at all, but in the Australian garden area of Wellington Botanic Gardens in New Zealand. The climate in almost all of New Zealand is cooler and far moister than in most parts of Australia, and wallum banksia does not grow naturally in New Zealand. In fact, it is said that the healthiest, largest, fastest-growing specimens are in dry, sunny, fire-prone locations with poor soil comprised mostly of sand.

Posted by Ellen

Fruit of the mahogany tree.

Posted by Ellen

On a day like this, all the neighborhood cats stayed indoors snoozing by the heater.

Posted by Ellen

In 1940, when photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston visited Wormsloe Plantation near Savannah, Georgia, the approach looked much as it had in antebellum times. Twentieth-century horseless carriages left different tracks in the dirt of the mile-and-a-half-long driveway, but intervening decades had done nothing to change the overall effect of oak and moss and ivy.

The original plantation house, however, built in the mid-eighteenth century out of tabby–cement made primarily of crushed oyster shells–crumbled away long ago. A nineteenth-century replacement house is still controlled by descendants of the family that built the place, though most of the acreage was deeded over to the state during the Depression.

In the early years of the twentieth century, the family name was changed from Jones to DeRenne, and the spelling of the plantation was changed from Wormslow to Wormsloe. They must have had their reasons.

Posted by Ellen

One variety of redwood tree, the dawn redwood, is deciduous, dropping its needles in the fall. This same variety happens to be the only kind of redwood that will grow in the eastern United States; this example of a dawn redwood appears to be thriving in the Fairmount Park arboretum in Philadelphia.

Dawn redwoods may be the midgets of the redwood family; coast redwoods and giant sequoias in California reach heights greater than 300 feet, while dawn redwoods, though very fast-growing, may not get much taller than 200 feet. Their potential height is not known for certain, however, because the oldest dawn redwoods in America are only about 70 years old now, descended from a single specimen found in China in 1944. In California, coastal redwoods and giant sequoias live for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Dawn redwoods were known to scientists from the fossil record long before the live specimen was found in China; they were assumed to be extinct. Fossilized dawn redwoods dating back to the Eocene, 50 or more million years ago, have been found in many parts of the world, including Greenland and islands in the Arctic Ocean, which had a tropical climate at the time. It is believed that the trees became deciduous in response to the extreme light-dark cycle of their high-latitude habitat; even though winters were not cold, they were very dark, rendering leaves or needles useless.

The young man in the tree, of course, is Hank, who is a college student studying ecology and climate change.

Posted by Ellen

Curly needles? What's that about?

This is the only tree of its kind in the horticultural specimens area of Fairmount Park, and to the best of my recollection, it's the only one of its ilk I've ever noticed anywhere. The needles are long, curly, and soft. The tree is large, with an undistinguished, slightly disheveled, coniferous sort of habit.

The tree identification guides on the internet didn't work for me, so I'm turning to y'all: for all the tea in China, can you help me out on this?