Tag Archives: trees

Why Do Some Trees Leaf Out Sooner Than Others?

Why are some trees species eager to leaf out early in spring while others stay dormant until much later?  Poplars and maples break dormancy quite early, sometimes before the last frost, while black locust, oaks, and catalpa bide their time, often waiting until late May.  Certainly, as with most things in nature, many factors explain the difference, but here I would like to concentrate on one of them: the kind of wood trees make.

Longitudinal view of tracheid cells in wood.

Wood is the water-conducting tissue of a plant.  Under the microscope it appears to be made up of long, torpedo-shaped cells liberally sprinkled with holes to let water pass through.  Wood is mostly made of these cells–called tracheids.  Pine trees have no other specialized cells to carry water up the tree, but broadleaf trees do, vessels.

Vessels are not torpedo-shaped at all, but resemble soda straws.  You need a microscope to see them, but they are quite large as cells go, and that size can be a drawback.  If air bubbles form inside them or ice crystals form in a late spring frost, they can be damaged so that no water goes up to service the expanding leaves.

Trees with large vessels are especially at risk.  Just when buds need water from the roots, none is forthcoming.  The solution, for such trees as black locust and oaks, is to manufacture a ring of vessels early in spring to carry the water up.  The trouble is, it takes time to do so, time which the tree yields to other species that do not have to form a fresh layer of vessels, maples and poplars.  That means those species get the jump on those working to make new vessels.  Trees that make vessels lose out for a time in the battle for sunlight.

Cross-section of ring-porous wood. The large cells are vessels. The lines represent boundaries of growth rings.

For all that, they are quite successful.  Black locusts are “weed trees,” growing rapidly like weeds, whole groves of them joined together with underground rhizomes.  A white oak takes a different pathway, putting its energy into growing a single individual.  Both trees have a ring of vessels laid down in early spring, a ring clearly visible in the wood’s annual growth rings.  They will serve as the major plumbing system until dormancy in the fall. 

However, some ring porous trees leaf out early.  The explanation, according to one researcher, is evolution: they simply evolved in a warmer climate, spreading later to the North.  Science is never straightforward in the answers to questions it provides.

Shrubs leaf out early for a different reason.  They need to get as much sun as possible before the large trees expand a dense canopy of leaves above.  This year, see if that is not so: Do smaller native shrubs leaf out before the trees of the canopy overhead?

Image taken from the educational materials at Budburst.org

The time of leafing out—budburst some call it—varies according to the year, the habitat, the species, and the weather.  Naturally, a warm spring hastens the process, while days of frost inhibit it.  In these days of climate change, trees spread their canopies earlier on average than they used to.  They flower sooner, too, and they change color later in the fall.  In recent decades southern species do better than before in northern climates: Will pecans enjoy the newly changed winters of Northern Michigan?

One project —budburst—seeks to enlist amateur scientists in charting the leaf-out times for different tree species.  If readers wish to join this year’s study, they can sign up this year at budburst.org

All plates taken from; Mauseth, James D. “Plant Anatomy.” Benjamin/Cumming Publishing Company, Inc.: Menlo Park, California, 1988.

“Fruit Growing from a Woman’s Standpoint”: an address to the State Horticultural Society by an Elberta Woman, 1912

Recently acquired by the Traverse Area District Library is a slim volume, the Forty-Second Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Horticultural Society of Michigan for the year 1912. The volume contains all the addresses and discussions held at the Society meeting on November 12-14, 1912, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Topics centered around fruit growing, and included caring for the young orchard, preventing frost damage, watering techniques, and more.

The following selection was an address delivered by Mrs. Edith Rose, of Elberta, Benzie County, Michigan. According to Edith, she and her husband Paul moved to Benzie County about 1890, and there started an orchard. Edith’s concerns had much less to do with the actual growing of fruit than the operation of the farm.  She does an admirable job discussing labor relations, racism, and prejudice against women. As an example of the last, Edith’s first name did not appear in the publication, and I was obliged to discover it through the Federal census, Benzie County.

Please note that the opinions expressed by Edith are her own, and not those of any staff member of Traverse Area District Library, or the editors of Grand Traverse Journal. Enjoy Fruit Growing from a Woman’s Standpoint:

“Mrs. Paul Rose, Elberta

Mr. President, Gentlemen and Ladies: Inasmuch as we are supposed to be it, I will show due respect to the gentlemen by addressing them first. When I read the program and saw that I was the only woman on the program, I wondered who the program committee had a grudge against- whether the audience or myself. You will no doubt find before I am through with what I am going to say that I am not a talker, but Mr. Rose is here, and so I will say no public talker. If I had been giving more time to speaking, you see I would have had less time for fruit growing.

Nearly 20 years ago a man and his wife, living near Benton Harbor, packed their household goods, loaded them into a car and started them up north, to Benzie county.

While they were being loaded a rain which turned into sleet came up and ruined everything, so far as varnish was concerned. A superstitious person would have take it as a sign to give up the job, but they were not superstitious so kept on with their work.

Cherry Orchard of Guy Tompkins, Grand Traverse Peninsula. From "Forty-Second Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Horticultural Society of Michigan for the Year 1912."
Cherry Orchard of Guy Tompkins, Grand Traverse Peninsula. From “Forty-Second Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Horticultural Society of Michigan for the Year 1912.”

In the car with the household goods were two horses, a cow and a calf, a very fine calf. When the engineer came to get the emigrant car, he seemed to have been out of humor (perhaps his wife had not made him a  good cup of coffee that morning for his breakfast). He struck the car so hard, it threw the car door open and the little calf fell out. The man with the car asked the conductor to wait for him to put the calf back into the car, only to be told to get in or get left.

As there was no way to let any one know of the predicament the calf was in, she wandered in the freight yards crying for her mama until the next day, when a good German woman took pity on little black bossy and put her in a barn and fed her.

Later the Railroad Co. was notified they would have to deliver said calf to her destination, which they did, giving her a ride in the express car.

Three years later, Black Bossy was a cow, and probably thinking to save the housewife any extra work, skimming milk and churning cream, she gave skim milk. Six months later all they had left of Black Bossy was a beautiful black Poled Angus robe.

When the household goods arrived up north, his wife and their little three-year-old daughter, their foreman’s wife and little daughter, started for the north woods as their friends thought.

When they reached Thompsonville they were notified there was a strike on the Ann Arbor Railroad and no one knew when there would be a train, so they went to a nearby hotel (this was 10 o’clock at night) only to be told it was full. They went back to the depot and found there would be a train in a few minutes, that would take them within four miles of their home. Thinking it would be better to be four miles than twenty as they were then, they took the train which arrived in the freight yards of So. Frankfort about midnight, where they were told there was no hotel nearer then a  mile, no bus, no telephone, everything a glare of ice, and two little girls asleep, baggage, band boxes, bird-cage and such things that go with moving.

While deciding the next move to make two jolly traveling men offered to carry the little girls, which removed the greatest trouble, and they all started for a hotel. It probably was the first real work those men ever did. for they did some puffing before getting those little girls where they could walk, but very gentlemanly, saw the comical side of the affair.

The next day was bright and pretty and the husband, thinking to get some word from his little family drove to town, to find them waiting to be taken out to their first home of 80 acres of stumps, brush, and woodland, which was the nucleus around which has been builded [sic] what is now known as the Rose Orchards. There my life work has been put in helping to make them a success.

Fruit Growing from a Woman’s Standpoint

To talk on this subject, I will have to refer to our work, as it is all I know. What we have done, all things equal, others can do. A person said to me the other day, “Every woman can’t do what you have done.” Perhaps not, but they might improve on my work. It wouldn’t be best for every woman to engage in fruit work, as there are other lines of work for us to engage in. Just now we can vote and perhaps some day, hold office [editor’s note: Perhaps Edith means within the Horticultural Society, as general election voting was not passed in Michigan in the 1912 election. The measure lost by 760 votes]. I heard Prof. French of Lansing, say, “Men do not do their work haphazard now days.” In speaking of the fruit work, he said, “They spray, prune, pick, pack and market their fruit with brains.” I believe we have brains and certainly the gentlemen think so or they wouldn’t have given us the right of elective franchise, and thereby removing from us the stigma of mental weakness and taking us from the ranks of idiots, imbeciles, Indians [sic] and criminals.

"Royal Ann cherry tree on farm of W.B. Gray on Grand Traverse Peninsula. This tree has borne 18 cases that brought in $27 in one year." From "Forty-Second Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Horticultural Society of Michigan for the Year 1912."
“Royal Ann cherry tree on farm of W.B. Gray on Grand Traverse Peninsula. This tree has borne 18 cases that brought in $27 in one year.” From “Forty-Second Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Horticultural Society of Michigan for the Year 1912.”

Fruit growing is very interesting, in fact it is fascinating. You plant the little tree, watch the buds start, then the blossoms and later the ripened fruit. How well I remember our first crop of cherries. Mr. Rose said to me one day, “Get a little pail and we will pick our crop of cherries.” There were less than four quarts of them, but we were as proud of that crop as we ever were of thousands of crates in later years. To a woman who wished to take up this work or to one who by circumstances seem compelled to do something of this kind, by being left with a little family and perhaps a few acres of land or a life insurance with which to buy a little farm, I would say by all means, plant a few trees, not too close together and between the rows of trees, plant some variety of berries that will come into bearing early and help pay the expenses of growing the trees and of the family.

It may be a little hard at times, but wouldn’t it be harder to live in town in a stuffy tenant house and take in washing or sewing and live up the insurance, besides depriving the children of the fresh air and the pleasure they would get from helping mama, until they will become a part of your work and will lend a hand to help put one of them through agricultural college and then come home fully equipped to take the care from Mother’s shoulders?

A woman can plant a row of trees just as straight as a man. There are trees in our orchard that I helped to plant 19 years ago, and they seem to grow and bear just as well as those planted by the men. A woman can spray if necessary. My experience has been that there is no part of the fruit work that a woman can not do if she will study and use good sound sense, unless it is to plow, but I think she can hire that done all right.

A wife should familiarize herself with her husband’s work so that she can direct it, at any time, during his absence, and then if she is left alone she won’t be handicapped by having her help say, “She don’t know anything about it, she won’t know whether it is done right or not.” I have never had a man or woman refuse to do the work as I told them to. Mr. Rose has been gone a great deal of the time during the growing of our orchard. At first he would dictate and I would jot down a routine of work to be followed during his absence but that has become unnecessary years ago, as we have had the same fore man for a number of years and he understands his part of the work as well as I do mine.

I have had help in the house most of the time, which has left me quite free to follow our chosen profession, Horticulture. Of late years most of my work has been in overseeing the pickers or packers. I have handled white labor in Indiana in raspberry work. I have assisted Mr. Rose in Alabama with his negro laborers, in the straw berry fields, and of course nothing but white labor on our farm up north. Some women may say, I can’t handle the laborers; perhaps a few suggestions here in regard to this part of the work might help some of the wives of these young students, to have more confidence in their ability to help their husbands in their life work. I keep my help in the house from one to three years. When I hire my house keeper I tell her just what I want her to do and what I will pay for the work and there is never any trouble over the work or wages. Always direct the work in the house or packing house.

If your help knows there is some one around to direct them, even if they understand what they are to do, they will go at their work with more interest. You can keep your help better satisfied and keep them longer, by having your work well systematized, and let them think they are expected to carry out their portion. A worker likes to know they are appreciated and a kind word is a little thing but will work wonders sometimes in accomplishing better and more satisfactory results.

We have had as many as 85 packers in the cherry work. We have never missed but one morning of being there when the seven o’clock bell rung. Don’t ever leave your help alone, they will not work as well. Mr. Rose has often said to me when I did not feel able to go to the packing house: “Can’t you bring your rocking chair and sit where they know you are and where you can dictate the work?” Be very firm and decided with the workers but don’t nag them.

In Alabama I have started to the field with 125 negroes following and joking about their little Boss, “She don’t carry a gun or club.” When Mr. Bose started his berry work in the South, the Southerner said, “You will have to carry a gun or club, for the nigger will have to be knocked down a couple of times before he will work good.” We never had any trouble, kept our help, picked our berries in better shape than some of the fields where they worked their help at the point of the gun. We loaned our negroes one day to an adjoining berry grower. During the day Mr. Rose and I went over to see how they were getting along. When we came near where they were picking berries they expressed a delight at seeing us and when asked how they were getting along, said : “We don’t like this boss. He carries a gun. We like you-alls better.” We assured them that the boss would not hurt them if they worked all right, and then we started back. We had only gone a half-mile when we looked back and there came every one of our negroes. We stopped and when they came up we persuaded them to go back and finish the day, but they said : “No, sah ; we will work for you-alls but we don’t work over there no more.” We saw how they felt about it so told them, “All right go back to their cabins and work for us in the morning.” Kindness, even with the negro, got our work done better than a club.

We never hire our day help for any one piece of work. Then they can not complain if they are changed from one job to another, if I need more packers, I call them from the pickers and if the foreman needs more pickers I send the packers out to help him. We have had girls work 8 and 10 years in the fruit work. They enjoy it and will plan from one year to another, what they are going to do, and have their money spent, in their minds, a year ahead. Always be interested in each worker, study them to know what part of your work they are best adapted to. You may have a person that seems a failure at one thing and may make a splendid hand at something else. Our foreman brought a man from the orchard to me at the packing house and said: “Can you use him here, I can’t use him in the orchard. I set him to nailing packages, and he did fine work the rest of the season.

Just a word to the woman that has some money to invest and contemplates launching out in fruit-work. Be careful in selecting a location, if possible get near enough some town or shipping point where you can easily market your fruit and where you can get help to pick it, and don’t plant too extensively until you are sure you can handle the business, and don’t expect to have time to read stories, papers, call on your neighbors or embroider during the summer months. I heard a joke on a man who bought some land in Florida, unsight and unseen. After the bargain was all made and the price paid he thought he would go and see his new farm. The land shark took him out in a boat and after paddling around awhile said : “Your farm is under here ; when you get it drained it will be all right.” Don’t buy land unsight and unseen. Let the men do that. We women may be easy but there are others.”

The entirety of this work is available online for download: https://books.google.com/books?id=1dpJAAAAYAAJ

Amy Barritt is  co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.

Why Do Leaves Change Color in the Fall?

“Why” questions in science often find ready answers.  Why do we have night and day?  The Earth turns on its axis.  Why do we have seasons?  The tilt of the Earth in its path around the sun.  What makes the wind blow?  Solar warming of the atmosphere.  The physics and chemistry of a situation provides us with answers.

Sometimes “why” questions are more difficult.  Why are oranges orange and apples red?  Why do birds migrate? Why do leaves change color in the fall?  Those questions do not depend directly on physics at all.  Do they even have answers?

In the case of leaves changing color, there actually is an answer based on physics and chemistry.  As the days shorten, plant hormones cause a layer to form in the leaf stem (an abscission layer) that cuts off water supply to the leaf.  Leaf cells with chlorophyll die off, that green pigment rapidly degrading.  What is left are more resilient pigments, the yellow carotenes and the red anthocyanins.   Trees turn red and orange and yellow and, Presto!  We have explained why leaves change color.

But another “why” question remains: of what advantage is it to the tree that leaves change color?  Here evolutionary biologists wage pitched battles.  Is color change somehow “adaptive?”  That is, does it have something to do with the tree’s survival and reproduction?  Or is it just something that happens, unrelated to those things?

Though relatively ignorant about these matters, I tend to cling to the belief that some things “just happen.”  They have nothing to do with enhanced survival and reproduction of species.  The question “why” is only an expression of our human intelligence, ever demanding explanations for phenomena that have none.

I could be wrong about it—and sometimes I wonder how anyone could ever prove conclusively certain traits are adaptive.  Is that because my own nature causes me to lean one way or the other?  Is that very quality adaptive?  Understandably, those concerned with such questions are prone to headaches.  I hope you are not so afflicted.

Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.

Reader Solves “Mystery of the Missing Trees”

In honor of Veterans Day ( November 11), your editors ask: When did the Memorial Trees on Memorial Drive disappear? They were planted May 4, 1923, and no longer grace what is now Veterans Drive.

This is a hard question, so the winner will win a standing ovation, in addition to more free readings of Grand Traverse Journal!

A much easier question is, where is this plaque located?

Thanks to reader K for her answer. Congratulations and a round of applause to her! She was able to identify where the trees once were, and why they were planted. Unfortunately, she cannot help us answer the question of when the trees disappeared. There are sugar maples of the proper age at the entrance to the Memorial Gardens Cemetery, but we cannot know if these were trees planted in the ceremony to honor the vets.

The plaque is located on the grounds of the American Legion Hall on Veterans Drive, in the shadow of the tank that guards the property.

“Veteran’s Drive was once M-11, a trunk line into Traverse City.

According to the April 25, 1923 newspaper, the ceremony to dedicate the 30 trees was near Garfield Township hall with the trees starting there and going north (downhill) until the south city limit. The article also notes “Complete records of the trees and those whose death they commemorate will be filed at the county clerk’s office and a temporary marker will be placed on each tree at the planting.

Forty-two maples were planted on Arbor Day (May 4) 1923. It was hoped this would be the “first of several in the county.” The report of the ceremony notes “permanent markers of marble or bronze will be placed at foot of each tree giving name and service record of each [honoree].” and the “Record of each tree is now at the court house to be preserved for generation after generation.” The list of names to be included on the Monument and tablet” erected Arbor Day 1924 appears in the March 14, 1924 TCRE.”

Thanks again, K, for your sleuthing!



The Big Blow-down: How the Wind Storm of 2015 Affected Local Forests

The overhead canopy opens to the sky. Image courtesy of the author, 2016.
The overhead canopy opens to the sky. Image courtesy of the author, 2016.

Anyone living in Northwest Lower Michigan within a region extending from Leelanau through Kalkaska counties, will not forget the big storm of August 2, 2015.  It was one of those signature events that cause you to remember exactly where you were when it happened.  I was on the phone with a friend: we talked nervously, wondering when the connection would go dead, all the while thinking we should both head for our separate closets in case the roofs of our homes should blow away.  Trees bent the way you see them do in videos of hurricanes and trash containers became missiles driven by the wind.  In fact, on the basis of observed damage, the wind speed did exceed that of a category 2 hurricane in places, more than 100 miles per hour.

Tipped trees expose roots and soil. Image courtesy of the author, 2016.
Tipped trees expose roots and soil. Image courtesy of the author, 2016.

What do storms like that do to forests?  Are there winners and losers in such a catastrophe?  What effects can be observed after one, fifty, and a hundred years later?  These are the questions that intrigued me as I walked through a devastated forest in Leelanau county, a few weeks after the Big Blow.  Mostly, the trees tipped, though a few were broken off at the middle.  Earthen mounds containing tree roots made walking difficult as you took circuitous routes to get to places that used to be reached directly.  The uneven ground of mature forests is due to tipped trees, some brought down a century or more ago.  That is one long-term consequence of the storm: the hills and valleys of the new forest could remain for centuries.

A hardwoods in Michigan is generally covered with last year’s un-decomposed leaves from last two or three years.  Called leaf litter, it acts as a blanket, keeping moisture in and repelling the growth of small wildflowers, ferns, and other small plants.  When the leaf litter is torn apart as it is when a tree tips over, opportunities abound for seeds waiting for their chance.  They sprout and grow rapidly, their growth speeded by sunlight that touches the forest floor as tree canopies no longer provide shade.  Along with natives, invasive plants like garlic mustard thrive in the disturbed ground.  It is a changed habitat for all and those best adapted take advantage of their genetic heritage.

Shade-intolerant black cherry sprouts under an open canopy. Image courtesy of the author, 2016.
Shade-intolerant black cherry sprouts under an open canopy. Image courtesy of the author, 2016.

Certain trees win out in the competition for sunlight, casting others in shade as they overtop them.  Shade intolerant trees grow the fastest—birch, black cherry, poplar red pine—while shade tolerant trees like sugar maple, American beech, and white pine bide their time in their shade.  Before long, only the seedlings of those trees will dominate the forest floor, since only they can tolerate summers’ complete shade.  Poplars and black cherry (together with scattered oaks and maples) will dominate the first generation of trees on the hilly moraines of Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties.  In time, they will be replaced by hemlock, beech, and a more dense population of sugar and red maples.

Epicormic sprouts on sugar maple. Image courtesy of the author, 2016.
Epicormic sprouts on sugar maple. Image courtesy of the author, 2016.

Naturally, a few middle-sized trees will survive a massive blow-down after a storm.  After wind storm, with sunlight flooding in as the dense overhead canopy disappears, they respond to the changed conditions for growth.  Buds under the bark spring to life, sending out small, leafy branches.  Called epicormic sprouting, this phenomenon has serious consequences for those wishing perfect timber for logging, since the wood grain is interrupted by new vascular tissue that supplies the new branch.  Look for epicormic sprouting in forests damaged by the August 2nd storm.

Invasive white poplar sprouts race towards the sun. Image courtesy of the author, 2016.
Invasive white poplar sprouts race towards the sun. Image courtesy of the author, 2016.

Secondary effects of a severe windstorm are too numerous to count.  The loss of nests and dens that occupied old trees, the loss of stable food sources like acorns and beechnuts, the disappearance of animals that prefer the cool, deep shade of a mature forest (like land snails), and the opening of hilly terrain to erosion are four obvious ones, but even those only scratch the surface.  Of course, the winners will move in—the deer that browse on shoots of poplar, ground squirrels, rabbits, blackberries and raspberries, and uncountable weed species—as the older residents die or move out.  It is a scene that has been re-enacted for untold thousands of years.

Shade-tolerant white pines under oak canopy. Image courtesy of the author, 2016.
Shade-tolerant white pines under oak canopy. Image courtesy of the author, 2016.

Whenever something catastrophic happens in nature, we know it is wrong to take sides—since some living things require the housecleaning that enables them to thrive.  At the same time, we cannot help but grieve for what has been lost.  After all, isn’t a mature hardwoods rarer and more precious than acreage covered by poplar sprouts?  Virgin timber is very hard to find in Northern Michigan: Ever since the nineteenth century loggers have destroyed those ecosystems without mercy.  So it is that we feel a pang in our hearts when the big trees go down and the sunlight pours in.  We know we have lost something that took centuries to form.  The Big Blow damaged far more than human property.  It destroyed a natural relic that is not easily replaced.

A Forgotten Voice: The Wind in the Trees

A landscape presents a view of the land, a seascape, a view of the sea.  A soundscape shows us the panorama of sound around us: the roar of engines, the cheers of a crowd, the ever-present music that attends our presence in stores, the luff of wind in a sail.  We cannot avoid soundscapes; silence is one, too, and the most important, since it frames the rest.

I will not talk of silence, but of the soundscape of the forest, the sound of wind in the trees.  That sound, tuned out by most of us as we rush about attending to our duties, does not present a single soundscape, but a variety of them.  The sound of the wind through white pines is one, and its pitch changes with its speed.  Then there is chatter of trembling aspen, not just trembling, but leaves striking each other forcefully, percussion without end.  The scraping of oak leaves left in winter gives a sound picture of a February day, a memory of the warmer days of autumn.  A gale through bare branches rocks the trees as it fills the air with a sound we are at loss to describe.  Trees are musical instruments of the wind.

Thoreau had an affinity for the wind through the pines:

The white pines in the horizon, either single trees or whole wood, are particularly interesting. The wind is making passes over them, magnetizing and electrifying them…This is the brightening and awakening of the pines…As if in this wind-storm of March a certain electricity was passing from heaven to earth through the pines and calling them to life. ~ Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1855-1861

In her childhood diary, Opal Whitely speaks of the whisperings of leaves in the wind:

Now are coming the days of brown leaves.  They fall from the trees.  They flutter on the ground.  When the brown leaves flutter, they are saying little things.  They talk with the wind.  I hear them tell of their borning days when they did come into the world as leaves.  And they whisper of the hoods they wore then.  I saw them.  I use to count them on the way to school.  Today they were talking of the time before their borning days of this spring time.  They talked on and on, and I did listen on to what they were telling the wind and the earth in their whisperings.  They told how they were a part of earth and air before their tree-borning days.  And how they were going back.  In gray days of winter they go back to the earth again.  But they do not die.  ~The Story of Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart (p.56) 

There is a word that describes the sound of wind in the leaves: psithurism (pronounced: SITH-ur-iz-m).  It is obsolete, but I would like to do what I can to bring it back to life.  For the most part, words that describe things people used to experience in nature have been replaced by those that point to technology: smart-phone, email, wi-fi, blue-ray, and all the rest.  Would it be too much to wake people up to psithurism, a word that refers to something we all hear regularly?

Research is unclear as to whether excessive noise causes mental anguish, but here the wrong question has been asked.  Better than asking if noise has harmful effects on our bodies and minds, is asking if quiet and psithurism can uplift us.  For me, it does. 

To be reminded of psithurism, you can always go to the internet and click on an appropriate link, here and here, but it is better to go outside on a windy day and just listen.  Behind the sounds of traffic, the wail of sirens, the distant roar of aircraft, the barking of dogs, you will hear the rustling of leaves and the singing of pine needles.  It is always there on windy days, yet we have learned to tune it out.  Let us learn to listen.

Copies of Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow : The Mystical Nature Diary of Opal Whiteley and Selected Journals of Henry David Thoreau are available for checkout at Traverse Area District Library.

“Cutting the Last Pine”: A Romantic Vision of the End of the Lumber Era, 1911

"Like shadows they have passed the dreams of long ago." Image from "Life Pictures," portrait of author Scott Woodward and unknown figure.
“Like shadows they have passed the dreams of long ago.” Image from “Life Pictures,” portrait of author Scott Woodward and unknown figure.

Scott Woodward (1853-1919) was a local author and publisher living in Traverse City at the turn of the last century. His work is firmly in the realm of realism, but it is often difficult to discern if his writings are autobiographical in nature, or if he’s just good at spinning a highly believable yarn.  Woodward’s style is deftly described by George W. Kent, editor of Traverse City Daily Eagle circa 1910: “In his early life this author differed from his fellows in that his imagination was most vivid and he turned his visions, as some called them, into realities and wove them into his paintings of life in various phrases about him, taken from his peculiar viewpoint.”

The following is one entry in Woodward’s Life Pictures in Poetry and Prose, originally published in 1911, and tells the story of the felling of the last tree in a once-wide stand of pines. So romantic is the notion, that readers may be skeptical of his actual presence at the moment described, but the detail and memory cited gives one reason to believe his tale rings true.


The last pine- the lonely monarch in the midst of 2,000,000 feet of hardwood timber- is down. Its fall was one of the most pathetic sights I have ever had occasion to witness.

Through the courtesy of Frank Lahym, the lumberman, I found myself on a cold, frosty morning headed for camp. It was my good fortune to receive an invitation to be present at the cutting of the last pine to be found anywhere in the woods for miles around.

Great is the power of imagination, and before I was aware of it I was again among the scenes of thirty years ago.


I was once more riding beneath the evergreens that hung low from the great load of snow they were supporting. In the distance I could here [sic] the steady “clip, clip” of the woodsman’s ax and the sharp ring of the saw, while away in the distance came the familiar warning, “Timber! Timber!” to all who might be in danger from the falling trees.

Again the scene changed with me and I stood beside the skidway and saw the great pines being loaded on sleighs with their 12-foot bunks. Log on top of log was being piled up on the sleighs until it looked like a veritable rollway for each team to take out.

The last log is rolled up into position, the familiar “chain over” is given and answered. The load is securely bound and then we start down the iced road to the river- I awake from my dream.

There is a jerk and a jolt and we find ourselves up-standing. One sleigh is fouled on the roots of a young sapling that some road monkey has unwittingly cut four inches too high.

Thus vanishes the dream of ’78 and with it the great rollway, the logging sleighs with their 12-foot bunks, the graded road which was kept in shape by the sprinkler over night, the overhanging trees that always had a weird and ghostlike appearance when clothed in their mantle of snow, and, last of all, the great banking ground where still flows the waters of the Manistee.


We consign them all to the memories of thirty years ago, when I, too, was a unit in that great industry that will never return. We reach camp just as the great dinner horn is calling from labor to refreshments, and the lumber jacks come steaming in from their cutting of hardwood.

But it has changed, all changed. We sit down to a table loaded with roast beef, bread and butter, potatoes and coffee, capped out with pie and cookies. Ye gods, but what must one of our boys of ’78 have thought had he sat down to such a meal. However, we bolt it down while I think of the days when men sat around a fire in the woods and ate their beans and hard bread with good old “New Orleans” for dressing, and were satisfied. Had a man kicked on that he would have been hooted out of camp and compelled to take the hay road between two days.

In the midst of two million feet of hardwood in town 26 north of range 11 west stood one of the most beautiful cork pines that ever grew, three feet six on the sump, and where cut made five fourteen, one twelve and one sixteen-feet logs. When scaled by Doyle’s it measured a bit better than 3,000 feet. We had cut larger trees in ’78, as well as smaller ones, but none better. I counted the rings on the stump and came to the conclusion that this one pine had stood alone as a landmark, or sentinel, defying the storm and wind for better than 200 years, and had even escaped in days past the vandalism of the timber thieves.

"Logs headed for Case & Croster Mill, Kingsley, 1908." Image courtesy of Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection,  fw03003, Kingsley Branch Library.
“Logs headed for Case & Croster Mill, Kingsley, 1908.” Image courtesy of Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection, fw03003, Kingsley Branch Library.

I loved the pine, not for its intrinsic value alone, but for the memory it awakened. However, the time had come to cut and fell this last monarch. The hardwood was being cut around it. Huge piles of tops and brush were in every direction. It might survive until some future day in the hot summer, when some unthinking halfwit would drop a match in the dry tinder of the slashing. The prospect would be similar to that already seen in sections of Wexford, Roscommon, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse and many other counties.

After getting several good pictures of the landscape and the tree from various positions, I watched it being cut and skidded ready for the hauling.

Then, as the day was advancing, I was called to the sleigh for our return trip to the city. Strange it may seem. No one but an old lumberman can understand when I say I was both glad as well as sorry, to be present at the cutting of the last pine.”

Woodward, Scott. “Cutting of the Last Pine.” Life in Pictures in Prose and Verse. Traverse City: Scott Woodward, 1911. 133-136.

Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal. Beautiful pieces of prose and poetry reside unexplored in the rare books collection in the Nelson Room of Traverse Area District Library, and she invites you to come and find yourself a long-lost treasure.

In Search of the American Chestnut

In my spare time I read field guides—books that help me identify flowering plants, ferns, salamanders, fossils, and insects.  It has always been so—going back to my grade school years—and I make no apologies for it.  Such a hobby, while unpromising as a source of wealth or useful knowledge, has no downsides as far as I can see.  And frequently it leads me onto pathways of delight, whenever a fringed gentian in a marsh comes to my attention, a fossil crinoid discovered upon the beach, or an ant lion pit dug along a sandy trail.  Field guides make such delights possible.

So it was that I picked up Barnes and Wagner’s Michigan Trees to spend a profitable quarter hour before bed.  The page opened to the American Chestnut and there on page 208 the following passage appeared:

A plantation of chestnut trees, established in 1910 in Benzie Co., gave rise to a stand of several thousand offspring (Thompson, 1969).  

Checking the source (Thompson, 1969) at the back of the book, I discovered that an obscure Michigan journal, the Michigan Academician, published the original paper describing the plantation.  Could I get a copy of it and find out if this mysterious grove of chestnuts still existed, disease-free?

European Chestnut leaves, image courtesy of the author.
European Chestnut leaves, image courtesy of the author.

Here it is necessary to provide background for my curiosity.  The American chestnut, Castanea dentata,  was a grand component of the eastern American hardwood forest throughout the nineteenth century.  In Michigan it naturally penetrated as far north as St. Clair county and was locally abundant in Monroe and Wayne counties in Southeastern Michigan.  Beginning about 1900 the tree suffered the attack of a vicious fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, likely imported from Asia, which destroyed American chestnuts everywhere.  By 1940 the tree had largely disappeared from American forests, though suckers from dead trees continued to sprout for years afterwards, only to die upon reaching maturity.

The American chestnut should be distinguished from the horsechestnut, Aesculus hippocastanea, a tree commonly planted around homes.  That tree, a permanent resident arrived from Europe after white settlement here, displays candelabras of white blossoms in June, finally producing inedible nuts that resemble chestnuts in appearance.  Contrary to expectation, it is not enjoyed by horses, neither the leaves nor the nuts, though folklore insists it cures COPD in those animals.

American chestnuts were planted in the Grand Traverse area from early times.  I had seen individual trees planted near farms on Old Mission peninsula and had heard stories of trees planted elsewhere nearby.  But had a whole grove of them survived, a grove planted in 1910?  If they still lived, the trees would be more than a hundred years old.  They would be magnificent.

The Grand Traverse Conservancy provided the key that would unlock the mystery of the hidden chestnut grove.  In response to my query, Conservancy staffer Angie Lucas, plant expert extraordinaire, e-mailed me the Michigan Academician article.  And there it was: the information I needed to find the chestnuts:

The grove, owned by James Rogers, is located at Chimney Corners (SE ¼ Sect. 35, T27N, R16W) at the top of the Point Betsie Moraine, a massive 300-foot glacial ridge which flanks the north shore of Crystal Lake.

I live in Traverse City and am scarcely familiar with Crystal Lake, but I had a human resource that would guide me to the proper coordinates: Dan Palmer, resident of Leelanau county, knowledgeable in forestry, brought up in Frankfort, and familiar with the back trails of Benzie county.  We would explore the north of Crystal Lake and find these trees hidden in Chimney Corners.

To those who know Benzie County, Chimney Corners is hardly obscure.  It is a venerable resort with roots going back to the early twentieth century.  The lodge stands now as it did in 1908, its stone fireplace dominating the space as you enter, grooved beadboard woodwork, electric lights from an earlier time, collections of beach reading from the fifties, and the grit of sand on hardwood floors.  The proprietors kindly allowed us to walk the ridge to see the chestnuts: Just follow “chestnut trail,” they said.

The three-hundred foot moraine was surmounted with breathlessness as our party proceeded up the trail.  It was a steep climb through a maple, beech, and basswood forest of moderate age, but there was no sign of the sharply toothed leaves of Castanea dentata.  Were we in the right place?

Then, up ahead, a clue, though not a felicitous one.  An enormous white skeleton of a tree stripped of its bark with many of its larger branches fallen roundabout stood out in the shade of taller trees.  It was long dead, likely a chestnut, given its size and location.  My hopes dropped: They were gone, all of them.

European Chestnut bur, image courtesy of the author.
European Chestnut bur, image courtesy of the author.

Still, we kept walking and along the trail were more dead trees, but some of them had suckers at the base that brandished the green leaves of living chestnuts.  The forest floor, though, was not littered with the burs that encased the shiny chestnuts.  Reproduction was not happening here: the shoots would live for a decade and die before flowering.  The chestnut grove was doomed.

As we walked out of the forest, there were more dead trees, but as we came into a sunnier place, the chestnut suckers—offshoots–were more robust, as much as five inches in diameter, some of them reaching twenty-five feet or more into the sky.  Green spikes of flowers appeared at the end of twigs, vague promises that chestnuts might be found in autumn at this place.  We found a few burs from last year, the chestnuts missing from inside, either because the trees had not enough energy to make the nuts or because squirrels had devoured them.

Cankers caused by Cryphonectria parasitica appeared on the small stems of the chestnut suckers: the trees were unhealthy and would not live much longer.  It would be a race between their mortality and their ability to produce nuts that would grow into the next generation.  Remembering the fate of the white giants within the forest, I would bet on the fungus to destroy the trees before they could reproduce.   There is good reason that Castanea dentata disappeared from the eastern United States.

The story could end here, but there is another thread to follow.  The Grand Traverse Conservancy has just acquired a beautiful parcel of land from the estate of Naomi Borwell. Located just inside Manistee county off Manistee County Line Road, it offers a diversity of habitats: hardwood forests, deep valleys, frontage on the Betsie River, swamps, and a developed farm planted with a variety of interesting trees: spruces, birches, hawthorns—even a row of shagbark hickories—unusual in this part of Michigan.  Best of all, there is a grove of American chestnuts with diameters of twelve inches, standing 45 feet high—though the ugly cankers on the large branches indicate the disease has penetrated here, too.  You get the feeling the chestnut plantation is waiting its doom–which lurks in its very near future.

In nature it is unfair to take sides, though we do it all the time.  Cryphonectria parasitica depends upon American chestnuts for its survival, but the fungus does not charm us with its form or grace.  I have read of numerous attempts to hybridize the American chestnut with Asian forms that have a degree of resistance to the disease: you can learn about those efforts at the American Chestnut Foundation, http://www.acf.org/FAQ.php  It seems likely that blight-resistant chestnuts with American chestnut features will become available within a decade or two, though the degree of resistance has not been determined as of now.

Perhaps it will be years before we can obtain American chestnuts to plant beside our homes without fear of the fungus destroying the trees, but when that time comes, I will be among the first to get them, God willing.  With its glorious history in our forests, its stately grace, its delicious fruit, the American chestnut is too splendid for us to abandon.


Sometimes stories refuse to end, no matter how hard you try to bring them to a conclusion. A friend at the public library informed me that he was quite sure a Michigan champion American Chestnut could be found at the end of Old Mission Peninsula. After a few days he emailed me the specifics: according to the Michigan Botanist, Volume 37, 1995, an enormous tree could be found off Old Mission Road, quite close to the country store, a bit past a curve, off a drive heading towards a cherry orchard. Could it still exist 20 years later?

Author at base of blight-free American Chestnut on Old Mission, 28 May 2015.
Author at base of blight-free, Michigan champion American Chestnut on Old Mission, 28 May 2015.

How could anyone do anything but drive out there and find out?   Surprisingly, the directions were easy to follow and, with the help of a neighbor, Jim Hilt, my friend Marlas Hanson and I soon observed a tree towering in front of us, an American Chestnut far larger than any we had seen heretofore. Its trunk was split into three stems, twisted each one of them, and the canopy spread above over a wide area. It showed a few dead limbs, but it was alive—and not in bad shape for an old tree. There was no evidence of chestnut blight.

However, there was something peculiar about the tree: one would expect American Chestnut saplings round about, planted by squirrels that forgot where they sequestered the nuts, perhaps. But there were none to be found—not one. A few old burs from the previous year were scattered around the base of the tree, the nuts gone. It looked as if the tree had bothered to produce the spiny burs, but either they were empty from the start or else contained nuts that were infertile—or maybe every single one had been consumed by wildlife. In any case this American Chestnut had no offspring.

Immature leaves of the National Champion American Chestnut on Old Mission, 28 May 2015.
Immature leaves of the Michigan champion American Chestnut on Old Mission, 28 May 2015.

A puzzle: Does the very character that makes the tree infertile cause it to be resistant to blight? In other words, this tree—and another located three farms away—are the only ones I have seen that have not succumbed to the disease. Do they avoid blight because they are incapable of reproducing? Or is the answer simpler–that the champion Michigan tree needs other chestnuts nearby in order to obtain pollen for fertilization and that its infertility has nothing to do with its resistance? I do not know the answer, but I would like to find out–but to investigate that thread would take another year or two or five, and this story must end sometime. And so, let us end it here for now.

Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.

Take the Fall Color Tour in Traverse City’s 128 year-old Arboretum

Despite the warm afternoon sun, the smattering of color on the trees at the State Hospital grounds in Traverse City is a subtle reminder: cold days are ahead. But now is the perfect time for exploring. The cultivated arboretum on the grounds can be a soothing respite for visitors today, just as it was for patients one-hundred years ago.

The large leaves of Catapa speciosa, native to southern Illionois, enjoys mid-afternoon sunlight and crisp fall breezes.
The large leaves of Catapa speciosa, native to southern Illionois, enjoy mid-afternoon sunlight and crisp fall breezes.

In 1882, while planning the construction of the Northern Asylum for the Insane (there would be three name changes before the final moniker, Traverse City State Hospital), the Board of Trustees put their faith in the plans set by Dr. Thomas S. Kirkbride, a prominent authority on mental health care in the United States during the last half of the nineteenth century. By establishing the asylum as a “Kirkbride Building,” the Trustees were making a statement about the type of care that would be available to patients therein. To sum up Kirkbride’s treatise on the construction of asylums, he believed that one’s surroundings could aid in mental health recovery; or, as local medical giant Dr. James Decker Munson would later put it, “beauty is therapy.”

Twenty-five years into its operation, Munson would describe the site the State Hospital now occupies as the perfect candidate for a Kirkbride building, in that “this tract possesses an almost ideal combination of those features pertaining to an ideal site: a dry, porous soil, consequently healthy, eastern front-age for the buildings, an elevation sightly yet sheltered, an ample supply of pure, artesian water, and excellent facilities for drainage.” Although the site naturally had many of the qualities that promoted its use as an asylum, the wild forested areas and ragged hills that dominated the immediate landscape were not calming tonics for the nervous mind.

Kirkbride advocated that the grounds of an asylum were an extension of the asylum itself, and should “be highly improved and tastefully ornamented; a variety of objects of interest should be collected around it, and trees and shrubs, flowering plants, summer-houses, and other pleasing objects, should add to its attractiveness. No one can tell how important all these may prove in the treatment of patients, nor what good effects may result from first impressions thus made upon an invalid on reaching a hospital”.

Austrian Pine, native of southern Europe, with a bizarre limb formation.
Austrian Pine, native of southern Europe, with a bizarre limb formation.

Many Kirkbride buildings have been demolished over the years, for as we are all aware, the care and maintenance of such structures is a costly endeavor. Fortunately, the State Hospital still stands, and the grounds are littered with many of the same varieties of trees that Munson and the Board of Trustees had planted as early as 1886.

Care to walk the grounds with me? Print (or save to your mobile device) a copy of the map that appears at the end of this article, and we’re off!

The grounds immediately in front of the institution are really fine, and have many interesting and attractive features. They have been carefully planted with trees and shrubs, and with charming effect. Much attention was primarily given to the selection of the trees, and an effort was made to plant all trees that would grow in this latitude. Among them may be found the salis burea, Kentucky coffee, mulberry, box alder, pecan, walnut, butternut, chestnut, hickory, the native beeches, elms and maples, the purple leaf beech, elm, maple, and the Norway maples in many varieties. These trees have attained some size and lend much beauty and interest to the grounds.
James Decker Munson, Board of Trustees Report, 1910

Liriodendron tulipifera is fun for all ages. Look at the shape of the leaves; can you guess why its common name is Tulip Tree?
Liriodendron tulipifera is fun for all ages. Look at the shape of the leaves; can you guess why its common name is Tulip Tree?

This map is an interesting exercise; some of the roads and features are no longer present, as well as some of the trees, but it is still a decent reference for those wishing to traverse the arboretum. A librarian with a long memory at the Traverse Area District Library states that the map was created by the Michigan State Extension, probably in the mid-1980s, so it is clearly time for an update. That won’t deter us, though!

The map legend claims that starred trees are labeled; after attempting to remain faithful to the map, I would have to say there were at least two separate attempts to label the trees. Some of the stars are accurate, but ultimately I found more labels than the map indicates. Being no arborist, I brought along a handy-dandy tree identification field guide with me, which I checked out from Traverse Area District Library, Woodmere Branch. I am not exaggerating when I say this is essential for your visit. Also, give yourself two hours; I was able to cover the highlights in one hour, but missed some of the more remote sections.

With map and field guide in hand, I began on the south end of Building 50, looking for 49: Box Elder. Instead, I found a bizarre Austrian Pine, whose branches wrapped around and away from the building. Perhaps this native of southern Europe was reaching for more sunlight?

Basswood stump, what is left of the original plant, with volunteer trees surrounding.
Basswood stump, what is left of the original plant, with volunteer trees surrounding.

Near the Chapel, I located the Basswood referenced on the map (22), which lead to a happy discovery. Although all that remained of the original tree was a rotting stump, volunteer basswood trees were thriving all around the stump, making a neat refuge for little adventurers. That is the beauty of investing in nature; She has a tendency to give back more than we put in.

By Munson and Kirkbride’s reckoning, my visit was a success. I especially found the natural light-filtering qualities of the leaves of Catalpa speciosa to be particularly soothing to my frazzled, post-summer mind. You’ll find this native of southern Illinois close to the intersection at Silver Drive and 11th Street.

Ready to take the trek on your own? Remember, this arboretum is over 125 years old, so surprises abound. Enjoy the fall color, and don’t forget your map!











Board of Trustees. “Report of the Board of Trustees of the Northern Michigan Asylum at Traverse City June 30, 1910,” available online through Traverse Area District Library’s local history collection: http://localhistory.tadl.org/items/show/2009.

Kirkbride, Thomas S. “On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane,” Chapter 22; available online through the National Institute of Health, US National Library of Medicine Digital Collections: http://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-66510280R-bk.

Mohlenbrock, Robert H. “MacMillan Field Guides: Trees of North America” (available for checkout at Traverse Area District Library).

Amy Barritt is co-editor of the Grand Traverse Journal.

The Truth About Oak Apples

Oak apples are clearly a fraud.  Everyone knows oaks make acorns, not apples.  Still, the term exists—and if you look carefully in mid- to late summer, you might even find them.  Oaks grow in Northern Michigan, occupying the northern boundary of their range with few individuals being found in the Upper Peninsula.  In Traverse City we can find white oaks—those with rounded leaf lobes—and members of the red oak group—those with pointed lobes.

Compared to real apples, oak apples are puny, only a couple of inches in diameter, lacking both the texture and the crunch of the real thing.  If you open the firm papery shell of one, you may find long, stringy fibers extending from the rind to a central nucleus.   Alternatively, you may find that space filled with spongy matter like packing material.  This wooly stuffing contains tannin, a brown pigment that especially suited for artwork and documents of many kinds.  Here is a recipe typical of that Leonardo da Vinci might have used:

Take an ounce of beaten gaule, three or four ounces of gum arabicke, put them together in a pot of raine water, and when the gum is almost consumed, strain it through a cloath, and put into it almost halfe a cup of victriall beaten to a powder. A Booke of Secrets (1596) p. 5

Gum Arabic, a gum from the acacia tree, was used as a binder for the ink; “victriall” (vitriol) was nothing more than iron sulfate, obtained from passing water through “sulfurous earth” and exposing it to iron.  The resulting ink has a bold blue-black appearance, though it fades to brown as manuscripts age.  Many of the world’s finest artists employed gall ink in their drawings, Rembrandt and Van Gogh to name two, and composers like Mozart regularly used it for their musical scores.  The permanence of the ink is demonstrated by the masterpieces that remain for us to enjoy today.

If apples are fruit, then oak apples are not—since they do not contain seeds.  That being the case, what causes oak apples to form?  The answer lies with a tiny wasp, Amphibolips confluens.

In early summer the wasp deposits its egg on a young leaf.  The egg and the larva that grows from it secrete plant growth substances that compel the oak to make the oak apple.  After growing inside its comfortable chamber, the young wasp emerges to find a mate—both sexes are produced in equal numbers.  After mating, the females crawl down the trunk to lay their eggs on the roots of the host oak tree.  The young that hatch are all females,–a completely new generation!  They spend the winter underground, feeding casually on the roots as needed, but mostly remaining dormant until the weather warms.   When the young oak leaves are just the right size, they ascend the tree trunk to lay their eggs, thereby completing the life cycle.

Collection of pea size galls
Collection of pea size galls

Oak apples are not the only galls formed on oaks.  In fall in Northern Michigan white oaks shower the ground with pea-sized leaf galls, each one carrying a larva wasp.  Acorns and twigs harbor still more galls, all caused by the same family of wasps, the cypnids.  It is hopeless to wipe them out, the two species, wasps and oaks, having evolved together for untold generations.  Besides, who would want to?  Galls are fascinating objects and useful, too.  Won’t you find a tree full of oak apples and make your own ink this summer?

Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.