Spring Glory—Crabapples

What most distinguishes an apple from a crab apples is size.

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Indian Magic crabapple in bloom

Crabapples are part of the same genus as apples, genus Malus. What most distinguishes an apple from a crab apple is size, possibly of both the fruit and the tree itself.

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Blossoms of the Dolgo crabapple

Often crabapples are planted as an ornamental in the garden due to their lovely early blossoms and sometimes the appearance of the fruit. Of the species of crabapple, only four are native to North America. Genus Malus, either native or introduced, can be found throughout North America.

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Red Baron Crabapple Blossoms

Many varieties of crabapple may be used in similar ways to apples, although many of them are very sour or bitter. They have been used in jams, jellies, and ciders. They may also be used to make a pie, although that might involve quite a bit of cutting!

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Pomes of the Adams crabapple

The wood of the crabapple is used in woodworking projects, but usually the size limits it to smaller objects such as handles and small furniture. It is a popular wood for smoking foods, especially foul and pork.

Like many other wood products, the crabapple has a long list of ailments it has been said to alleviate such as diarrhea. The fruit and other parts of the tree may also help in cleaning the teeth and skin care. Some sources claim ingesting crabapples may reduce the chance of uterine and prostate cancer as well as lower the risk of heart disease, etc.

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Bark of the Indian Summer crabapple

A site from England with a short review of the tree says its symbolism is associated with love and marriage. Another website discusses apples and crabapples in mythic traditions throughout Europe. Another source links crabapples to Druids and their traditions, saying Druid Day of the Apple is November first. This is celebrated by concocting a bowl of wassail, which includes baked apples, libations, and spices.

JF Schmidt & Son provides a chart which includes bloom color, fruit color and size, as well as tree shape of many varieties of crabapple, only a few of which can be found in Fort Collins City Park.

Finding the Trees in City Park.

Crabapple trees are fairly easy to pick out when they are in bloom. Not all of the trees in the park are identified, but two of the largest and prettiest are on the corner of Mulberry and Jackson Streets, C161 Vanguard Crabapple (Malus Vanguard) and C162 Dolgo Crabapple (Malus Dolgo). 

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Fruit of the Dolgo Crabapple
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Dolgo Crabapple with an unnamed crabapple in the background

C176 Indian Magic Crabapple is about midway between Mulberry Street and City Park Drive on the east side of Sheldon Drive. This year the tree held its  small, raisin-sized fruit into the winter, giving it added visual interest. Blossoms and the later fruit are shown below while the tree in full bloom is at the top of this blog post.

More trees are on the other side of Sheldon Drive along the lake or close to the road.   The Adams crabapple (D 208), first of the featured trees on the west side of the street, is closer to the entrance and has lovely pink blossoms.

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Adams crabapple blossoms

The two of the marked trees are D 200 David Crabapple and D 201 Thunderchild Crabapple. The David crabapple and its blossoms are shown below.

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David crabapple along Sheldon Drive
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Pink buds yield white blossoms
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The more upright branches of the Thunderchild crabapple
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Thunderchild crabapple blossoms

(C 139) Indian Summer crabapple and (C 141) Red Baron crabapple are nearer to Jackson Street in the vicinity of Field 3. Below is a photo of the Indian Summer tree in bloom and the resulting pomes. These are a darker red than many of the other apples.

The blossoms of the Red Baron are closer to the top of this post. The photo of the tree shows it prior to bloom time. The second photo is of a spur twig.

The Centurion Crabapple (D 205) is almost immediately across from the Indian Magic tree.

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Bright pink blossoms of the Centurion crabapple

 

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Centurion crabapple

There are other crabapples in the park, including a large old tree called simply Crabapple (E 44) near the building at 1715 West Mountain. Two separate Radiant crabapples are tagged. The tree below, (E 32), is on an island in the middle of the south ballpark parking lot. There is a second, untagged crabapple sharing its space.

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Radiant crabapple

 

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Pale pink blossoms of the Radiant crabapple

 

 

 

Lilac Tree-Extending the Blooms But Do They Smell Good?

Some say the blooms smell like honey.

Many years ago a friend wrote a story featuring Lilac trees. We objected that lilacs were shrubs, not trees, but apparently we weren’t aware of Syringa reticulata, or the Japanese tree lilac. A similar tree, the Peking tree lilac was at one time considered a separate species Syringa pekinensis although some now consider it subspecies of the Japanese Lilac tree.

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Peking tree lilac to the right of the bench. Smaller Japanese tree lilac to the left blends in with the larger tree behind it.

Both trees have origins in Asia, most notably Japan, China, Korea, and a part of Russia. Possibly Japanese tree lilac is  more common in the United States. The USDA lists it primarily as a tree introduced in New York, three New England states and Wyoming! The national champion tree is found in Massachusetts. Oddly, according to the USDA, the Peking version has only been introduced into Pennsylvania. Most sources mention the trees are often used  as landscape accents and street trees. There are numerous Japanese Tree Lilacs in New York City, with fewer Peking Tree Lilacs. The Japanese variety is a featured tree in Central Park.

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Flower sprays of the Japanese tree lilac

The genus Syringa includes the common lilac as well as about thirty other varieties. The Japanese tree lilac is said to be the only member of the genus that attains tree status. This would seem accurate if the Peking tree lilac is considered a subspecies.

The later blooming of the white flowers appears to be the main attraction of these trees, although they are also said to be drought and pollution resistant. The trees in Fort Collins have been flowering for a week or so, making them concurrent with the Catalpas. Larger trees are also valued for their shade canopy.

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Close up of a Japanese tree lilac

Various authors disagree about the scent of the trees, some saying it is unpleasant, others that it has little to no odor and others saying the Peking tree scent is that of honey. Before the trees stop blooming, you’ll have to smell for yourself and decide.

The major difference between the two varieties seems to be the bark, with that of the Chinese Tree Lilac, an alternate name along with Pekin Tree for the obvious specimen, being reddish and peeling later in the year. The strips of bark look to me like someone has wrapped the tree in packing tape.

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Bark of the Peking Tree Lilac

As with many other aspects of trees, there is controversy over this small species. Some sources are concerned the trees are invasive. Other areas of the country from cities in Massachusetts  to the state of Wyoming note them as underused trees. Illinois considers the Japanese Lilac Tree as low risk of invasiveness.

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Gnarly trunk of the Japanese tree lilac

To find the marked trees in the park, turn from Mulberry Street onto Sheldon Drive and park close to the intersection with City Park Drive in front of the Arm Walking exercise station. Directly east are the two trees pictured in the photo with the bench. C181 Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata) is the smaller tree to the south. The larger tree to the north of the bench is C187 Peking Tree Lilac (Syringa pekinensis). A larger version of the latter tree, D212, which I believe was planted in the 1960s, can be seen on the northwest corner of Mulberry and Sheldon.

A cultivar of the Japanese tree lilac, E4 Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata Ivory Silk) 

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Japanese tree lilac Ivory Silk

is viewable in front of the Parks Department building at 413 S. Bryan. This memorial tree is directly in front of the building. The state of Washington suggests this variety as a smart addition to the Pacific Northwest Garden.

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Flowers of the Ivory Silk Japanese tree lilac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tree the British Play With: Horsechestnut

The World Conker Championships have been held since 1965.

Horsechestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum), also known as Conker Tree in England, are in the same genus as Buckeyes. Both are part of the same order as the Soapberry tree.P5180061

These trees are planted as street trees for ornamentation as well as shade. Both the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees and North American Trees (Preston and Braham, 2002) report them as “escaped.” The USDA maps show them as introduced in both the East and the Northwest. The tree originated in the Balkans but has been planted widely throughout Europe and other parts of the world. They may have been introduced in the United States as early as 1576.

Monumental trees lists the widest trunked tree in England, the tallest at over 120 feet in the Netherlands, and the oldest as a specimen in France, which might be as old as 500 years. The leaves are palmate, radiating out from a central point. This species isn’t listed in the National Forest Registry, but the Colorado Tree Coalition lists the largest and tallest tree in the state as one in Cedaredge. The largest Red Horsechestnut can be found in Denver.

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The leaflets radiate from a central post

The trees flower in May in what look like cones of white flowers. P5180054Sibley reports the interior yellow spots turn red when fertilized. The fertilized flowers produce what are known as conkers, or the “nut.” This is NOT the same as a sweet chestnut, and the outer casings look quite different. The two should not be confused as conkers are considered poisonous to humans, although they may be edible once boiled. Sweet chestnuts are encased in a spiny looking ball while the outer coating of a horse chestnut looks like bumpy leather. The interior “nuts” look similar but the edible version has a discernible and palpable point while the poisonous conkers are flat. Horsechestnuts are edible for many animals and are fed to horses and other livestock.

Apparently horsechestnuts are used in homeopathy. They are touted as useful for various circulatory problems such as venous insufficiency, phlebitis, and varicose veins when properly prepared. The leaves and bark may also be useful in a number of other conditions. Lupus is mentioned.

As they are not native to North America or The British Isles, there aren’t many myths associated with them. There is a game played in England called Conkers. This game is reported to have been a favorite of Roald Dahl. Currently, Britain’s trees are threatened by a combination of moths and disease. The loss of the trees may impact the World Conker Championship, which has been held in Northampton since 1965.

A notable characteristic of the Horsechestnut are the distinctive winter buds, which are large and sticky. P4120076

 

 

 

Below is a short video about the Horse Chestnut in the United States.

 

The Red Horse Chestnut (Aesculus x carnea Briottii) is a cross between a Red Buckeye and the common Horsechestnut.P5180013

The flowers are red or pink and it is the most common large red-flowering tree in temperate zones (The Sibley Guide to Trees). The flowers are quite stunning. P5180006

City Park’s  Horsechestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) (B115) can be found just west of the intersection of Jackson and Oak streets, across from 1312 W. Oak. This tree was planted in 1997 and had a diameter of about 3.5″

To locate the Red Horse Chestnut (Aesculus x crane Briotii) (A93), continue west on Oak Street to the first turn into the park. This street is a continuation of Roosevelt Avenue.  The tree is one of the few deciduous trees in the NE triangle formed by Roosevelt and Sheldon Drive.

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Close up of the Red Horse Chestnut blossoms.

First Tree to Bloom–Cornelian Cherries. Fit For Pigs or a Revived Food Source?

An ancient Serbian saying is “Healthy as a Cornelian Cherry.”

I met with Forestry Specialist Molly Roche yesterday and inquired about which trees might flower first. She responded there was already one tree in bloom! Although I’d noticed many trees starting to bud, the only flowers I’ve noticed so far have been on a tree in Denver. My casual observation is that Denver is usually two weeks to ten days ahead of us in weather-dependent events. So I was surprised but visited the tree, a Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas), which is a member of the Dogwood family.

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Cornelian Cherry in bloom March 23, 2018

The Dogwood family is large and diverse, containing at least 120 species from small trees and shrubs to herbaceous plants. This member of the Cornaceae family originated in Asia and Europe and resembles forsythia. Apparently this plant and its fruit are  bountiful in Serbia and result in an ancient saying, “healthy as a cornelian cherry.” The small yellow flowers are not particularly showy, nor did I notice a distinct odor.

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Flowers of the Cornelian Cherry Tree

According to many internet sources, the cherries (drupes) are edible, nutritious, and delicious. These factors may make them a good choice for a backyard crop. A test farm in Wisconsin mentions they yield in a short time and have little tendency to be invasive. They also estimate that the plants will be viable for around fifty years, although another source calls the pit a deterrent to mass production.

Mother Earth News mentions the high vitamin C content of the cherries as a possible reason for their medicinal value. The fruit has been used for the usual intestinal complaints including cholera, as well as a cure for symptoms such as tinnitus. Medicinal Herbs suggests an oil can be distilled from seeds and a dye may be acquired from the bark. The wood may also have been fashioned into bows and spears.

Although some cultures thought the wild cherries fit only for pigs, the fruit has been eaten for centuries. Similar to juniper berries in gin, the dried cherries are added to vodka and wine in Russia. There is an alcoholic beverage from Albania, raki, which uses the fruit. Cherries can be made into preserves, into a cranberry-like sauce, and are used in Persian cuisine. Recipes for various sorts of syrups, jams and other preparations can be found on the web.

Location in City Park. Depending on the time of year, E10 Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) may be very easy to find as it could be the only tree flowering in the park. From South Bryan Avenue, take the road on the side of the Fire Station. This drive leads to  the Park Shop and the golf course parking lot. (On maps S. Bryan and City Park Drive appear to merge into the same street.) On the S side of the road more or less in front of the Park Shop building, there are two small trees. The one to the W is the Cornelian Cherry. Its tag currently is easy to find, although there are actually two separate identifiers on the tree. On 3/23/18 they did contradict each other, but the yellow flowers of the tree are the giveaway: This is the Cornelian Cherry.

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The trunk and bark of Cornus mas.