Do Persimmon Trees Have Seeds that Predict the Coming Winter?

Persimmon seeds may have been used as buttons in the Civil War.

 

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The bark of the persimmon tree looks as if it was made of building blocks.

The Ebony family (Ebenacea) consists of two genera, Euclea and Diospyros. The family contains between 400 and 500 species worldwide. The former genus contains ebony trees while Diospyros is made up of persimmons. Only two species of permisson are native to North American, the Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) and the common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana.)

The common persimmon is found in about 3/5 of the lower 48. According to USDA publications, it grows in humid areas including the Mississippi River Valley, Long Island, and South Atlantic and Gulf states. For commercial development this same source recommends planting in areas that receive 48″ of precipitation.

This is a flowering tree. The flowers of the male and female are distinctive, with white-green male flowers in clusters. Female flowers are singular and more yellowy. The sex lives of these trees may be very involved as normally individual trees are either male or female. Occasionally male flowers appear on female trees and sometimes the flowers can self-pollinate.

Although occasionally referred to as white ebony, the uses of persimmon lumber are limited at least in part because of the small size of the tree. At one time golf club heads were made of this wood; according to Woodworking Network this is now more of a novelty. Due to its strength, persimmon wood has also been used for textile shuttles. Other uses include drumsticks. The wood can be turned and shaped with very sharp instruments.

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Persimmon leaves

The genus name Diospyros means fruit of the gods. Persimmons produce an edible fruit that is astringent when not fully ripe but becomes sweet after a frost (Sibley Guide to Trees, 2009.) A writeup from the University of Vermont reports the fruit increases antioxidant activity, is an anti-inflammatory, and helps prevent atherosclerosis. It is also reported to be high in vitamin C and calcium. Often the fruit, which is technically a berry, is dried, made into puddings, pies, jellies, cookies and even used to brew beer or make wine. This website has a recipe for beer from wild persimmons. The Old Farmers Almanac includes a recipe for persimmon bread as well.

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Leaves are oval and glossy,

Parts other than the fruit and lumber also have uses. The bark has been used in various forms to treat thrush, hemorrhaging, diphtheria, and even gonorrhea. The leaves may be made into a tea with purported health benefits. A newspaper article on the history of persimmons in the south mentions the seeds were used as buttons during the Civil War, while a second source says during that same war the seeds were ground up and used as a coffee substitute.

An unusual bit of folklore related to persimmon seeds is they may be able to predict weather! Again, the Farmers Almanac gives directions on how to use a split open seed to predict the coming winter.

The tagged Diospyros virginiana in City Park is a little more difficult to locate than other trees. To find it go to the western edge of the ball diamonds. It is near the southern tip of the northern field and is just outside the park boundaries in the golf course. Its unusual bark makes it easy to recognize. The National Champion Common Persimmon in Suffolk City, Va has a much larger circumference at 152 inches!

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As can be seen in this photo, it is one of the smaller trees in this area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Check Up on the Blog

Some of the trees of City Park in early spring.

Spring appears to be late in the park this year. The redbuds have flowers but are far from spectacular. The crabapples have transitioned to leaves. The few left with blooms look drab in the overcast weather. Trees which were only budding a few weeks ago are fully leafed out. Some are yet to flower and a few have not yet filled out.

At this point I’ve highlighted 98 of the 200+ trees on the park tour. Below are a few spring photos of trees I covered earlier, plus a few interesting ones I’ve yet to do.

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Gingko leaves emerging.

The column about this tree can be found here: https://whattreewhere.com/2017/10/30/gingko-tree-most-unique-tree-in-the-world

Although the weeping mulberry is not yet fully leafed out, it does now look more like it did when I wrote about it: https://whattreewhere.com/2017/10/24/the-r2d2-prototype-weeping-mulberry-trees/. On another note, I didn’t see any fruit from this tree in the fall.

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Bud on the weeping mulberry

The buds of the horse chestnuts are extremely sticky! I did mention this in my post last year but apparently I forgot and got my hands very sappy. My report on this tree was just about this time last year. Although it does have cones of flowers on it now, it does not appear to be very showy. https://whattreewhere.com/2018/05/27/the-tree-the-british-play-with-horsechestnut/

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Sticky horse chestnut bud

The write up on hawthorn trees can be located here: https://whattreewhere.com/2018/10/15/hawthorn-trees-supernatural-powers-and-an-unassuming-champion. Here are two of them this spring. Some may still be blooming.

Usually it seems as if the Siberian Larch is one of the first trees in the park to gain its new leaves, but this year it took forever. These needles, or leaves, are very soft. Apparently I have only written about our championship European larch (https://whattreewhere.com/tag/larch-in-mythology/) but the new needles on it are much too high to touch.

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The newly emerged leaves, or needles on the Siberian larch.

Trees yet to be featured in this blog also made their spring appearance. Below are three early appearances of various oaks.

 

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Prestige linden buds against the blue sky
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European Beech bud

Ussurian Pear: the Most Cold Hardy of Pear Trees

This pear is hardy to USDA Zone 3!

Like all pears, cherries, apples, and hawthorns, the Ussurian Pear is a member of the Rosaceae or rose family.

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The flowers of the Ussurian pear tree. These were one of the first trees to bloom in the park

The tree, also known as the Harbin pear or Chinese pear, is native to China, Japan, Korea, and the Ussuri river area, which forms a border between Russia and Manchuria. It is the most cold-hardy of the thirty or so pear species and will grow in USDA zone 3.

The seeds for the tree were brought to the United States in 1926 by a professor from South Dakota who gathered them near Harbin China. This date is disputed by the Morton Arboretum, which states their tree was planted in 1922. The pome of this species is said to be small, hard and not particularly delicious although it might improve in flavor after a frost. The amount of sugar the fruit contains varies widely between varieties.

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Early buds on the Ussurian pear tree

Some sources suggest it might be used for jellies. Although this website lumps the Harbin pear in with other Asian pears, it says the fruit may also have a tenderizing agent, making it good for marinades. In a chat group, another respondent suggested it might be worth trying to make a perry from the fruit.

In any case, the trees take up to eight years to produce fruit (pomes) and may live up to 300 years. The fruit is eaten by small mammals and birds. In the landscape the trees are used as a windbreak or as a specimen tree. Like most pears, Ussurian pears contain a compound that has antibacterial properties and may also serve as a flea and tick deterrent. 

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Ussurian pear tree still sporting snow bumpers

The Ussurian pear (Pyrus ussuriensis) in City park was planted in 1993 and had a trunk diameter of 3.5″. To find this tree: if you start at the intersection of Sheldon Drive and City Park and walk from the South East corner in a straight line south and east from the point of the intersection, you would find the tree between the the two playing fields. 

 

 

 

Is Your Brain Better than a Bark Beetle’s? Are You Able to distinguish the Jeffrey Pine from a Ponderosa?

The Jeffrey pine was named after a Scottish botanist in 1852

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Jeffrey pine planted in 1996

Jeffrey pines (Pinus jeffreyi) are native to Nevada, California, and Oregon. Ponderosa and Jeffrey pine are easily confused and their lumber is often bundled with that of lodgepole pine and sold as PP/LP. Although first regarded as the same species as Ponderosa pine, they vary genetically. The tree was named after the Scottish botanist John Jeffrey in 1852. Apparently Mr. Jeffrey disappeared without a trace while searching for plants.

Two ways to distinguish the two species is by bark color and smell. Ponderosas are said to have an orange tinge while the bark of the Jeffrey is reddish. Some  say Ponderosas smell like pine while its look-alike has an odor described as vanilla, pineapple, or butterscotch!

Another way to tell Jeffrey and Ponderosa apart is by the size of the cone, with Jeffrey cones usually larger. Plants of Southern California (Strong, Tom and Chester, Jane) include several charts for comparison, as well as this thought: If bark beetles, with brains smaller than your thumbnail, can tell the difference between ponderosa and Jeffrey pines, with a little attention humans ought to be able to do the same. (:-) Numerous sites warn of a dangerous difference between the two conifers. The resin of most pine trees can be used to make turpentine. Alike other conifers,  Jeffrey pines contain an explosive chemical, n-heptane. Before the two trees were known to be separate species, the use of Jeffrey pine ended up causing inexplicable explosions. 

 

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The long needles of the Jeffrey pine.

 

The Gymnosperm Database lists a Jeffrey pine in California as being at least 813 years old. The tallest tree, found in Dec. 2010 in the Trinity Alps of California, is over 206 feet tall. The second tallest Pinus jeffreyi is also located in California.

Jeffrey pines produce winged seeds. The seeds are heavy, and although wind does move them, it usually isn’t far from the parent tree. Chipmunks and Clarks Nutcrackers also disperse the seeds. The US Forest Service reported a small study of the chipmunks. These little critters on average carried up to 29 seeds in their cheek pouches. This same site reported cones might not be produced by the species until trees are twenty years old.

The Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi) specimen tagged in City Park was planted in 1996 with a trunk diameter of 5″. We were not able to locate any pinecones to photograph. This bud from April, though, is of interest.

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Bud of a Jeffrey pine

To find the tagged Jeffrey pine on the tree tour, start at the SE corner of the park. If you walk straight across Jackson from Magnolia, you will head in the correct direction. You might first encounter the alligator juniper tree, which is East of a group of taller pines. One of these is the Jeffrey pine C153.

Limber Pine—Branches Flexible Enough You can Tie them in Knots

The tree grows under conditions which may prove too harsh for other species.

Limber pine (Pinus flexilis) is another species which may be susceptible to damage from the pine beetle. Like most other trees, this species has a number of alternate names, including Rocky Mountain pine. This conifer is native to the western states as well as the two westernmost Canadian providences.

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Trunk of the limber pine

In Colorado, it is found from elevations of 5000′ to 12,000′.  It is also native to Utah where it is reported to grow from elevations of 4000′  to 11000′. Limber pine in North Dakota grow below 3000′. The groves of trees in North Dakota are thought to have arisen from seeds carried to the area by various Native Americans.

Limber pine survive stressors which may prove too harsh for other species. For instance, it is able to grow under dry conditions. The bendable property of its branches may allow it to survive in avalanche prone areas and this trait may help with slope stabilization as well as runoff control. Limber pines also have deep taproots, which help with resistance to wind. This species provide food for rodents and birds, such as the Clark’s Nutcracker. In turn the seeds are too large to be blown far by the wind; birds, then are a means of distribution. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Although lumber from Pinus flexilis is of little commercial value today, in the past it was used in mines, as railroad ties, and as firewood. In herbal medicine the resin may be used like that of other pines—as an antiseptic and to help with respiratory conditions. The seeds can also serve as a food source for humans.

Limber pines are a long-lived species, which may not reach maturity until 200 years. (North American Trees, Preston and Braham.) Some of the oldest trees may be well over 1500 years. Even though some members of this species grow on windy ridges causing  twisting and stunting, others may approach sixty feet in height.

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Leaves of the limber pine

Pinus flexilis belongs to the the group of pines with their needles in bundles of five. These leaves grow to be between 2.5 and 3.5 inches in length. The female cones are green prior to maturity and may grow as long as seven inches.

Like many conifers of the mountain west, the limber pine may be affected by climate change and damage by various pests, including mountain pine beetles; a fungus which causes white pine blister rust; and drawf mistletoe. The fungus spread from Asia to Europe in the 1860s. It made its appearance in Wyoming on limber pines in 1970 and by the late 1990s was found in Colorado as well.

To find the tagged LIMBER PINE (Pinus flexilis) in the arboretum, C182, start near the SE corner of Sheldon Drive and City Park. A row of trees, including ashes and conifers, runs more or less parallel to City Park Drive. The limber pine is in the middle of a small cluster of conifers. In the middle of an open area is a park bench which is west of this small grove of trees. Another landmark might be the exercise station near this same corner. You could walk from there along the row of trees to find the pine. 

This specimen was planted in 1981 when it had a diameter of 8″. In the flesh it does not appear quite as scraggly as it does in the winter photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hong Song, Kimchee, Diabetes, and the Korean Pine.

The Korean pine is an important component of the habitat for the Siberian tiger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs the name implies, this is not a tree native to the United States, although it may be grown here for its ornamental value. The American Conifer Society lists this species, Pinus koraiensis, as native to Korea and Japan. Other sources state it is also native to China and parts of Russia. Some of the musical names this pine is known as around the world are Hong Song, Chosen-goyo and Chosen-matsu.

A World Wildlife site links pine nut trees and their destruction as an important component in the decline of the Siberian (Amur) tiger, which may be extinct in North Korea. The seeds are a food source for both wild boar and deer, prey of the tigers. This same site blames the rising world demand for the lumber from this tree for its illegal logging.

The seeds are a food staple in Asia, and possibly one of few cash crops in parts of Russia. The leaves may be used as a dye. Various parts of the tree also have been used for medicinal purposes, including ear aches and weight loss.

Of interest is the possible satiety value of the seeds from this conifer. Researchers have reported the nuts are high in Pinolenic acid, which may act as an appetite suppressant and also help lower lipid levels. Other studies  suggest pine nut oil may have a role in diabetes control. These nuts are also used in Korean cuisine. The nuts, called Jat, are part of a number of dishes, from kimchee to fruit desserts. This website includes links to recipes.

This white pine with its five needles to a bunch, oldest specimen is reported to be at least  629 years old for a tree found in Mongolia. The tallest tree is reported to be just over 157 feet. This tree was found in mountains in the Russia/China/Mongolia area.

A nursery in Canada states its stock is grown from 100 year old Canadian trees, making it sound as if this species could survive in other areas of the world. The site also has a photograph of a standard-sized pine nut compared to a jumbo pistachio. The implication is that this is a fruitful and beneficial tree to grow for your own use. It states the harvesting of the nuts from the cones is an easy but sticky venture. Rhora’s Nut Farm and Nursery reports the trees produce cones starting at about 7 years, with a few producing as early as six. Each cone yields an average of seventy seeds. Korean pines are grown for nut production in many areas of the continent, including Michigan and Ontario.

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The Korean Pine

The Korean Pine, C134, in the City Park Arboretum may be found along Jackson Street, north of the wooden bridge if you are on the sidewalk. If you are driving, it is slightly north of Olive street. A fairly small tree, it undoubtedly was recently planted. The lack of any visible pine cones might help confirm its young age.

 

 

 

 

 

Ponderosa Pine—Or maybe you call it Bull Pine, Black Jack, Western Yellow Pine, or One of Many Other Names

Three subspecies have been identified through-mitochondrial DNA.

What a surprise! The ponderosa pine is one of the first trees with a distribution in most of the WESTERN part of the US and part of Canada! According to National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees (Western Region,1980) this is the most widely distributed pine in the United States. Its range includes British Columbia. In Colorado the species covers about 2 million acres. The Colorado State Forest Service website, also says this is about 8 % of the forested area of the state. Ackerman mentions the tree grows from about 4600-9600 elevation. (Flora of Colorado, 2015.)

Like many of the other trees discussed in this blog, the ponderosa pine appears to be a  complex species. Even its “discovery” may be controversial with some sources citing 1820 and others mentioning 1805 passages from Lewis & Clark Expedition. According to the Gymnosperm Database, three subspecies have been determined through mitochondrial DNA. The three varieties appear to have geographic distinctions, too. The groupings include the northernmost trees, Pacific trees, and the more interior trees. Chris Earle, the author of conifers.org, indicates there does not seem to be interbreeding where the northern family shares habitat with the Pacific group.

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The Ponderosa pine is one of the three highest producing lumber species in the western United States. Its wood is used for everything from veneer to construction. Apparently the trunks were sometimes used as flagpoles as at least one story of the origin of the name Flagstaff in Arizona, involves a ponderosa pine displaying the US flag.

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Ponderosa pine needles showing length and the bundles of two

The ponderosa pine provided Native Americans with food, medicine, and transportation in the form of canoes or snowshoes, as well as construction material and dyes. Almost the entire plant could be eaten. The many medicinal uses included the usual ointment for infections, skin conditions, and pain control. A less commonly mentioned use of tree parts in medicine was needles being tools for dermatological and gynecological reasons. The rosin left over after turpentine distillation is used on violin bows.

Monumental Trees lists the oldest ponderosa, located in Yosemite, to be more than 1020, although a 1914 record of a tree in southwest Colorado was measured at 1047 years. As might be expected for a tree that is only native to North America, the United States also has the widest and tallest trees. The record for height is a tree in Oregon measured to be over 268 feet tall.

At least four species of Ips beetle can infect ponderosa pines. These beetles normally attack dying or stressed trees, but when there are excess beetles they may attack and kill healthy trees. For the eighteen years from 1996 to 2014, the mountain pine beetle damaged over 3 million acres of trees in  Colorado alone. Although these beetles have always destroyed some trees, according to the National Park Service recent outbreaks had become more severe. According to the Colorado State Forest, though, the problem may have begun to abate in 2017. In the past, long term cold snaps killed off many of the noxious beetles, but with warmer winters, good forestry management techniques must be employed, including thinning of trees, and solar treatment of logs from downed trees to help control the destructive insects. With climate change, the forests of the West, as well as the rest of the world, may be changing.

The Ponderosa pines on the Fort Collins Self-guided Tree Tour are easy to find. They still sport the rustic signs first used to identify the trees.

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The appearance of the bark changes as the tree ages

To find  C152 Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), drive to the west end of Oak Street, just east of the intersection with Bryan Street. The trees are in front of the pottery studio.