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.

P6160017
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.

P6160005
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.

P6160003
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.

P4280008
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.

P6160007
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) 

P6170019
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.

P6170014
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.

P5180055
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.

P5180008
Close up of the Red Horse Chestnut blossoms.

Mayday tree: Inadvertent Meaning to a Name?

In Scotland this was once known as the Witches’ Tree

The Mayday tree is a member of the rose family, in the same genus as cherries and plums. Another common name for it is European Bird Cherry. This name gives a clue as to its origin. According to a Canadian website, it grows in countries near the Arctic but is native throughout Europe where its berries attract birds. It has been introduced in the US and is most prevalent in Alaska and parts of the east, including Canada.

The tree is grown as an ornamental in the states. It is on more than one list of preferred trees for Colorado and is included as a good choice for the Front Range by the Colorado Tree Coalition.

There is no doubt that it is a gorgeous tree when it blooms. It also has a distinctive, spicy smell which wafts over large areas.

P5090006
Blooming Mayday Tree

The lovely scented flowers of this tree become dark colored “cherries,” also called

P5080079_1
Flower Clusters of the Mayday Tree

chokecherries, although the berries usually eaten in the US with that name are from the same genus but a different species. These are said to be very bitter, but may still be made into jams and jellies. One source says they can be used to make cherry brandy. Mention is made that Koreans eat the boiled leaves.

The various parts of the tree have been used for the usual medicinal remedies for internal problems such as gall stones; colds, and fevers. A more unusual mention is a concoction of an eyewash for conjunctivitis. The leaves and berries may be made into green dyes, as well as a reddish dye for fishing nets. Some sources say the lumber is prized in woodworking, but the Wood Database doesn’t list it.

Although this tree does not currently appear to pose a threat to the lower 48, it has become invasive in Alaska. It may cause difficulty in growing other shade trees as well as adversely affect the willow population. Moose often feed on willow trees, possibly decreasing a food source. The leaves, twigs, and drupes contain hydrogen cyanide and can be deadly for horses and other large animals. Recently this has caused problems for moose. Eaten in small amounts, humans normally will not be harmed by the hydrogen cyanide in the berry’s seeds.

P5080092_1
Mayday Tree bark

A photo of the trunk of the tree is included to help in identification.

D74 May Day Tree (Prunus padusis located on S. Bryan Drive between Oak Street and City Park Drive. It is very close to the street, across from the playground. This specimen was planted in 1993.

As indicated, this tree is called variously the May Day Tree, Mayday tree, European Bird Cherry, Cluster Cherry, and Hagberry. (The Sibley Guide to Trees.) At first I thought it was named the May Day tree as the flowers bloomed around the beginning of May. After reading of the danger to native trees in Alaska and the poisoning of large mammals, I wonder of it was inadvertently given a name mimicking a call for help!

 

 

How Many Names Can a Tree Have? The Alaska Cedar

There may be 36 or more common names for this tree!

P2230005
The Alaskan Cedar

The Alaska Cedar is native to the North American continent. This tree exemplifies the classification confusion that strikes amateur tree lovers. On the City Park tour guide (revised 2015) the Alaska Cedar, also called the yellow cedar, nootka Cypress, Stinking Cypress, and Yellow-cypress, the nomenclature is given as Chamaecyparis nootkatensis. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees, Western Region (1994), and the 2002 edition of North American Trees  (Preston and Graham) agree with this designation, but the Gymnosperm Database lists the same tree as Cupressus nootkatensis while The Sibley Guide to Trees (Sibley, 2009) calls it Callitropsis nootkatensis. The USDA site classifies it as Family Cupressaceae (Cypress Family), genus Callitropsis (Nootka Cypress), species Callitropsis nootkatensis. The U.S. Forest Service lists THIRTY-SIX different names for this same tree! For the moment, I will just call it the Alaska Cedar  and let the botanists argue. The University of British Columbia discusses this same dilemma and solves the problem by using the nomenclature C. nootkatensis.

Although some sites list this tree as growing for 300 years, conifers.org states the oldest tree has a ring count of 1834 and lists the tallest as a specimen in British Columbia of over 200 feet. The lumber of the tree has been used for exterior purposes such as shingles, decking, and posts. A few sources mention the crushed leaves of this tree do not smell good. When used as firewood, the wood has a high BTU output. Wikipedia mentions that a tree may last 100 years as firewood! Seems like it would have to be a very large specimen, though. Some of the unusual uses it has been put to is as stadium seating and toys.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Alaska Cedar leaves

The Alaska Cedar may be another victim of climate change as a large number of these trees in Canada have died off in the last 100 years. This blog explains that the suspected cause of the die off is that these cedars have shallow roots that are susceptible to freezing, which can kill the tree. As the climate warms, the snowpack is not as deep or melts off early, leaving the roots exposed to cold night time temperatures.

 

The Weeping Alaska Cedar is a cultivar usually used for landscaping purposes. For its scientific name, add Pendula to your preferred name for the Alaska Cedar. It is thought that it can be grown in most of the United States.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bark of the Weeping Alaska Cedar
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Branch showing both hard green female cones and smaller male cones.Th

 

The Alaska Cedar on the current Self-Guided Tour in City Park, Fort Collins, is E63. To find Chamaecyparis nootkatensis, head to Club Taco near the pool at the intersection of City Park and S. Bryan drive. This tree can be found across the street where the ditch and the fence around the miniature railroad tracks nearly form an angle. It is not known when this tree was planted.

The Weeping Alaska Cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis Pendula) is located along Jackson Ave, across from 222 Jackson, near one of the exercise stations. This cultivar was planted in 1997. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Weeping Alaska Cedar

 

 

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.

P3230190
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The trunk and bark of Cornus mas.

 

 

 

 

 

Mighty Little Giant Sequoia Tree

The leaves of this tree are sharp enough they hurt!

No big surprise, but Giant Sequoias are only native to California. This species of the Cupressaceae family is the only member of its genus Sequoiadendron. The trees are also called big tree and Sierra Redwood. They are so large, they often have monikers. The largest standing today is the General Sherman which has a volume of 52,500 cubic feet and is over 274 feet tall. Due to their height and trunk volume, these trees are often referred to as the largest living things on earth. General Sherman is not the tallest known Giant Sequoia. The tallest is said to be over 300 feet and grows in a known grove but the exact tree is not specified. Sequoias may also be some of the most long-lived, as the oldest one by stump count in 1870 was 3266 years.

As this tree grows fast even in old age, it is possible the General Sherman will get both taller and wider! Although Giant Sequoias would provide a lot of wood per tree, most of them are protected. Once used for fenceposts, their wood is rot resistant but also brittle, making it less than ideal for building. The local Native Americans, members of the Tule River Tribe, did use the wood for fenceposts and crafts, but instead of felling the trees, they utilized downed wood. After the white man discovered the Sequoia, many were lumbered, eventually leading the preserved groves to be added to the National Park System. 

North American Trees (Preston and Braham, 2002) mention that a “dark red pigment in ink” can be obtained from the cones. One advantage of having a smaller tree in the park is you can feel the leaves, which I think are the prickliest of the conifers. They hurt!

P2030170
Pointed leaves of the sequoia

This short video discusses the lifecycle of the sequoias.  At one time the conditions for these trees to grow may have existed as far east as Colorado. Changes to the climate affecting California may not bode well for the Sequoias as well as other other trees. In 2017 the Pioneer Cabin Tree, which you could drive through, fell during a severe rainstorm.

P2030167
The young Giant Sequoia

Sequoias have been planted elsewhere in the world, including Denmark and France. In the mid 1800s, Giant Sequoias were a popular addition to English castle gardens, where conditions appear to be ideal. Some of the largest specimens in Europe can be found in Great Britain. In the relatively few tree-years since then, some specimens have acquired height of around half the tallest in the US. Another group of trees which were planted in Denmark to help with reforestation, where killed in the winter of 1942. Today many visitors from around the world take home seeds to grow the trees.

 

To find B116 Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) go to the triangle formed at Oak, Jackson, and City Park. In this area is a stone bench. If you were to sit on the bench facing south you would be looking toward the Giant Sequoia, which is parallel to the lamp post. 

P2030176
Close up of the young Giant Sequoia’s bark.

Junipers–Edible, Medicinal, Drinkable, Literary, and Magical!

Want a suggestion on how to make a Bloody Mary without alcohol?

P1220135
Bark of the Rocky Mountain Juniper

Juniperus is the largest of the genus in family Cupressaceae and consists of at least 55 species. Four species are mapped in City Park. Four species are also native to Colorado, three of which are marked in the park. The fourth, Juniperus communis is a low-spreading shrub. (Flora of Colorado, Ackerfield, 2015.)

The junipers, often mistakenly called cedars, were used by many Native American tribes. Rocky Mountain Juniper branches were used for purification, the red colored wood for lance shafts and bows. The Cheyenne were said to prize the wood for flutes. The boughs were used to line sweat lodges, and a few tribes bathed their horses in water steeped with juniper to give their coats a high sheen. It may also have been a dandruff deterrent.

The berries, which are actually the seed cones of the plant, could be dried and strung for necklaces. An ingenious way of producing a hole in the berry was to allow ants to eat out the sweet inner core. Smoked they turned black. Dyes can  be made from the roots and berries. One source mentions that the wood is used in making pencils.

Mythology says that juniper boughs have been used to ward off devils and witches, while dreaming of the berries had symbolic meaning. Giving berries as gifts conferred honor on the recipient.

Of course, there were numerous uses of the berries as both food and medicine, but not only in Native American cuisine. In Europe they are used to flavor German sauerkraut and Swedish pickles, as well as to cut the gaminess of venison and other meats. One of the best known uses for juniper berries is in making gin. Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Rockies (Kershaw, 2000) includes an easy recipe for making a Tricky Mary, a virgin Bloody Mary in which you allow juniper berries to flavor tomato juice.

Medicinal uses include the ubiquitous cure for a cold and other chest aliments, as a digestive aid, and for inflammation. According to Edible & Medicianal Plants of the Rockies a berry tea has been used to prevent pregnancy and also as a hunger suppressant. The berries were used by practitioners in the Middle Ages to help ward off Black Death. 

At the same time that many books and sites on the Internet provide recipe ideas for the berries, most also warn against large doses, especially for pregnant women. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies warns that over ingesting can result in convulsions and kidney failure while oil applied topically may case blistering. Even those who tout natural remedies  warn against eating the berries without knowing what you are doing.  At least one species is identified as a known toxin.

Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) is native throughout Colorado other than the most eastern counties. Trees can grow even in Weld and Logan counties.  Rocky Mountain Juniper grow through most western states except California. One clue to its habitat range may be that it does not tolerate high humidity. This species was used in ways similar to the general discussion above.

P1220125
Rocky Mountain Juniper

The twigs and branches of Juniperus scopulorum are an important food source for the elk and deer of the region, while the berries are an important part of the diet of many smaller males and bird.

P1220130
Twigs and leaves of Rocky Mountain Juniper

 

The One-Seed Juniper is native to the American Southwest. Its range includes southwest Colorado (Flora of Colorado, Ackerfield, 2015). Its name is derived from the fact that its cones (berries) normally have but one seed each. The plant is common in the higher elevations of New Mexico and due to its long tap root, is able to survive in drier areas. The Santa Fe Botanic Gardens Newsletter says the ash from this tree is still used in Navajo wool dyeing as well as part of traditional Pueblo food recipes. The branches and smoke from burning juniper are also part of various ceremonies. Other sources mention that the bark was used to make mats and cloth.

P1220123
One-seed Juniper
P1220120
Leaves and cones of the One-seed Juniper

 

The Utah Juniper grows naturally in nine of the western states, including Colorado. Again, it is not native to Larimer County. Canyonlands National Parks says this “indomitable Juniper” can grow in “an environment of baking heat, bone-chilling cold, intense sunlight, little water and fierce winds.”

The Alpine Nature Center in Alpine, Utah, provides a chart of the differences between the Rocky Mountain Juniper and the Utah Juniper.

P1280150
Utah Juniper

Most of the distinguishing characteristics are related to color and shape. For instance, the bark of the Rocky Mountain juniper has a reddish hue while that of the Utah is more gray. This is barely discernible in the photos accompanying this post. The biggest difference might be that both male and female cones are born on the Utah Juniper while the Rocky Mountain junipers have distinct male and female trees. The aforementioned site claims a yeast in the berries is what is important to the gin making process. It also includes a recipe using juniper berries as the starter for a sourdough!

P1280144
The grayer bark of the Utah Juniper

 

I’ve been aware of a literary journal called Alligator Juniper for some time and always thought it was an odd name until I learned it was named after the Alligator Juniper tree.

PC120223
Alligator Juniper

Its habitat in the US includes only Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. One look at its bark, and it is easy to understand where it got its name.

PA080056
The patchy, scaly bark of the Alligator Juniper

This species has both male and female trees, with only the berries/cones on the female tree worth eating. The male pollen cones are the reason this tree is listed as a moderate allergen.

PC120222
Male pollen cones on the Alligator Juniper three

According to a post about the trees in Texas, this is a slow grower. One interesting study of the effects of climate change has shown that the Alligator Juniper has “crept” to higher elevations over the last fifty years.

The mentioned uses of the berries and other parts of the tree coincide with those of other junipers, although some reports for this specific species mention how strong the juniper taste is. For those of you interested in boutique spirits, at least one company is making a gin with Alligator Juniper berries known as Mt. Lemmon Gin. The Zuni use it as incense.

How to find the Junipers:

E60: Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorumFind the tagged specimen on the other side of the fence in front of the miniature train station. It is across from Club Tico on City Park Drive. 

D199 One-seed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma). This tree is located along the east side of Sheldon Lake between the lake and the road, near the Douglas Fir and the frog statues. One author mentioned that One-seed Junipers look somewhat like Arborvitae, so look for a squat conifer.

C127 Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma). This specimen is located between playing fields on the S side of City Park Drive as you head toward the Jackson Street exit. If you are driving east from the junipers mentioned above, cross Sheldon Drive and park about two-thirds of the way to the exit, near a group of trees that are encircled with bricks. You will need to walk as the tree is a short distance from the road. I was not able to locate the tag, but after reading that the Utah juniper produces both seed cones (berries) and pollen cones, it seemed obvious that this is the correct tree. 

P1280148
Look closely to see the brown pollen and the blue seed cones of the Utah Juniper

To find C157, Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana), you could walk south from the Utah Juniper toward the corner of W. Mulberry and Jackson to a small clump of trees. You could also drive and park just S of the intersection of W. Magnolia and Jackson. This smaller conifer seems set off by itself. To find the tag, you need to walk into the branches.