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.

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Blooming Mayday Tree

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

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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.

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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!

 

 

December is for Christmas Trees and Our First is a Champion

A popular tree to decorate for Christmas

Every year trees are brought to the nation’s capitol to adorn the Capitol lawn, outside the Whitehouse, and sometimes in the interior of the Whitehouse. The National Christmas Tree has been displayed, cut or planted, in the President’s Park as well as other spots. This tradition started in 1923. The most common tree used is a variety of spruce.

Although the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree tradition began before 1970, every year since then a different national forest has provided the tree. The White Spruce has been the tree of choice twelve times, the most of any single species. The tagged White Spruce (Picea glauca) in the City Park Arboretum near the intersection of City Park and Sheldon Drive is not only a native to Colorado, but a state champion tree. This tree probably does not call to mind a tree to decorate, though, as it is quite tall and somewhat spindly looking.

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The State Champion White Spruce

The USDA shows this species as having a very northern range, including Wyoming, but not Colorado. The Forest Service shows its range as even more restrictive. North American Trees (Preston and Braham, 2002) appears to agree with the USFS. The map on the Gymnosperm Database  also shows the distribution as very northern, mostly Canada, but goes on to list a number of states where the tree is native, again Wyoming but not Colorado. North American Trees says these trees do not reach maturity until 250-300 years and the Gymnosperm Database says the oldest tree, growing in the Yukon, is over 668 years old.

White spruce lumber has been used for sounding boards in violins and other instruments, for pulp, general construction, and Christmas trees. The National Christmas Tree Association suggests their short needles make them ideal for hanging ornaments.  I examined the branches of the tree I bought for my house this year, and I’m thinking it very well may be a white spruce.

The tree is significant for wild life and its roots were used by Native Americans to weave baskets and bind canoes. A British Columbian website includes making snowshoes and bows in its uses. Resin was turned into a gum to stick arrowheads to arrows. Like most of the other trees reported on thus far, this one, too, has medicinal properties, including antiseptic, respiratory, and wound care. It has also been investigated for its relation to diabetes!

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The needles and cone of the White Spruce

This specimen (A94) can be located by studying the tall conifers at the Northeast corner of City Park and Sheldon Drive. There are ten trees on this corner, but only two of them are conifers. The more northern of the two is the tagged tree, although I suspect the second tree is also a white spruce.

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White Spruce bark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Champion Larch in City Park

The Colorado Tree Coalition publishes a list of state championship trees. It also has a map of a tree tour of notable Ft. Collins trees.http://coloradotrees.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Notable_FtCollins.pdf

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The Championship Larch on Jackson Street, November 2017

Yes, we have a State Champion tree in City Park. The European Larch is an impressive tree and once you know what it looks like, easy to find. This particular tree is hidden in with a bunch of conifers. What distinguishes a larch from other conifers? It’s deciduous and loses it leaves, which the uninitiated would call needles. The big tree isn’t the only example of a larch in the park. There is a recently planted–in the last ten or fifteen years—larch just behind the Kentucky Coffeetree. This second tree is tall and spindly while the champion tree is tall, sturdy, and spooky looking.

The distribution of the European larch, which is an introduced, non-native tree, is, as you may have guessed, the eastern part of the US and Canada. Its range is less than the many other trees reported on so far. North American Trees reports European Larch “is planted and sometimes escapes”! According to the 1932 pamphlet European Larch in the Northeastern United States by Stuart Hunt, larch was introduced into England in 1629 and into the US in the mid 1800s, in both cases for lumber.  If you are a fan of the Great British Bake-off, you might have noticed a larch outside the baking tent. The largest larch in the world may be one in Switzerland which also may be 900 years old! It makes our larch look like an anemic relative by comparison.

Many authors report larch wood is fire resistant and was used in Roman ship and bridge building for that reason. Current uses include utility poles, veneer,  boat building, furniture, and fencing. The pitch can be tapped to be used as a varnish and for waterproofing boats and roofs. The bark has been used medicinally or ground and added to flour.  Another source mentions Siberians collected the leaves, fermented them and used them as a salad in winter.

The larch also has a place in mythology and pagan rituals, as well wand material in Harry Potter. Larches may be planted for cremation ceremonies, used to ward off evil spirits or burned to inhale the smoke and promote visions.

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Looking up through the branches the tree truly does look magical.

To find our champion Larix decidua (E117) park near the corner of Jackson and Oak. The five-way corner at the NE entrance to the park forms a triangle on the S side of the stone entrance with the row of trees being one side. In the center of these conifers is the Larch. It is probably easiest to locate when its leaves are yellowed and before they all fall, making it a good tree to find in the late fall/early winter.  The tree is across from 210 Jackson.