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!

 

 

The R2D2 Prototype–Weeping Mulberry Trees

The mulberry fruit might be considered a nutritional powerhouse.

P9250007
Great backyard tree for hide and seek.

I ate mulberries for the first time three or four years ago. When I first saw them at the farmers’ market, I thought they were blackberries, which is pretty much what they taste like. I’ve looked every year since, but the person who was selling them hasn’t been back. The truth is, I didn’t even know they grew on trees. When I mentioned I’d love to have a tree, people in the know gave me horrified looks. “They’re messy.”  “They stain everything,” were common refrains.

There are ten species of mulberry tree, with three native to parts of North America.  Although I have memories of purple-black splots on sidewalks under trees, I don’t believe I knew these were from a fruit bearing tree. White Mulberries (Morus alba) were originally brought to this continent from China with the intent to start a silkworm industry. According to the USDA, the white tree has been introduced and grown in all of the lower 48 states except Nevada. The red mulberry (Morus rubra) is native to the eastern half of this continent. In some areas, the white mulberry may be considered invasive. One way to tell the two species apart is by the shiny leaves of the white mulberry.

P9250013
Shiny leave

Not only are mulberries yummy, they could be considered a nutritional powerhouse as they are relatively high in protein, contain high levels of Vitamin C and iron, as well as numerous other potentially beneficial nutrients. Compounds such as anthocyanins, may exhibit cholesterol lowering properties. Rutin, an antioxidant, may help guard against heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Myricetin, too, may play a role fighting some cancers. Other websites attribute even more wondrous properties to the mulberry fruit, such as an aid in weight loss, vision improvement, and bone building. Although this might be a property of a different variety of Morus tree, another source mentions the fruit is a source of resveratrol, that miracle compound of red wine much ballyhooed a few years ago.

The weeping mulberry tree, Morus alba Pendula, is a dwarf variety of the Chinese tree. Some of the gardening sites on the web discuss this tree as a good provider of shade, but except for fighting your way through the branches–which you might have to do to find the identifying tag–the versions in the park wouldn’t seem to provide much shade. Although I had not been paying close attention to the two specimens during the spring when they would have fruited, I have stopped and looked at these trees over the years and have never seen flowers or fruit. I suspect they may both be male specimens of the tree. Next year I will be sure to confirm the absence of the fruit.

To view the two in the park go to C190. If you spent time at the Tulip Tree, keep walking west along the diagonal. The two stubby trees are on the south side of City Park Drive, not far from the intersection with Sheldon Drive. If you are driving to the park, turn N off Mulberry onto Sheldon Drive and at the intersection of the two streets, take a right turn along the diagonal. The trees are West of Field 4 and across from the “permanent” latrine.

As an ornamental tree, the weeping mulberry is visually interesting without its leaves. If you are looking for this tree in late fall or winter, look for a form like an open umbrella with too many twisted spines and no cloth covering.

PA180016
What shapes can you see in the trunk?