A park walk with some tree ID
Many of you know that I work directly with a tree grower, and many of the trees grown are specialty and unique trees at the farm nursery. Many others are trees that parks and commercial jobs purchase, but they all start out around 20 feet or so in the landscape, not much more than 2.5 inch caliper. But those at parks have been there for a very long time if they were not newly planted.
The images you are seeing are of the American Sycamore tree. It is huge at almost 100 feet tall and a beautiful landscape tree that is found in many parks throughout the country.
What makes this tree a stunning winter tree is it possesses all the qualities of a winter interest tree. The bark is mottled and older trunks exfoliate in scales or plates leaving a smooth, whitish inner bark. The trunk grows to a larger diameter than almost any other native tree. The record, I believe, was 15 feet O.D., but more commonly the largest is to almost 13 feet. You can see above, by the scale of the 8 foot bench, that the one Sycamore is around 11 feet across.
Size alone makes this a tree for very large properties. I never specified one to plant, and never would have seen it grow to such great girth. The large estates that I landscape design do have old, large established trees, such as beech, maple and willow. You may have seen these trees in previous posts, but no Sycamores. If you want to plant one, it needs a lot of room to grow, but it will be a beautiful tree for generations to come.
Spreading limbs at the top make an irregular, open head for a wonderful winter silhouette. The tree throws beautiful shadows which on a paved or walled surface, add visual interest. The crooked branches give it such an interesting form and structure.
Sycamore trees have light green colored, maple-shaped leaves that turn golden in the fall providing contrasting fall color. It is a member of one of the oldest clan of trees (Platanaceae), and paleobotanists have dated the family to be over 100 million years old. Living sycamore trees can reach ages of five hundred to six hundred years.
The cinnamon colored bark of the River Birch darkens with age. The tree lives about 80 years and is fast growing. The tree can be a clump variety or a single specimen, and looks wonderful planted in groves or as a property screen in rows. They are a very elegant tree, and in summer, have an open, airy feel. Both the Sycamore and Birch do like moist conditions.
Larch or Tamarack tree, comes from the genus of trees of pine and are unusual among the conifers. Tamaracks are deciduous, their soft, needle-like leaves, borne in dense clusters, drop in the fall, and new leaves will appear the following spring. But this is not what makes it an interesting winter tree. The form makes it a unique specimen and it carries its little cones through the winter. It is a tree with a lot of texture in both the dense canopy and in the bark. The needles go golden in Fall making it a tree to take notice of throughout the seasons.
This is an old, gnarly, ice damaged tree. You can see how the really low branches were removed at a very mature age of the tree.
See my post Acorns to Oaks to see why the oaks keep their leaves through the winter. The oak is a classic form of tree and very commanding in the landscape. It has much interest, especially to squirrels. But keeping those leaves when other trees are bare, is a nice quality for the younger oaks. Older trees retain leaves usually on lower branches or sparsely throughout the upper canopy.
Another large tree is the pine. As a conifer, it makes a nice backdrop for the deciduous trees and shrubs. It has very interesting bark too.
Let’s take a look at some other large trees and their bark
Clockwise from left:
- Silver Maple
- Norway Maple
- Little Leaf Linden
These trees have been used for many years in parks and cities, but due to the larger size, have been used less and less. The cities have gotten much smarter about trees that get planted. Trees that require less water are a much better choice. Many hungry and thirsty maples are being replaced with small, more drought tolerant trees.
Not all trees in the park are huge. The crab apple family has many varieties that are small for home landscapes. They are trees that often have beautiful form and carry berries right through the winter. Another colorful tree is the Sumac. The red branching is a wonderful contrast to the whites of winter.
A walk through an established park has trees that have been growing, some for a century or more. You get to see mature trees in a place where they can grow naturally. Sure, the Parks Department maintains them and will keep them shaped nicely, but that is something you should have done to your trees as well.
I do not highlight individual plants very often, mainly because, as you can see in this post, some plants have very specific cultural need, and are not suitable worldwide. But to discuss them from a design perspective and in generalized terms, it makes the post more useful to a larger audience. I can go through the nursery, tree variety by tree variety, but many of these species are better adapted to our area, not necessarily in the deep south or on the opposite side of the world.
Here we looked at the naked trees found throughout the park system in a northern climate. They add to a snowy landscape with mass and form, texture and color, and all the other design criteria to make a garden or landscape complete. They provide food and shelter for wildlife, our trees clean the air and provide oxygen for us. So much can be learned from trees in winter. To see more of what they do for us and what we can do for them, see my post, Trees in Winter Glory. It really is a celebration of trees.
Next post, we take a walk along the river. From this we can see how trees live in these conditions, but more importantly, see how trees complete the scene visually.
This post is added to A Tidewater Gardener’s Winter Walk post. Take a tour with Les.