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Go outside and meet a tree

2009 February 5

By Ken Moore

The best time to get a really good look at trees is now, while they are bare. The heavy, green leafy cover of the warmer months often obscures their real beauty.
Take a fresh eye with you on your next walk, whether in downtown Carrboro or along your favorite forest path.

Noticeable now along Weaver Street and right behind Weaver Street Market are northern catalpa, Catalpa speciosa, and southern catalpa, C. bignonioides, with those curious hanging clusters of long seed pods. Monkey cigar tree is my favorite common name for this tree, which sports big heart-shaped leaves in the summer.

Carrboro’s urban landscape provides opportunities to observe the natural shapes of mature trees, such as the broad canopies of that big willow oak, Quercus phellos, and the old post oaks, Quercus stellata, on the open grounds of Weaver Street Market.

However, walking in the forests, free of urban distractions, it is easier to become more acutely aware of the character of trees, like the contrasting color and texture patterns of tree bark. Seeing a big loblolly pine, Pinus taeda, growing near a big American beech, Fagus grandifolia, is reason for a leisurely pause to take in the beauty of such dramatically different specimens.

Further along your forest pathway, you may see, in the far distance, the smooth snow-white beauty of the upper trunk and limbs of a sycamore, Platanus occidentalis. No other native tree stands out quite like this one in the winter landscape.

Two other trees easily identified by bark textures are the white oak, Quercus alba, and shagbark hickory, Carya ovata. Both have exfoliating, peeling, bark. The oak, from mid-trunk up into the upper limbs, exhibits grayish-white bark plates peeling off from the sides. In contrast, the bark of the shagbark hickory curls from tops and bottoms of long narrow strips held firmly in the middle, as if glued to the trunk of the tree.

Now, here’s your challenge! Forget all these common and scientific names. Proceed on your walk without any concern for identification. Find a tree that really appeals to you. Take a long time observing it. If you have to name it, call it Fred or Jane or simply Big One.

What really matters is for you to become acquainted with the tree. Adopt it as a friend. Visit it often through the seasons. Get to really know it. How does it change through the year? You may be surprised. What are the flowers like? Did you realize that all trees have flowers? What forest critters live with it or depend on it? Does it have a personality? You may even want to keep a journal on your frequent visits with your tree.

If you have difficulty with this approach, take along a youngster. The wonder and curiosity of that child may succeed in releasing your own inner childlike joy and wondering. Once you have begun to really know one tree, you may decide to adopt others.

So, go out this week and meet a tree. Just do it!!

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