Now that most of the trees have dropped their leaves, the scenery appears brown and boring UNLESS you know what to look for. I’m talking about tree bark. Learning to identify trees by their bark can be a fun winter challenge.
For starters, I’d like to share one of my favorites: the hackberry, Celtis occidentalis. Hackberry may not be in the top ten trees you think of, but maybe it should be.
Take a look at the interesting texture of this bark. If you use your imagination, it’s like a miniature Grand Canyon on its side, with layers of material exposed on the edges of steep plateaus.
I find the texture on this north-facing side of the trunk to look like bicycle chains. What do you see?
Hackberry trees are related to elms and they grow all over North America. We have a few of them on the east side of Parking Lot 4. Scroll back up—do you recognize the large picture above? This was taken in McDonald Woods, along the trail near Parking Lot 4. The large tree to the left of the bridge is a hackberry.
One reason for the popularity of this tree is that the fruits—hackberries—feed birds, squirrels, and other woodland creatures. In the summer, caterpillars of mourning cloak, question mark, and hackberry emperor butterflies feed on the leaves. If you came to see Butterflies & Blooms in late summer, you may have seen the many mourning cloaks fluttering around the Learning Campus thanks to our hackberry trees.
Open your eyes to tree bark this winter. You’ll find a range of interesting patterns and textures and maybe even learn something new about the trees around you.
Orchids are reaching their peak in The Greenhouses. The dragon mouth orchid is native from Guatemala to Panama, where the subspecies rosea is found. This dragon mouth orchid (Encyclia cordigera var. rosea) is in the Tropical Greenhouse, lower level, east epiphyte tree. The flower spikes can produce flowers for up to three months, and each of the flowers smells like chocolate. This species requires very bright light whether grown in greenhouses, on a windowsill, or under artificial lights. During the summer growing season it prefers a moist, humid growing environment, but in the winter the watering should be reduced and diurnal — the difference between night and day low temperatures — with temperature fluctuations of 10 degrees to initiate flower production. Learn more about what’s in bloom here. http://www.chicagobotanic.org/inbloom/highlight_archive/highlight_022812.php
Joan O’Shaughnessy, ecologist at the Chicago Botanic Garden, shows us how to identify garlic mustard and explains the importance of removing it and other invasive plants to protect our native habitats. You can learn about this and so much more at World Environment Day at the Chicago Botanic Garden on June 5, 2010. Visit chicagobotanic.org/wed for more information.
Conservation scientist Jeremie Fant tells us about his attempt to restore Pitcher’s thistle to its native habitat. He and his team are studying the plant and its DNA to learn more about rare plant restoration and how to make it more successful.
Here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Dr. Jim Ault has developed and introduced many plants, including a series of coneflowers: Orange, Mango, and Pixie Meadowbrite. Jim works with plants that are native to the Midwest and are adapted to this environment, creating new plants that can enhance a primarily native garden. We talked with him about some of the coneflowers he is looking to introduce in the next few years, and how he goes about the breeding process.