Monday, November 8, 2010

Fall Tree Walk

I had a big turnout for the last plant walk of the year on October 23rd. At least 35 people showed up or joined us mid-walk. We took a stroll around downtown Williamsburg and crossed through the William & Mary campus and over to Colonial Williamsburg. Unfortunately, we were about a week early for the best color, but there were a few trees that had begun to turn.
We started at the Williamsburg Library where I was ready with a sticky, gummy horse apple (Maclura pomifera) from a nearby osage orange tree. Some scientists have theorized that these fruits, native to Texas, were eaten by prehistoric mammals like mammoths and giant sloths.

The library also had a couple small native trees, sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) and redbud (Cercis canadensis). The redbud even had a few pink flowers growing out of the trunk, which is typical for the species. For some reason it thought it was spring.
Several people asked me to identify a tree with serrated leaves (shown below). It's a sawtooth oak, and there are lots growing in downtown Williamsburg. I think I gave out the wrong botanical name on the field trip. The correct name is Quercus acutisima. Unfortunately they are not native and kind of aggressive seeders.
After looking around the library, we walked over to the sunken gardens, passing a male osage orange and the curious shrubs below. They all had the same shape, but different colors: orange pine green, and peacock green. Turns out that they all arborvitaes. The brown ones were dead, the pine green were healthy and the peacock green ones were spray painted. It's been a tough year for container gardening.
At the sunken gardens we walked under the dark shade of several beeches (Fagus grandifolia) and a large elm (Ulmus americana) that had yet to turn it's usual brilliant yellow. Here's a picture from last year
Beyond that was an enormous white ash (Fraxinus americana) with a limb that hangs ominously over Jamestown Road. Then we crossed the street to look at the national champion water elm (Planera aquatica) which is right in front of the Campus Center. Although it's not super big, it has a nice trunk with pretty mottled bark. Here's a picture from last winter.
We then wandered through Merchant’s Square and the farmers market where we found a fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), though without the blue fruits (seen below) that you sometimes see in the fall. Not far away was also a hawthorn (Crataegus sp.), which was in fruit.
Heading down Duke of Gloucester street we came across what looked like a sugar maple (Acer Saccharum), but I think I heard that some of the sugar maples in CW were actually black maples (Acer nigrum). Black maples have curved points on the lobes as appeared to have. I'm not 100% sure about that though.
Walking further into CW we came across a yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) and a yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava). Yellowwood is a midwestern native that has gorgeous flowers in the spring. It’s a member of the fabaceae family (bean family)
The yellow buckeye is similar to our red buckeye though it grows further west. You can see a picture of it's bloom here.

Walking past the CW nursery, I put Cynthia Long on the spot to identify a flower growing over a fence. Of course it was no problem for her to identify - swamp sunflower. This large yellow flower is a great late season bloomer.
One way to identify it, other than bloom time, are the narrow leaves.
Along the palace green, we stopped to look at another member of the fabacea family, Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus). Supposedly, its large seed pods were used by pioneers during hard times as a coffee subsititute.
The pods look a bit like dead rats hanging from the tree. Here's one from the Norfolk Botanical Garden.
The leaf is also interesting because it’s doubly compound. Pictured below is a single leaf.
On the other side of the palace green behind the Robert Carter house, we came across a witchhazel in bloom, which was appropriate for the upcoming Halloween.
Next to the witchhazel was a grove of american hazelnuts which were putting out its catkins which will be quite showy later in the winter.
On the way back to the library we took the path between the Palace and the Matthew Whaley school where we spotted some goldenrod, possibly gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).
There was also some Carolina cherrylaurel in fruit (Prunus caroliniana).
Thanks for coming out guys, and I'll see you next spring when the field trips start back up!


Janet said...

Dead rats hanging from the tree? What a colorful description. Enjoyed seeing the trees in their fall color. Wish I could have been on your walk.

How It Grows said...

Thanks! It would have been fun if you could have made it.

Phillip said...

Great tour, wish I could have been there. I planted 4 sawtooth oaks behind the house for quick shade and they have not disappointed. I want a yellowwood tree.

Les said...

Dead rats hanging from trees aren't nearly as frightening as spray painted aborvitae.

Bay Area Tendrils Garden Travel said...

Those giant sloths were savvy creatures! Although I'm drawn to the color of the gummy horse apple, myself. My favorite shade of chartreuse.
Looks like a fun time!
Happy Thanksgiving,
aka Alice's Garden Travel Buzz!

Kate said...

May I use 3 of your photos of the James Rose house on my website, Art & Architecture of NJ? I'll give you a photo credit and link to your blog. Also I tend to use photos 500 pixels at most, to discourage further re-use. You can see my site at:

I look forward to hearing from you!

Kate Ogden
Assoc. Prof.
Stockton College, NJ