Monday, October 15, 2012

I’m following a tree.

Some months ago I claimed to be a Tree Follower, joining a group of like-minded folk organized by Lucy at Loose and Leafy.  So it’s about time I got on with it.

I'm Following a Tree
Are You?

The idea is not to chase after a tree, obviously not necessary, but rather to visit a specific tree occasionally to see what’s going on in its life -- to be an “interested neighbor” as Lucy says.  I asked:  What tree is most interesting to me?  Which one do I most like?

Answer:  this tree.  Should be easy to follow as it grows right next to my house.
I’ve always called it a weeping birch.  It has distinctive pendulous or drooping branchlets  suggestive of a weeping willow.  A little research revealed confusion and disagreement among botanical and horticultural experts as to which of the birches with pendulous branchlets to call what.  Betula pendula seems a good name to me, aptly descriptive.  But then it might be B. pubescens, or perhaps B. verrucosa.  There is the problem that Betula pendula also is called silver birch and European white birch.  And there are quite a few cultivars, as weeping birches are popular for landscaping.  Though I’m a botanist by training ... maybe  because I’m a botanist by training! ... I have no interest in sorting out this mess, “preferring things to names”:

But these young scholars who invade our hills,
Bold as the engineer who fells the wood,
And travelling often in the cut he makes,
Love not the flower they pluck, and know it not,
And all their botany is Latin names.
      -- from Blight, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m introducing my tree mid-autumn -- not exactly its finest moment.  What leaves are left are tattered and dull yellow-green, though they still look pretty in the morning sunshine.
The bark is white, with horizontal linear lenticels (brown lines above).  Weeping birch bark doesn’t peel nearly as much as that of paper birch -- just a tiny bit.
Betula pendula is native to Europe and Asia.  It’s a popular landscaping tree in North America, and has escaped and become naturalized in some areas, especially in the Northeast.  Illustration from Otto Wilhelm Thomé: Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz (1885).

My weeping birch grows at 7000 feet elevation, where it's nice and cool.  But precipitation is only 11 inches per year, far too little for a birch tree.  Here’s the solution -- rainwater and snowmelt run off the corrugated metal roof of the house into a gutter, and then down to the weeping birch.  Usually this is enough to keep it happy and green through summer.

Are you following a tree?  Want to give it a try?  For details, check out Lucy's WHAT IS TREE FOLLOWING?.
Sparky wants to follow this beautiful boxelder in Long Canyon in southern Utah.

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