Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tree-following: Mid-summer Miscellany

Let me (re)introduce you to my tree -- a lanceleaf cottonwood, Populus x acuminata.
If this is your first encounter with tree-following, first let me explain.  There’s a group of dedicated tree enthusiasts around the world (mostly in the UK) who watch and report each month on their chosen trees.  Our adventures are encouraged by Lucy Corrander of Loose and Leafy, who kindly provides a monthly tree-following page as a clearing house.  My tree is a lanceleaf cottonwood that grows on the bank of the Laramie River in southeast Wyoming, USA.  It's been fun and fascinating to watch it bloom, leaf out, and most recently, cast its seeds to the wind.  Earlier reports can be found here.

Now it’s mid-summer and my tree seems to be stuck in a holding pattern, unchanged. Perhaps the leaves have faded some, but if so, it's very subtle.  I can't be sure.

I had hoped to find seedlings and write about reproduction -- that would be the logical next episode.  I looked in a lot of places, but if there were any cottonwood seedlings out there, I didn’t recognize them.  I'll keep looking and get back to you next month.

Though there’s no obvious tree news, and no seedlings to report, it’s still a wonderful time to visit the Laramie River.  Yesterday I started out searching for cottonwood seedlings but was soon distracted by other things.

There were boys fishing -- of course!

There was the giant beaver lodge -- accessible now that the river’s not flooded.
This lodge is at least six years old, maybe even ten.  I’ve lost track.
In spring, when the river was high, we watched a beaver pull up young willows and add them to this side of the lodge.  Now the entrance is on dry ground (left side of lodge).
But the entrance on the river side is still swimmable (center of photo).

There were many wildflowers blooming.  Here's a few:
Showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa.
This is one of the species of milkweed with elaborate flowers consisting of hoods and horns as well as petals.  Flowers are about 2 cm across.
White prairie aster, Symphyotrichum falcatum.
Delicate mats of thymeleaf spurge (Euphorbia serpyllifolia) are overlooked by most walkers.  The tiny white flowers are only about a millimeter across.  If you click on the image, you might spot tiny green lobed fruit as well.
A patch of gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa) glowing in the sunshine.  It’s generally looked down upon for its pungent odor and weediness, but I find the flower heads bright and cheery.
The gumweed patch was abuzz with insects.  I tried to photograph them, but they darted about so quickly that I captured only a few in focus.  This one has impressive pollen packs on its legs.
Canada thistle, Cirsium arvense, is another unpopular plant.  In fact, it’s designated noxious.  But there’s beauty here too -- in the whirly-bird seed hairs that are about to fly off with their payload.

There were many signs along the path.  Some were problematic.
One of several interpretive signs in a rest shelter.  Note the problem?
This is the wrong cottonwood.
I don't think plains cottonwoods (Populus deltoides) grow along this part of the Laramie River.  If there are any, they must be rare; all the trees I’ve seen are lanceleaf cottonwoods.  The habitat seems wrong too -- plains cottonwoods are trees of lower elevations and we’re at 7000 feet above sea level here.  However, they are common in town (planted).

On the way home, I checked the benches along the river.  Those signs are quite right.
Left to right:  my cottonwood, Laramie River, Rich's bench in shade, Kayla’s bench in sun.
I knew neither Rich nor Kayla but I have good feelings about them both, having read the signs by their benches many times.
Here’s another favorite:
I agree.
Nelson's spirit resides here, in the shade of lanceleaf cottonwoods.


  1. A lovely post about your tree and the wild flowers that grow in the vicinity. I love reading about wildflowers in other parts of the world.
    The beaver lodge is amazing.

  2. I'd thought August would be an easy month - leaves growing older, fruits becoming more significant. Yet most people seem to be finding little change. That in itself is interesting but it's also encouraged several Tree Followers to go into their tree's habitat in a little more detail - a filling out of context.

  3. Hollis I enjoyed your expanded post...we have an Eastern Cottonwood behind us in the wild area, but I have rarely seen young trees even with all the seed fluff. Love the beaver lodge...very cool indeed.

    1. Thanks, Donna. Interesting about the young cottonwoods -- it sounds like the the necessary conditions for germination are rare. But obviously every once in awhile one of the millions is successful.