Monday, May 7, 2018

Boxelder News: some sensationalism this month

Photo by M Nelson.
The standard approach shot—boxelder in shady nook, with no obvious changes.
When I rounded the corner of the warehouse yesterday, on my monthly tree-following visit, I could see no obvious changes in the boxelder. But as I got closer, I saw that its neighbors were coming to life, like dandelions along the ramp to the warehouse door.
And what looked like windblown debris from a distance turned out to be sand dock, Rumex venosus, currently in bud. The red winged fruits are spectacular, but we will have to wait at least a month for those.
Sand dock in bud.
As for the boxelder … buds were opening, but only on one branchlet, one of the first to catch sun in the afternoon. These look like flowers buds with emerging anthers, therefore a male tree.
Male boxelder flowers, photo by Kruczy89; source.

Meanwhile, 177 miles south of Laramie and about a thousand feet lower, a boxelder at Lowe’s is fully leafed out, displaying fresh green foliage with a hint of copper. In summer, the leaves will be rich green, and then turn pale red in autumn—hence the name, Sensation Box Elder. It’s said to be “the best known plant discovery of Warren Carnefix, the Idaho plantsman and nurseryman whose family will mark 100 years in the nursery industry this year.” (J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.)
Sensation Boxelder front center, among arboreal offerings at Lowe’s (M Nelson).
A hint of copper in spring leaves (M Nelson).
Fall foliage (source).
The Colorado Springs Rock Guy was surprised to find a boxelder in a nursery, having lived around boxelders and the notorious boxelder bugs as a kid in Kansas. “I have never, never seen anyone, at least from Kansas, plant a boxelder tree. I have seen many persons cut them down or grub them out.”

But according to J. Frank Schmidt, the “seedless nature of this male clone makes it less attractive to box elder bugs, a pesky but harmless insect [trees show no obvious signs of injury] that feeds on the flowers of female trees and takes refuge in houses in the fall.”

The University of Minnesota Extension says the same: “Starting in mid‑July, they [boxelder bugs] move to female seed-bearing boxelder trees where they lay eggs on trunks, branches, and leaves. They are rarely found on male boxelder trees.” Even female trees get the Extension’s support: “In our opinion, the benefits of having these trees in a landscape outweigh the problem of occasional infestations.”

More than a few people agree. There are even boxelder bug fans, some of whom adopt and name the invaders of their homes. See Thank Goodness for Boxelder Bugs by the Prairie Ecologist, and the numerous comments, almost all positive.

This is my May contribution to the virtual gathering of tree-followers, kindly hosted by The Squirrel Basket. More news here.


  1. Nice that the boxelder is starting to wake up.

  2. Well, that was all absolutely fascinating, as usual!
    And I hate to say it, but that bug is actually very pretty!
    Thanks for telling me lots of things I didn't know :)