Saturday, December 10, 2016

In Search of a Tree

For almost a year I’ve followed a serviceberry tree 30 miles south of town, out in the Laramie Basin. What a surprise to find a serviceberry in a land of grass, sagebrush and greasewood flats! It was on the north side of a small ridge of tilted sandstone, in a tiny “forest” with aspen and cottonwoods, enjoying shade and tapping into water that accumulates in fractured bedrock. Yes, geology is destiny.

But too often I found it inconvenient to visit the serviceberry; I guess it exceeded my distance limit for convenience. So yesterday I set out in search of next year's tree in town, on the University of Wyoming campus. There were plenty of candidates.

My favorite was a palm. Yes, a palm tree in Laramie! It’s a plants-and-rocks kind of tree, specifically a plant in rock. But there’s no point in following this palm tree—it never changes. Or rather it hasn’t changed in the last 52 million years.
One of the many palm trees that grew on the shores of Fossil Lake 52 million years ago.
Fossil Lake was small compared to others, but the record it preserved is astounding!
The palm frond is in the Geology Museum. Actually it’s in the hallway, due to space constraints, along with other amazing fossils from the Green River Formation. The fish are most famous, but plants are well-preserved too, in beautiful detail.
Above and below, beautifully preserved veins (click on images to view).

Outside the museum, I wandered among the conifers that dominate university landscaping. They aren’t exactly exciting. Being evergreen, they don’t change much through the year. But one stood out—an unusual Colorado blue spruce next to the geology museum. It supplies cones to the resident Tyrannosaurus rex.
The amazing vegetarian T rex.
But amazing enough for a full year? Maybe not.

Next stop was the Williams Conservatory, where I entered a warm humid green world.
Most impressive was the Cook pine, which is about to burst through the roof. I liked the patterns made by the leaves. Cook Pine (Araucaria columnaris) is not to be confused with Norfolk Island Pine.

Another candidate was a fig tree, only about six feet tall. I love fig trees! The leaves have beautiful forms with contrasting shades of green, and fresh figs are really tasty. But since there were only a few figs, a taste test probably would be discouraged.

A stand of bamboo caught my eye. Bamboo is woody, and I’m fascinated by the idea of grass as tree. But it never blooms (I asked).

Two trees had the characteristic compound leaves of the legume family, with many leaflets neatly arranged. They made wonderful patterns against the roof of the atrium.
Above and below: rain tree or monkey pod … intriguing names!
The other legume was lead tree (Leucaena leucophylla) in the subfamily Mimosoideae. I’ve never shared habitat with the Mimosoideae, and would like to know more about it.
The lead tree was especially appealing because of the colors and patterns of leaves against the sky. But I saw no sign of flowers or fruit … so would it do anything? I asked the Conservatory Manager: No, it had never bloomed. But it was recently moved from more cramped quarters and seemed to be thriving in its new large sunny space, so maybe …
Lead tree’s simple but beautiful bark.

I explained my mission ("tree-following, an online thing") and waited for a reaction … “Cool!” So I asked which tree she would follow: “strawberry guava” (no hesitation). It blooms several times a year, and produces edible fruit which I would be welcome to harvest for photography and tasting. In fact, it was blooming yesterday …
 … and there were fruit, too. They looked brown and dry, hardly tasty. But I was assured there would be plump yummy red ones later on.
Then I saw one!
Holiday fun!
Strawberry guava (Psidium cattleyanum) is in the Myrtle family, and native to Brazil. It’s invasive elsewhere; in fact it's one of the 100 top invasive plant species. But the fruit are tasty and maybe I'll try strawberry guava leaf tea, also recommended.

So will I follow a strawberry guava in 2017? I'm not sure. That lead tree, with its photogenic leaves, is hard to resist …

December's gathering of tree-followers is underway, kindly hosted by The Squirrel Basket. Come join us!


  1. Nice! I have those same issues with picking a tree. I find it hard to find one to follow throughout the year because of ... well, winter ... and then, convenience of getting to it. I think I have one in mind for next year, but my coverage will be spotty until springtime. I like your choices!

    1. Good to hear you have a chosen tree, Beth. I'm still looking around. There are some deciduous trees on campus--maybe I'll see how I do with winter tree id (and then find out I'm not following what I thought I was!)

  2. Ahh. Reading this I really miss the botanical garden with an excellent tropical green house in my old home town Uppsala.

    No such thing up north where I live now :(

  3. Brilliant post! And I'm delighted that you intend to carry on tree following with us next year!
    Merry Christmas (as we say) - or Happy Holiday (as you say)...

    1. Merry Christmas to you, Squirrelbasket! And thanks for hosting this year ... and next.

  4. This is a very good idea, to think in advance and select a 'candidate'. I like them all, especially the 'tree-in-the rock':)that's one that fits you perfectly! Maybe you can 'dig up' more info about it.
    Fossil trees are rarely written about, it would be interesting.