Tuesday, September 11, 2018

My Tree Hedges its Bets

Though our weather continues to be abnormally mild, most deciduous trees show signs of the approaching autumn, with various degrees of color change in their leaves. But the boxelder I’m following seems to be of two minds as to whether to the growing season is ending (1). Should it stop making green chlorophyll, revealing previously hidden red and yellow pigments? Should it quit nourishing its leaves altogether, ensuring senescence, abscission and loss? Or should it just keep on growing?
Plains Cottonwood in my yard. Leaves are a bit sparse this year due to our hot dry summer.
Young cottonwoods along road to Laramie River.
Yesterday evening, after the workday was over and everyone had gone home, I walked to the west side of the warehouse to find out what the boxelder was up to. As you can see in the photo above, changes are underway—a strip of grassland next to the dirt road has been removed. When I discovered this last week, I was worried; I walk this way to the Laramie River almost everyday. Then one morning I chatted with the bulldozer operator and got some good news. The dirt road we’ve used all these years is on private property, but the Wyoming Department of Transportation secured a right-of-way and is making a new public dirt road to the river (2). WYDOT rocks!!

As usual, I caught my first view of the boxelder after rounding the corner of the warehouse. Though it was still mostly green, I could see, even at a distance, that a few branches had changed. Up close, these were beautiful arrangements of green and red leaves glowing in the golden evening light.
Stacks of pallets are new additions since last month.
But as was obvious from a distance, most of the leaves were still summery green. In fact I saw several branchlets with young leaves. Apparently the boxelder is hedging its bets—maybe not too surprising for a pioneering adaptable “weedy” species.

Once again tree-followers are meeting for a monthly virtual gathering, reporting the latest news for the trees we are following this year. If you want to give it a try, come join us! See the blog of our gracious host, The Squirrelbasket, for more information.


(1) UK readers: Several dictionaries informed me that you would find our (USA) phrase "of two minds" strange, preferring "in two minds" ... correct? 

(2) This right-of-way and dirt road are part of the new road/bridge project that I mentioned in several tree-following posts. The project is almost done. Road, bridge and bikepath are fully functional; just a few minor things need finishing.


  1. Firstly - yes I would definitely say I was "in two minds" about something.
    But I'm certainly not in two minds about your box elder's leaves - what beautiful colours and delicate structure.
    The pallets lend a certain something to the scene, but I'm just amazed your little tree has done so well in such an inhospitable spot.
    As you may remember, I am currently working in a council highways department - but your road construction is on a completely different scale over there!
    All the best :)

    1. Pat, our "scale" here is mind-boggling at times, even though I should be used to it. As much as I like our new road and bridge, I'm still appalled that those being replaced (and now almost torn down) are only 50 years old! Road construction is a bit of a pork barrel for our state—Federal funding often drives projects.

  2. Many plants here are probably more desperate than confused. Our summer this year has also been really hot and dry rather than our usual mild and wet summers.

    The arrival of shorter days and dark nights tell the trees that it is time to drop their leaves and prepare for winter. But just then rain finally starts to fall after the long drought.

    1. Sorry to hear about your extreme weather, much worse than ours. Here summer was dry and warm, but not qualifying as drought really. Still, I'm hoping 2019 will be wet!

  3. I have been enjoying your relationship with this pioneering plant.

    1. Thanks, John, nice to hear. Might you become a tree follower one of these days? :)