Recently in trees Category

TX Mountain Laurel Brings Out the Pollinators


GSmtnlaurela03-17-11.jpgBeautiful mountain laurels in full bloom caught my eye during a recent visit to the Canyon Lake area, and I had to venture over to get a whiff of the grape-scented fragrance emitted by the flowers. Intoxicated by the scent, I paused to look around and realized that I wasn't the only one enjoying the blooms.

GSbeeonmtnlaurela03-17-11.jpgAt first the honeybees caught my eye, especially as my ears sensed them, as well. They really had to push their way in to get at the nectar. If I were a bee, I would have worked hard to get in there, too -- it smelled divine.

GSbeeonmtnlaurelb03-17-11.jpgA hoverfly rested briefly on a seedpod.

GShoverfly03-17-11.jpgIt was difficult to catch a picture of a hoverfly in the air -- they didn't hover much that day. Too busy trying to get energy refuels, I guess. But I'm fond of this motion shot, blurry that it is:


But the showstoppers of the day were the native bees, in this case metallic blue leaf-cutting bees. Dr. Jack Neff, a native bee specialist, tells me that they are likely female Osmia ribifloris, the bluest of our early season Osmia.

GSbluebeea03-17-11.jpg In the photo above, the bee has darker hairs on its upper thorax, while the bee below sports white pollen on her upper thorax and head hairs, with bonus yellow pollen "socks" (or at least "legwarmers")."


But as you can see in the next photo, the real pollen-gathering spot for this bee and other members of the Megachilidae family is on the ventral side of her abdomen, where little hairs hold the pollen she collects. This specialized area for pollen transport is called the scopa.

GSbluebeec03-17-11.jpgAccording to Dr. Neff, these lovely blue leafcutters apparently like to utilize old organ pipe mud dauber nests for their own nests, and they'll chew leaves to make a green paste that they'll then use to plug the nest holes. Clever little natives. 

GSbluebeed03-17-11.jpg Beauties, these little bees. I feel lucky that I got to observe them for a time.

GSbluebeee03-17-11.jpgGetting back to the Mountain Laurel, inside those seed pods are the Mescal beans, as the seeds are often called, and they're bright red and highly toxic. Some people like to take the seeds, rub them on a sidewalk to build up heat from friction, then burn the person next to them. Ouch.

GSmtnlaurelseed03-17-11.jpgThe Texas Mountain Laurel is a slow-growing, small, evergreen Texas native tree. It thrives in our Texas weather and soil and on "not being messed with" -- as in plant it and then leave it alone. Since this method of gardening works for me, I have three now and counting.

Nobody Panic


Breathe a sigh of relief -- my Anacuas survived the killer freezes we had this winter. I want to hug them.


   I know you were as worried as I was! But tiny rough-lined leaves are emerging as I type this.

anacuabuda03-11-11.jpgHurray for my little tactile-pleasing sandpaper delights!

Simply Wonderful


Bandages are off, and I'm venturing out into the garden, hoping to be able to spend a few minutes a day getting the garden back in order while my wrist gets flexible and stronger. I'm happy that to see that my garden is recovering from the rough winter -- even my precious Anacuas are starting to bud again, despite looking brown and pitiful just days ago.

    pomegranatebudsa03-04-11.jpgHere's our Wonderful pomegranate, looking gorgeous with its young multi-colored leaves -- they'll turn full green in due course, and the red will come instead from the gorgeous tropical-looking flowers the tree will produce later this spring. I'm hoping for lots more pomegranates this year -- we planted it bare root last winter and were fortunate enough to have three delicous fruit from the very young tree. This year, the tree is bigger and better established, so I do hope to see lots of gorgeous flowers this year, which might mean lots more fruit!

Dead Tree Goes Boom


I had surgery last week to remove an uncooperative plate from an old broken wrist (technically, old broken arm at the wrist). Let me just say that wrist surgery does not a garden make! Meanwhile, little green seedlings are sprouting their heads out of the ground and looking around, wondering why all this dead brown stuff is still in their garden and not off to become wonderful composted nutrients to feed them later. Alas. Well, the bandage comes off on Wednesday, and hopefully I'll be able to build my wrist strength back in due order to make some progress on the yard.

Meanwhile, my husband was looking through old files and ran across the video of the dead hackberry we cut down in 2008. It had been leaning precariously toward our house, and we decided that we better remove it ourselves before a gust of wind did it for us. The felling of the tree was pure science in nature, literally -- ample calculations and measurements and planning were required, as there was only one ideal direction for the tree to fall, and other options would be nothing short of disastrous for our house, our other trees, my husband's body parts, and potentially our car and so forth.  



Even though the video footage mentions the power lines above, I should point out that the tree was in no actual danger of hitting the wires -- there's much more yard there than it looks from across the street.

Eventually, we removed the stump and roots and added them to our bird brush pile, and in the Hackberry's place grows a Yaupon for the birds. The front of the house now sports a young wildlife-friendly garden as well as a new paint job, so it looks very different now. But it's so much fun to go back and see the tree that sprouted a garden.

FYI, in the video, I'm the driver in the car that was tied to the rope that was tied to the tree that was our DIY insurance that the tree fell on neither the house nor my husband. My husband was the one with the chainsaw. Our friends by the car were there to lift the giant tree off my husband in case he, uh, made a mistake in his calculations. And another friend, very pregnant that she was, was in the neighbor's yard videotaping and watching with our kids. We were all about safety first! 

Pretty in Red


yauponc12-03-10.jpgI want to ask, "Is it just me or are these the reddest Yaupon berries we've ever had?" but I suppose no one reading this post can answer that -- not even my husband, and he lives here. But wow -- don't they just pop with vibrant color?

yauponb12-03-10.jpgI think this tree must have had as much fun as I did with the Cedar Waxwings last February -- it's clearly ready for them to come again.


yaupond12-03-10.jpgWe interrupt this post to show you this adorable Black-Crested Titmouse, seed in beak. These cute little birds don't like to sit still for pictures, so I'm amazed I got one. Oh my gosh, so cute.


I've been eagerly waiting for the little peppers of the Chile Pequins to turn red, and at long last they have. The few green peppers combined with the red is a very holiday-festive combination.

chilepequina12-03-10.jpgOne of these days I'm going to pop one of these little peppers in my mouth to see what happens.

chilepequinb12-03-10.jpgWell, maybe I'll dare my husband to do it instead...

Edit: I told my oldest son that Chile Pequin peppers are 7-8 times hotter than a Jalapeño, and he decided right away that he wants to try one. Guess I won't have to dare my hubbie after all! I plan to have camera and lots of water on hand...

My Favorite Tree, Anacua


I love trees. I love listening to the rustling of the leaves as the wind blows through them. I love the way sunlight gleams through the branches as you look up into the canopy. I love watching birds chirp down at me from above and seeing the amazing grip that squirrels use to dart up a tree trunk. I love the different textures of bark and the way insects climb trunks like they are on a little pedestrian highway. And I love the green, green leaves of trees and the way the veins and shapes make each leaf unique. But of all trees, at least those in Texas, I have a very favorite one. Meet Anacua, or Ehretia anacua.

anacuac10-29-10.jpgAnacua has another name. It's often called Sandpaper Tree, because the leaves of this gorgeous plant are very, very rough. It's actually a very pleasing roughness, if that makes sense -- those who are tactile-oriented will know what I mean. This plant is FUN to touch. You can see the little bumps on the leaves that contribute to the sandpaper-feel.

anacuaa10-29-10.jpgAnacua is native to Mexico and Texas, and its northern range is central Texas. Farther north, the tree freezes back in the winter. But if you ever have a chance to come visit this area, seek out an Anacua -- it is so worth it just to touch the leaves. That's how much I love this plant. In the meantime, go get a bit of medium-grit sandpaper, close your eyes, and give it a rub -- that's pretty close to how these leaves feel.

anacuab10-29-10.jpgMy trees (I have two now) are only about 3-4 feet high, so it will be awhile before I can show them at full size, up to 50 feet tall. But the leaf color is gorgeous. The tree is considered semi-evergreen, replacing its leaves briefly in the spring. During the year it will produce white flowers that are a bee favorite, and later it will produce orange-colored berry-like fruit that birds enjoy. In fact, the berries are the reason the tree has yet another common name, Sugarberry. Right now my trees are at least resting spots for butterflies like this Silver-Spotted Skipper.


Anacuas thrive in limestone soil, by the way. Good thing I have plenty of that! Grow, little trees, grow!

anacuad10-29-10.jpgWhat's your favorite tree? 

Gardening Gone Wild -- green!


It's been a little while since I entered a photo in Gardening Gone Wild's photo contest. Here's my green pick of the month! I love green, every shade. It's been my favorite color for as long as I can remember. Is it the feeling of peace it brings? Its healing qualities? Its symbolism of nature and life? The feeling of rejuvenation, youth, spring?


Yay for green. And happy Earth Day, coming up soon!

The Graceful Eve's Necklace


evesnecklacec04-16-10.jpgEve's Necklace, Styphnolobium affine/Sophora affinis, also known as Texas Sophora. I once underappreciated this small native tree growing wild in my sideyard, because as a young and small sapling dominated by the cedar elms above it, it was hard-pressed to grab my attention.

As the small saplings became bigger, however, I began to notice the black string of pearls -- its seed pods -- for which it earned its name.

evesnecklacea04-16-10.jpg evesnecklaceb04-16-10.jpg

And its light to dark green leaflets I always dubbed as "cute." I'm so technical.


evesnecklacek04-16-10.jpgThis spring, however, the pink wisteria-like blooms finally caught my eye, and I have been spending many a morning gazing up at the somewhat wispy understory trees.

evesnecklacee04-16-10.jpgevesnecklacej04-16-10.jpgWith more available sun, I know, it gets much denser and takes on the more classic tree look. It can also eventually reach 30 ft, but my tallest is about 15 feet, and I suspect it will always stay less than 25 feet tall due to its location under the much larger shade trees.

evesnecklacef04-16-10.jpgEve's Necklace loves alkaline soil, of which I have plenty, and it is quite adaptable as long as the earth is well-drained. It's fairly fast-growing and germinates well on its own. It's native to Central Texas and hardy to Zone 7.

evesnecklaceh04-16-10.jpgThe tree has moderate deer resistance, but the deer in my neighborhood have left the saplings alone. It serves as a pollen and nectar source, and when dense enough it's a good nesting and cover site.


There's an advantage to living in a place for years and not doing anything with it -- one is that sometimes you get to find gems like Eve's Necklace coming up naturally. I think that I'll scatter the seeds about to get some growing in other places around my yard. I won't eat them though (not that I would) -- they're poisonous!  

EDIT: My husband's response to reading this was "Huh." Turns out he had no idea we had Eve's Necklace in our yard (he'd probably never heard of it either). It's a good thing I write this blog, so he can learn about our yard!   

Hey, Bud


Spring is definitely here in Austin, even if the date hasn't officially declared it so. Around town, peach, plum, pear, and dogwood trees are already gorgeously flowering. And buds of other trees and flowers are peeking out to see what's around them, and soon there will be many more blooms and greenery to delight passersby. At home, I'm delighted to see that many of the trees and shrubs we planted in fall and winter made it through the freezes and are beginning to bud.

Goldenball Leadtree:

  buda03-14-10.jpgChinquapin Oak:

budb03-14-10.jpgMexican Redbud:

budc03-14-10.jpgWe even have Salvia blooming. They, along with Gopher Plant and a variety of unknown plants (some might call them weeds), are the first official bloomers of the Great Stems garden.

salvia03-14-10.jpgYou can't really count the hanging basket I planted a few days ago. It came with blooms. It's my first real attempt at a container garden -- I need to go check on the names of two of the plants, but the chartreuse one is sweet potato vine. I'll enjoy watching what happens.

container03-14-10.jpg Hey, cat -- get off the birdbath!

catbirdbatha03-14-10.jpgLacey Oak:

budd03-14-10.jpgA plant I put in the ground on a whim during the fall thrived all through the winter despite freezes and snow. It's growing at a very rapid pace, too, and I need to help it climb up instead of out: coral honeysuckle. I think its new growth is very beautiful.

coralhoneysucklea03-14-10.jpg coralhoneysuckleb03-14-10.jpg coralhoneysucklec03-14-10.jpgCat! Get out of that birdbath, too! Gah!

catbirdbathb03-14-10.jpgIt's a good thing I bought a hanging birdbath on a whim, I guess -- the cat won't be able to use that one! It's a grocery-store purchase, all of $14.95, so cute that I couldn't resist. I added a twig as a perch (not visible in this picture).

birdbath03-14-10.jpgLooking out the study window (with the cat safely back inside), I see two birds at the mosaic birdbath and am happy to report that birds have also discovered the new feeder I put out there. Chickadees, finches, cardinals, and titmice so far... I'm taking pictures -- I'll share them in the next day or two.

In the back I've got an overgrown but wildly successful vegetable garden in one bed and weeds taking over the unused beds. Must get out there and get the new garden planted... In another area, I see a strawberry bloom... and wow, there's a broccoli head forming! My first broccoli!

broccoli03-14-10.jpgRogue pumpkins are showing up where I left an old pumpkin out for too long. Now I'm going to have guilt when I pull them up and not let them take over the garden bed again... Maybe I'll just move them to an open spot in the yard and let them shade out the bermuda...

pumpkinseedlings03-14-10.jpgOff in the wooded area, the wild yaupons are producing fantastic new growth.

yauponbud03-14-10.jpgIt looks like we lost two in-ground citrus trees, but the container lime and lemon trees are suddenly growing like crazy. I better give them some yummy organic fertilizer soon. Maybe I'll see our first fruit this year. The two pomegranates we planted bare root are also starting to bud. Yay! Lime tree:

limetree03-14-10.jpgI planted several Rusty Blackhaw Viburnums this fall. Two came from a local reader who was so wonderful to contact me when she needed to thin out some of the babies below her mother tree. These "babies" were much bigger than most of the ones I purchased!  I'm happy to report that they survived their transplant and are budding right now.

Another Rusty Blackhaw that I purchased took some damage over the winter, and we thought it might not make it. I saw that its main trunk was split, presumably from dog damage. But I was shocked to discover after having left it in its container as is for a couple of months that it was budding. I quickly got it in the ground, and now look at it:



Incomplete list of trees and shrubs we planted this fall and winter, all budding or leafing:

  • Anacua
  • Chinquapin Oak
  • Anacacho Orchid
  • Evergreen Sumac
  • Fragrant Sumac
  • Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum (several)
  • Mexican Plum
  • Carolina Buckthorn
  • Flowering Senna
  • Mexican Silk Tassel
  • Canyon Mock Orange
  • American Beautyberry
  • Wax myrtle
  • Pomegranate (two varieties)

Lost to freeze and/or dogs:

  • Lime tree
  • Possibly Satsuma Mandarin Orange
  • Kidneywood (one of two)
  • Barbados Cherry (one of two)

Jury's still out on:

  • Mexican Anacacho Orchid, transplanted
  • Toothache Tree (very small)

All in all, that's not a bad record, given the amount of damage my dogs did last year! I see that some of our perennials are coming up (among the weeds that went crazy). I'll start assessing those soon.

Hey, bud. It makes my heart happy to see you!


(Mexican Redbud)

Urban Forest Steward Training


My husband and I completed an Urban Forest Steward training program this past weekend here in Austin. Going into the first class three months ago, I have to say I really didn't know what to expect. After all, I'd learned so much already about trees, so I thought. But without a doubt, I'm glad that I took the class with my husband, because we learned a tremendous amount. Most of the class was held indoors, but we occasionally ventured out for hands-on demonstrations on pruning, planting, etc.

urbanforesta02-20-10.jpgHere are several of the many facts and tips we learned:


When planting trees from containers, you really need to look deeper into the soil (pulling the tree out of the container) and look for girdling roots around the stem/trunk and encircling roots around the root mass. There's a method to cutting, but the main thing is that you want to cut girdling and encircling roots and redirect as many roots as you can to radiate out from the center, before you backfill with dirt. Don't be afraid to move aside some dirt to seek out those roots wrapping around the stem and main roots.

girdlingrootsa02-20-10.jpg   encircling02-20-10.jpgDon't amend the soil. This goes against what many old-school methods teach, but when you amend the soil in the planting hole, you discourage roots from venturing into the existing soil, and your roots will start to girdle and strangle each other, trying to stay in the "better soil."

Dig a hole twice as wide and no deeper than the height of the root flare -- it's better to plant high than low -- that root flare of the tree needs to stay visible. Sides of the bowl should be sloping and not smooth like ceramic (typically found when digging in clay soil).

Plant wisely -- learn the height and requirements of a tree before you plant it. Planting large trees under electrical wires or trees in other poor locations only leads to heartache later, not to mention time and money wasted. 


Every cut is a wound. Only prune when absolutely necessary. Always cut outside the branch collar, not flush against the tree.

There are methods to helping a wound heal better -- not necessarily "sealing" it -- so research this before you harm your tree. One method includes cleaning up the jagged edges of a wound with a sharp knife.

Prune from the outside, NOT from the inside of the canopy -- these inner branches are most critical to the tree's health. In other words, raising the canopy of a tree might be nice for humans, but it is an ill-fated practice in regard to the tree itself. And don't top the tree.

It's best do any pruning and shaping in the first year, and then leave the tree alone as best you can. Prune off suckers and secondary leaders as appropriate for the long-term shape and stability of the tree.

Mulch should extend as wide as the branches of the tree extend -- the root system often extends as far as twice as wide as the canopy of the tree, depending on the species. 

Grass and trees don't mix. One affects the health of the other. Grass affects whether the roots of the tree can obtain oxygen and water, and it's the smaller roots farther away from the tree that do this work.

Oak Wilt

Oak wilt spreads via root systems in red oaks and live oaks, but it spreads by fungal spores as well for red oaks. This is why you find major live oak/oak wilt centers with infected trees surrounding them, but it's the red oak that can create the situations to spread out and create new oak wilt centers.

Looking at Trees in the Urban Environment

As a result of this class, our eyes have been opened to the great harm an urban environment causes trees. The way developers place asphalt, sidewalks, curbs, and raised beds shockingly cuts off the root systems of many urban trees, leading to the premature demise of these trees. Damage from lawnmowers and construction vehicles also severely wound trees. And then there's mulch. All around town right now, I'm seeing huge mounds of mulch at the base of trees, smothering the root flare and going several inches up the trunk, and this will lead to weakness and potential rotting of the tree base. Think about the costs involved in dealing with weakening trees, dying trees, and the replacement of once-old and massive trees. Urban development with thought and care might have let those beautiful trees remain healthy and standing for decades to hundreds of years to come.


Graduation and Leaf for a Leaf

urbanforestb02-20-10.jpgAfter the last class, in conjunction with the Leaf for a Leaf program at the city libraries, we helped plant trees at the Carver Library in Austin. With the planting of about 30 of a variety of trees, we helped turn what was once an open, high maintenance grass lawn into what will one day become a shade-offering "Growth Potential Grove," as the program calls it. Our son got involved and helped.

leafforaleaf02-20-10.jpgWe really are grateful for the knowledge we gained during this class, which was taught by several different foresters and arborists from Austin Parks and Rec, UT, Austin Urban forestry Board, Texas Forest Service, and other groups. It sure opened our eyes to look at trees in the city, forest, and home environments in a whole new way. And this weekend, we planted five more trees in our own yard. Mmmmm, oxygen.

Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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