Getting Acquainted with the Trees
J. HORACE McFARLAND
Illustrated from Photographs by the Author
NEW YORK THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 1914
By The Outlook Company
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Published April, 1904
Reprinted April, 1904
New edition September, 1906
Reprinted August, 1913 March, 1914.
These sketches are, I fear, very unscientific and unsystematic. They record the growth of my own interest and information, as I have recently observed and enjoyed the trees among which I had walked unseeing far too many years. To pass on, as well as I can, some of the benefit that has come into my own life from this wakened interest in the trees provided by the Creator for the resting of tired brains and the healing of ruffled spirits, as well as for utility, is the reason for gathering together and somewhat extending the papers that have brought me, as they have appeared in the pages of "The Outlook," so many letters of fellowship and appreciation from others who have often seen more clearly and deeply into the woods than I may hope to.
Driven out from my desk by weariness sometimes—and as often, I confess, by a rasped temper I would fain hide from display—I have never failed to find rest, and peace, and much to see and to love, among the common and familiar trees, to which I hope these mere hints of some of their features not always seen may send others who also need their silent and beneficent message.
J. H. McF.
March 17, 1904
A STORY OF SOME MAPLES 1
THE GROWTH OF THE OAK 25
WILLOWS AND POPLARS 95
THE ELM AND THE TULIP 131
NUT-BEARING TREES 157
SOME OTHER TREES 185
BOTANICAL NAMES 239
List of Illustrations PAGE
Silver maple flowers 4
Young leaves of the red maple 7
"The Norway maple breaks into a wonderful bloom" 9
Samaras of the sugar maple 11
A mature sycamore maple 13
Sycamore maple blossoms 15
Flowers of the ash-leaved maple 17
Ash-leaved maples in bloom 19
Striped maple 21
The swamp white oak in winter 29
Flowers of the pin-oak 31
The swamp white oak in early spring 36
An old post-oak 39
A blooming twig of the swamp white oak 41
Acorns of the English oak 47
A lone pine on the Indian river 53
Hemlock Hill, Arnold Arboretum 56
The long-leaved pines of the South 61
Fountain-like effect of the young long-leaved pines 62
An avenue of white pines 67
Cones of the white spruce 71
An apple orchard in winter 78
When the apple trees blossom 81
The Spectabilis crab in bloom 84
Fruits of the wild crab 87
The beauty of a fruiting apple branch 91
Bloom of double-flowering apple 94
A weeping willow in early spring 100
The weeping willow in a storm 103
A pussy-willow in a park 106
Blooms of the white willow 108, 109
A white willow in a characteristic position 112
Clump of young white willows 116
White poplars in spring-time 119
Carolina poplar as a street tree 123
Winter aspect of the cottonwood 126
Lombardy poplar 129
A mature American elm 136
The delicate tracery of the American elm in winter 139
The English elm in winter 143
Winter effect of tulip trees 148
A great liriodendron in bloom 150
Flowers of the liriodendron 153
The wide-spreading black walnut 162
The American sweet chestnut in winter 165
Sweet chestnut blooms 167
The chinquapin 170
A shagbark hickory in bloom 173
The true nut-eater 178
The American beech in winter 180
The witch-hazel 181
Sweet birch in spring 191
Yellow birches 192
Flowers of the spice-bush 194
Leaves and berries of the American holly 195
American holly tree at Trenton 196
Floral bracts or involucres of the dogwood 199
The red-bud in bloom 201
Blooms of the shad-bush 206
Flowers of the American linden 207
The American linden 209
Flowers of the black locust 211
Young trees of the black locust 212
The sycamore, or button-ball 215
Button-balls—fruit of the sycamore 217
The liquidambar 220
The leaves and fruit of the liquidambar 222
The papaw in bloom 226
Flowers of the papaw 227
The persimmon tree in fruiting time 231
Berries of the spice-bush 234
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A Story of Some Maples
This is not a botanical disquisition; it is not a complete account of all the members of the important tree family of maples. I am not a botanist, nor a true scientific observer, but only a plain tree-lover, and I have been watching some trees bloom and bud and grow and fruit for a few years, using a camera now and then to record what I see—and much more than I see, usually!
In the sweet springtime, when the rising of the sap incites some to poetry, some to making maple sugar, and some to watching for the first flowers, it is well to look at a few tree-blooms, and to consider the possibilities and the pleasures of a peaceful hunt that can be made with profit in city street or park, as well as along country roadsides and in the meadows and the woods.
Who does not know of the maples that are all around us? Yet who has seen the commonest of them bloom in very early spring, or watched the course of the peculiar winged seed-pods or "keys" that follow the flowers? The white or "silver" maple of streets or roadsides, the soft maple of the woods, is one of the most familiar of American trees. Its rapid and vigorous growth endears it to the man who is in a hurry for shade, and its sturdy limbs are the joy of the tree-butcher who "trims" them short in later years.
Watch this maple in very early spring—even before spring is any more than a calendar probability—and a singular bloom will be found along the slender twigs. Like little loose-haired brushes these flowers are, coming often bravely in sleet and snow, and seemingly able to "set" and fertilize regardless of the weather. They hurry through the bloom-time, as they must do to carry out the life-round, for the graceful two-winged seeds that follow them are picked up and whirled about by April winds, and, if they lodge in the warming earth, are fully able to grow into fine little trees the same season. Examine these seed-pods, keys, or samaras (this last is a scientific name with such euphony to it that it might well become common!), and notice the delicate veining in the translucent wings. See the graceful lines of the whole thing, and realize what an abundant provision Dame Nature makes for reproduction,—for a moderate-sized tree completes many thousands of these finely formed, greenish yellow, winged samaras, and casts them loose for the wind to distribute during enough days to secure the best chances of the season.
This same silver maple is a bone of contention among tree-men, at times. Some will tell you it is "coarse"; and so it is when planted in an improper place upon a narrow street, allowed to flourish unrestrained for years, and then ruthlessly cropped off to a headless trunk! But set it on a broad lawn, or upon a roadside with generous room, and its noble stature and grace need yield nothing to the most artistic elm of New England. And in the deep woods it sometimes reaches a majesty and a dignity that compel admiration. The great maple at Eagles Mere is the king of the bit of primeval forest yet remaining to that mountain rest spot. It towers high over mature hemlocks and beeches, and seems well able to defy future centuries.
But there is another very early maple to watch for, and it is one widely distributed in the Eastern States. The red or scarlet maple is well named, for its flowers, not any more conspicuous in form than those of its close relation, the silver maple, are usually bright red or yellow, and they give a joyous color note in the very beginning of spring's overture. Not long are these flowers with us; they fade, only to be quickly succeeded by even more brilliant samaras, a little more delicate and refined than those of the silver maple, as well as of the richest and warmest hue. Particularly in New England does this maple provide a notable spring color showing.
The leaves of the red maple—it is also the swamp maple of some localities—as they open to the coaxing of April sun and April showers, have a special charm. They are properly red, but mingled with the characteristic color is a whole palette of tints of soft yellow, bronze and apricot. As the little baby leaflets open, they are shiny and crinkly, and altogether attractive. One thinks of the more aristocratic and dwarfed Japanese maples, in looking at the opening of these red-brown beauties, and it is no pleasure to see them smooth out into sedate greenness. Again, in fall, a glory of color comes to the leaves of the red maple; for they illumine the countryside with their scarlet hue, and, as they drop, form a brilliant thread in the most beautiful of all carpets—that of the autumn leaves. I think no walk in the really happy days of the fall maturity of growing things is quite so pleasant as that which leads one to shuffle through this deep forest floor covering of oriental richness of hue.
As the ground warms and the sun searches into the hearts of the buds, the Norway maple, familiar street tree of Eastern cities, breaks into a wonderful bloom. Very deceptive it is, and taken for the opening foliage by the casual observer; yet there is, when these flowers first open, no hint of leaf on the tree, save that of the swelling bud. All that soft haze of greenish yellow is bloom, and bloom of the utmost beauty. The charm lies not in boldness of color or of contrast, but at the other extreme—in the delicacy of differing tints, in the variety of subtle shades and tones. There are charms of form and of fragrance, too, in this Norway maple—the flowers are many-rayed stars, and they emit a faint, spicy odor, noticeable only when several trees are together in bloom. And these flowers last long, comparatively; so long that the greenish yellow of the young leaves begins to combine with them before they fall. The tints of flower and of leaf melt insensibly into each other, so that, as I have remarked before, the casual observer says, "The leaves are out on the Norway maples,"—not knowing of the great mass of delightful flowers that have preceded the leaves above his unseeing eyes. I emphasize this, for I hope some of my readers may be on the outlook for a new pleasure in early spring—the blooming of this maple, with flowers so thoroughly distinct and so entirely beautiful.
The samaras to follow on this Norway maple are smaller than those of the other two maples mentioned, and they hang together at a different angle, somewhat more graceful. I have often wondered how the designers, who work to death the pansies, the roses and the violets, have managed to miss a form or "motive" of such value, suggesting at once the near-by street and far-away Egypt.
A purely American species, and one of as much economic importance as any leaf-dropping tree, is the sugar maple, known also as rock maple—one designation because we can get sweetness from its sap, the other because of the hardness of its wood. The sugar maples of New England, to me, are more individual and almost more essentially beautiful than the famed elms. No saccharine life-blood is drawn from the elm; therefore its elegance is considered. I notice that we seldom think much of beauty when it attaches to something we can eat! Who realizes that the common corn, the American maize, is a stately and elegant plant, far more beautiful than many a pampered pet of the greenhouse? But this is not a corn story—I shall hope to be heard on the neglected beauty of many common things, some day—and we can for the time overlook the syrup of the sugar maple for its delicate blossoms, coming long after the red and the silver are done with their flowers. These sugar-maple blooms hang on slender stems; they come with the first leaves, and are very different in appearance from the flowers of other maples. The observer will have no trouble in recognizing them after the first successful attempt, even though he may be baffled in comparing the maple leaves by the apparent similarity of the foliage of the Norway, the sugar and the sycamore maples at certain stages of growth.
After all, it is the autumn time that brings this maple most strongly before us, for it flaunts its banners of scarlet and yellow in the woods, along the roads, with an insouciant swing of its own. The sugar possibility is forgotten, and it is a pure autumn pleasure to appreciate the richness of color, to be soon followed by the more sober cognizance of the elegance of outline and form disclosed when all the delicate tracery of twig and bough stands revealed against winter's frosty sky. The sugar maple has a curious habit of ripening or reddening some of its branches very early, as if it was hanging out a warning signal to the squirrels and the chipmunks to hurry along with their storing of nuts against the winter's need. I remember being puzzled one August morning as I drove along one of Delaware's flat, flat roads, to know what could possibly have produced the brilliant, blazing scarlet banner that hung across a distant wood as if a dozen red flags were being there displayed. Closer approach disclosed one rakish branch on a sugar maple, all afire with color, while every other leaf on the tree yet held the green of summer.
Again in the mountains, one late summer, half a lusty sugar maple set up a conflagration which, I was informed, presaged its early death. But the next summer it grew as freely as ever, and retained its sober green until the cool days and nights; just as if the ebullition of the season previous was but a breaking out of extra color life, rather than a suggestion of weakness or death.
The Norway maple is botanically Acer platanoides, really meaning plane-like maple, from the similarity of its leaves to those of the European plane. The sycamore maple is Acer Pseudo-platanus, which, being translated, means that old Linnaeus thought it a sort of false plane-like maple. Both are European species, but both are far more familiar, as street and lawn trees, to us dwellers in cities than are many of our purely American species. There is a little difference in the bark of the two, and the leaves of the sycamore, while almost identical in form, are darker and thicker than those of the Norway, and they are whitish underneath, instead of light green. The habit of the two is twin-like; they can scarcely be distinguished when the leaves are off. But the flowers are totally different, and one would hardly believe them to be akin, judging only by appearances. The young leaves of the sycamore maple are lush and vigorous when the long, grape-like flower-clusters appear below the twigs. "Racemes" they are, botanically—and that is another truly good scientific word—while the beautiful Norway maple's flowers must stand the angular designation of "corymbs." But don't miss looking for the sycamore maple's long, pendulous racemes. They seem more grape-like than grape blossoms; and they stay long, apparently, the transition from flower to fruit being very gradual. I mind me of a sycamore I pass every winter day, with its dead fruit-clusters, a reminiscence of the flower-racemes, swinging in the frosty breeze, waiting until the spring push of the life within the twigs shoves them off.
To be ready to recognize this maple at the right time, it is well to observe and mark the difference between it and the Norway in the summer time, noting the leaves and the bark as suggested above.
Another maple that is different is one variously known as box-elder, ash-leaved maple, or negundo. Of rapid growth, it makes a lusty, irregular tree. Its green-barked, withe-like limbs seem willing to grow in any direction—down, up, sidewise—and the result is a peculiar formlessness that has its own merit. I think of a fringe of box-elders along Paxton Creek, decked in early spring with true maple flowers on thread-like stems, each cluster surmounted by soft green foliage apparently borrowed from the ash, and it seems that no other tree could fit better into the place or the season. Then I remember another, a single stately tree that has had a great field all to itself, and stands up in superb dignity, dominating even the group of pin-oaks nearest to it. 'Twas the surprising mist of bloom on this tree that took me up the field on a run, one spring day, when the running was sweet in the air, but sticky underfoot. The color effect of the flowers is most delicate, and almost indescribable in ordinary chromatic terms. Don't miss the acquaintance of the ash-leaved maple at its flowering time, in the very flush of the springtime, my tree-loving friends!
I have not found a noticeable fragrance in the flowers of the box-elder, such as is very apparent where there is a group of Norway maples in bloom together. The red maples also give to the air a faint and delightfully spicy odor, under favorable conditions. May I hint that the lusty box-elder, when it is booming along its spring growth, furnishes a loose-barked whistle stick about as good as those that come from the willow? The generous growth that provides its loosening sap can also spare a few twigs for the boys, and they will be all the better for a melodious reason for the spring ramble.
The striped maple of Pennsylvania, a comparatively rare and entirely curious small tree or large shrub, is not well known, though growing freely as "elkwood" and "moosewood" in the Alleghanies, because it is rather hard to transplant, and thus offers no inducements to the nurserymen. These good people, like the rest of us, move along the lines of least resistance, wherefore many a fine tree or fruit is rare to us, because shy or difficult of growth, or perhaps unsymmetrical. The fine Rhode Island Greening apple is unpopular because the young tree is crooked, while the leather-skinned and punk-fleshed Ben Davis is a model of symmetry and rapidity of growth. Our glorious tulip tree of the woods, because of its relative difficulty in transplanting, has had to be insisted upon from the nurserymen by those who know its superb beauty. For the same reason this small charming maple, with the large, soft, comfortable leaves upon which the deer love to browse, is kept from showing its delicate June bloom and its remarkable longitudinally striped bark in our home grounds. I hope some maple friends will look for it, and, finding, admire this, the aristocrat among our native species.
The mountain maple—the nurserymen call it Acer spicatum—is another native of rather dwarf growth. It is bushy, and not remarkable in leaf, its claim for distinction being in its flowers and samaras, which are held saucily up, above the branches on which they grow, rather than drooping modestly, as other maples gracefully bear their bloom and fruit. These shiny seeds or keys are brightly scarlet, as well, and thus very attractive in color. There is a reason for this, in nature's economy; for while the loosely hung samaras of the other maples are distributed by the breezes, the red pods of this mountain maple hold stiffly upward to attract the birds upon whom it largely depends for that sowing which must precede its reproduction.
Of the other maples of America—a score of them there are—I might write pages, to weariness. The black maple of the Eastern woods, the large-leaved maples of the West, these and many more are in this great family, to say nothing of the many interesting cultivated forms and variations introduced from European nurseries, and most serviceable in formal ornamental planting. But I have told of those I know best and those that any reader can know as well in one season, if he looks for them with the necessary tree love which is but a fine form of true love of God's creation. This love, once implanted, means surer protection for the trees, otherwise so defenseless against the unthinking vandalism of commercialism or incompetence—a vandalism that has not only devastated our American forests, but mutilated shamefully many trees of priceless value in and about our cities.
Of the Japanese maples—their leaves seemingly a showing of the ingenuity of these Yankees of the Orient, in their twists of form and depths of odd color—I could tell a tale, but it would be of the tree nursery and not of the broad outdoors. Let us close the book and go afield, in park or meadow, on street or lawn, and look to the maples for an unsuspected feast of bloom, if it be spring, or for richness of foliage in summer and autumn; and in coldest winter let us notice the delicate twigs and yet sturdy structure of this tree family that is most of all characteristic of the home, in city or country.
The Growth of the Oak
The old saw has it, "Great oaks from little acorns grow," and all of us who remember the saying have thus some idea of what the beginning of an oak is. But what of the beginning of the acorn? In a general way, one inferentially supposes that there must be a flower somewhere in the life-history of the towering white oak that has defied the storms of centuries and seems a type of everything sturdy and strong and masculine; but what sort of a flower could one imagine as the source of so much majesty? We know of the great magnolias, with blooms befitting the richness of the foliage that follows them. We see, and some of us admire, the exquisitely delicate blossoms of that splendid American tree, the tulip or whitewood. We inhale with delight the fragrance that makes notable the time when the common locust sends forth its white racemes of loveliness. But we miss, many of us, the flowering of the oaks in early spring, and we do not realize that this family of trees, most notable for rugged strength, has its bloom of beginning at the other end of the scale, in flowers of delicate coloring and rather diminutive size.
The reason I missed appreciating the flowers of the oak—they are quite new to me—for some years of tree admiration was because of the distracting accompaniment the tree gives to the blooms. Some trees—most of the maples, for instance—send out their flowers boldly ahead of the foliage, and it is thus easy to see what is happening above your head, as you stroll along drinking in the spring's nectar of spicy air. Others, again, have such showy blooms that the mass of foliage only accentuates their attractiveness, and it is not possible to miss them.
But the oak is different; it is, as modest as it is strong, and its bloom is nearly surrounded by the opening leaves in most seasons and in most of the species I am just beginning to be acquainted with. Then, too, these opening leaves are of such indescribable colors—if the delicate chromatic tints they reflect to the eye may be so strongly named—that they harmonize, and do not contrast, with the flowers. It is with them almost as with a fearless chipmunk whose acquaintance I cultivated one summer—he was gay with stripes of soft color, yet he so fitted any surroundings he chose to be in that when he was quiet he simply disappeared! The oak's flowers and its exquisite unfolding of young foliage combine in one effect, and it is an effect so beautiful that one easily fails to separate its parts, or to see which of the mass of soft pink, gray, yellow and green is bloom and which of it is leafage.
Take the pin-oak, for instance, and note the softness of the greenery above its flowers. Hardly can we define the young leaves as green—they are all tints, and all beautiful. This same pin-oak, by the way (I mean the one the botanists call Quercus palustris), is a notable contradiction of the accepted theory that an oak of size and dignity cannot be reared in a lifetime. There are hundreds of lusty pin-oaks all over the Eastern States that are shading the homes of the wise men who planted them in youth, and they might well adorn our parks and avenues in place of many far less beautiful and permanent trees. With ordinary care, and in good soil, the pin-oak grows rapidly, and the characteristic spreading habit and the slightly down-drooping branches are always attractive. In its age it has not the ruggedness of its kin, though it assumes a stately and somewhat formal habit, and, I must confess, accumulates some ragged dead branches in its interior.
This raggedness is easily cared for, for the tree requires—and few trees do—no "trimming" of its outer branches. The interior twigs that the rapid growth of the tree has deprived of air and light can be quickly and easily removed. In Washington, where street-tree planting has been and is intelligently managed under central authority, the avenues of pin-oaks are a splendid feature of the great boulevards which are serving already as a model to the whole country. Let us plant oaks, and relieve the monotony of too many maples, poplars and horse-chestnuts along our city and village highways.
I like, too, to see the smooth little acorns of the pin-oak before the leaves drop; they seem so finished and altogether pleasing, and with the leaves make a classical decorative motive worth more attention from designers.
While I am innocent of either ability or intent to write botanically of the great oak family, I ought perhaps to transcribe the information that the flowers we see—if we look just at the right time in the spring—are known as "staminate catkins,"—which, being interpreted, means that there are also pistillate flowers, much less conspicuous, but exceedingly necessary if acorns are to result; and also the fact that the familiar "pussy-willow" of our acquaintance is the same form of bloom—the catkin, or ament. I ought to say, too, that some of the oaks perfect acorns from blossoms in one year, while others must grow through two seasons before they are mature. Botanically, the oak family is nearly a world family, and we Americans, though possessed of many species, have no monopoly of it. Indeed, if I may dare to refer the reader to that great storehouse of words, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, I think he will find that the oak is there very British, and that the English oak, surely a magnificent tree in England anyway, is patriotically glorified to the writer.
But we want to talk of some of our own oaks. The one thoroughly characteristic is surely the noble white oak, a tree most admirable in every way, and most widely distributed over the Northern States. Its majestic form, as it towers high above the ordinary works of man, conveys the repose of conscious strength to the beholder. There is a great oak in Connecticut to which I make pilgrimages, and from which I always get a message of rest and peace. There it stands, strong, full-powered, minding little the most furious storms, a benediction to every one who will but lift his eyes. There it has stood in full majesty for years unknown, for it was a great oak, so run the title-deeds, way back in 1636, when first the white man began to own land in the Connecticut Valley. At first sight it seems not large, for its perfect symmetry conceals its great size; but its impression grows as one looks at it, until it seems to fill the whole landscape. I have sat under it in spring, when yet its leafy canopy was incomplete; I have looked into its green depths in midsummer, when its grateful shadow refreshed the highway; I have seen the sun set in redness beyond its bare limbs, the snowy countryside emphasizing its noble lines; I have tried to fathom the mystery in its sturdy heart overhead when the full moon rode in the sky; and always that "great oak of Glastonbury" has soothed and cheered and rested, and taken me nearer the Giver of all such good to restless humanity.
Do I wonder at my friend who has built his home where he may look always at this white oak, or that he raged in anger when a crabbed neighbor ruthlessly cut down a superb tree of the same kind that was on his property line, in order that he might run his barbed-wire fence straight? No; I agree with him that this tree-murderer has probably a barbed-wire heart, and we expect that his future existence will be treeless, at least!
Sometimes this same white oak adapts itself to the bank of a stream, though its true character develops best in the drier ground. Its strength has been its bane, for the value of its timber has caused many a great isolated specimen to be cut down. It is fine to know that some States—Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island also, I think—have given to trees along highways, and in situations where they are part of the highway landscape, the protection of a wise law. Under this law each town appoints a tree-warden, serving without pay (and therefore with love), who may seal to the town by his label such trees as are truly the common possession, regardless of whose land they happen to be on. If the owner desires to cut down a tree thus designated, he must first obtain permission, after stating satisfactory reasons, of the annual town-meeting, and this is not so easy as to make cutting very frequent. The whole country should have such a law, and I should enjoy its application right here in Pennsylvania, where oaks of a hundred years have been cut down to make room for a whisky sign, and where a superb pin-oak that I passed today is devoted to an ignominious use. If I may venture to become hortatory, let me say that the responsibility for the preservation of the all-too-few remaining great primeval trees, and of their often notable progeny, in our Eastern States, rests with those who care for trees, not alone with those who ought to care. To talk about the greatness and beauty of a fine oak or maple or tulip, to call attention to its shade value, and to appeal to the cupidity of the ground owner by estimating how much less his property will be worth when the trees are gone or have been mishandled, will aid to create the necessary public sentiment. And to provide wise laws, as may be often done with proper attention, is the plain duty and the high privilege of the tree-loving citizen. The trees are defenseless, and they are often unreplaceable; if you love them protect them as you would your children.
The white-oak leaf is the most familiar and characteristic, perhaps, of the family; but other species, close to the white oak in habit, show foliage of a very different appearance. The swamp white oak, for instance, is a noble tree, and in winter particularly its irregular branches give it an especial expression of rugged strength as it grows along a brookside; but its leaves smooth up on the edges, giving only a hint of the deep serrations that typify its upland brother. Deeply green above are these leaves and softly white below, and in late summer there appears, here and there, on a stout stem, a most attractive acorn of large size. Its curious cup gives a hint, or more than a hint, as to the special designating character of another oak, the mossy-cup or bur. This latter species is beautiful in its habit, rich in its foliage, and the fringed or mossed acorns are of a remarkable size.
Of all the oaks, the sturdy but not lofty post-oak spreads the richest display of foliage. Its peculiar habit leads to the even placing of its violoncello-shaped leaves, and its generous crop of acorns gives added distinction in late summer. It is fine in the forest, and a notable ornament anywhere.
It has been said that a proper penance for an offending botanist would be a compulsory separation and description of the involved and complicated goldenrod family; and I would suggest that a second edition of the same penance might be a requirement to name off-hand the first dozen oak trees the same poor botanist might meet. So much do the foliage, the bark, and the habit of growth vary, and so considerable is the difference between individuals of the same species, that the wisest expert is likely to be the most conservative. An unbotanical observer, who comes at the family just because he loves trees in general, and is poking his eyes and his camera into unusual places, doesn't make close determinations; he tells what he thinks he sees, and leaves exact work to the scientists.
There are some oaks, however, that have borrowed the foliage of other trees so cunningly that one at first scouts the possibility of the Quercus parentage, until he sees an undeniable acorn thrusting itself forward. Then he is sure that what seemed a rather peculiarly shaped chestnut tree, with somewhat stumpy foliage, is none other than the chestnut-oak. A fine tree it is, too, this same chestnut-oak, with its masquerading foliage of deep green, its upright and substantial habit, its rather long and aristocratic-looking acorns. The authorities tell that its wood, too, is brownish and valuable; but we tree-lovers are not enthusiastic over mere timber values, because that means the killing of the trees.
The willow-oak will not deceive, because its habit is so oak-like and so willow-less; but its foliage is surely borrowed from its graceful and more rapidly growing neighbor. Not so large, by any means, as the white oak or the chestnut-oak, it has somewhat rough and reddish bark, and its acorns are perfected in the second year of their growth, close to the twigs, in the way of the pin-oak. The general aspect of the tree is upright, rather than spreading, and it partakes thus of the maple character in its landscape effect. The willow-oak is one of the species I would, if I were writing a tree-planting article, heartily commend to those who wish to add adornment to the countryside that shall be permanent and satisfactory. Just a hint here: nursery-grown oaks, now obtainable from any modern establishment, have usually been frequently moved or transplanted, as the trade term goes, and this means that they have established a somewhat self-contained root system, which will give them far greater vigor and cause them to take hold sooner when finally placed in a situation where they are to be permanent features. The reason is plain: the forest seedling, in the fierce struggle for existence usually prevailing, must send its roots far and wide for food, and when it is dug out their feeding capacity is so seriously curtailed as to check the growth of the tree for many years. The nursery-grown tree, on the contrary, has been brought up "by hand," and its food has always been convenient to it, leading to more rapid growth and a more compact root system. I only interject this prosaic fact here in the hope that some of my tree-loving readers will undertake to plant some oaks instead of only the soft-wooded and less permanent maples, poplars, and the like.
Another simulative leaf is that of the laurel-oak, and it is color and gloss as well as shape that have been borrowed from its humbler neighbor in the forest. The shining green of the laurel is seen in these oak leaves; they are also half evergreen, thus being one of the family particularly belonging to our Southern States, and hardly enduring the chill of the winters north of Virginia. It is one of the galaxy of oaks I remember as providing a special interest in the Georgia forests, where the long-leaved pine also gave a new tree sensation to the visitor from the North, who at first could hardly imagine what those lovely little green fountains of foliage were that he saw along the roadside and in the woods. The Georgia oaks seem to me to have a richness of foliage, a color and substance and shine, that compare only with the excellence of two other products of the same State—the peach and the watermelon. The long summer and the plenitude of sunshine seem to weave into these products luxuriance found nowhere else; and when one sees for the first time a happy, rollicking bunch of round-eyed negro children, innocent alike of much clothing or any trouble, mixing up with the juicy Georgia melon under the shade of a luxuriant oak, he gets a new conception of at least one part of the race problem!
One of the things I wanted much to see when I first traveled South was the famed live-oak, the majesty and the mournfulness of which had been long sung into me. Perhaps I expected too much, as I did of the palmetto, another part of my quest, but surely there was disappointment when I was led, on the banks of the Manatee River in Florida, to see a famous live-oak. It was tall and grand, but its adornment of long, trailing gray Spanish moss, which was to have attached the sadness to it, seemed merely to make it unkempt and uncomfortable. I was instantly reminded of a tree at home in the far North that I had never thought particularly beautiful, but which now, by comparison, took on an attractiveness it has never since lost. Imagine a great spreading weeping willow turned dingy gray, and you have a fair picture of a moss-covered live-oak; but you will prefer it green, as is the willow, I believe.
One day a walk about Savannah, which city has many splendid live-oaks in its parks and squares, involved me in a sudden shower, when, presto! the weeping willow of the North was reincarnated before my eyes, for the falling rain turned the dingy moss pendants of the live-oak to the whitish green that makes the willow such a delightful color-note in early spring. I have been thankful often for that shower, for it gave a better feeling about the live-oak, and made me admire the weeping willow.
The live-oak, by the way, has a leaf very little like the typical oak—it is elliptical in shape and smooth in outline. The curious parasitic moss that so frequently covers the tree obscures the really handsome foliage.
The English Oak, grand tree that it is, grows well in America, as everything English should by right, and there are fine trees of this Quercus Robur on Long Island. The acorns are of unusual elegance, as the photograph which shows them will prove.
The red oak, the black oak, the scarlet oak, all splendid forest trees of the Northeast, are in the group of confusion that can be readily separated only by the timber-cruiser, who knows every tree in the forest for its economic value, or by the botanist, with his limp-bound Gray's Manual in hand. I confess to bewilderment in five minutes after the differences have been explained to me, and I enjoyed, not long ago, the confusion of a skilful nurseryman who was endeavoring to show me his young trees of red oak which the label proved to be scarlet! But the splendidly effective trees themselves can be fully appreciated, and the distinctions will appear as one studies carefully the features of these living gifts of nature's greenness. The trees wait on one, and once the habit of appreciation and investigation is formed, each walk afield, in forest or park, leads to the acquirement of some new bit of tree-lore, that becomes more precious and delightful as it is passed on and commented upon in association with some other member of the happily growing fraternity of nature-lovers.
These oak notes are not intended to be complete, but only to suggest some points for investigation and appreciation to my fellows in the brotherhood. I have never walked between Trenton and New York, and therefore never made the desired acquaintance with the scrub-oaks along the way. Nor have I dipped as fully into the oak treasures of the Arnold Arboretum as I want to some day. But my camera is yet available and the trees are waiting; the tree love is growing and the tree friends are inviting, and together we will add to the oak knowledge and to that thankfulness for God and life and love and friends that the trees do most constantly cause to flourish.
In popular estimation, the pines seem to belong to the North, not quite so exclusively as do the palms to the South. The ragged, picturesque old pines, spruces and hemlocks of our remembrance carry with them the thought of great endurance, long life and snowy forests. We think of them, too, as belonging to the mountains, not to the plains; as clothing steep slopes with their varied deep greens rather than as standing against the sky-line of the sea. Yet I venture to think that the most of us in the East see oftenest the pines peculiar to the lowlands, as we flit from city to city over the steel highways of travel, and have most to do, in an economical sense, with a pine that does not come north of the Carolinas—the yellow pine which furnishes our familiar house-flooring.
The pine family, as we discuss it, is not all pines, in exactitude—it includes many diverse trees that the botanist describes as conifers. These cone-bearing trees are nearly all evergreens—that is, the foliage persists the year round, instead of being deciduous, as the leaf-dropping maples, oaks, birches, and the like are scientifically designated. Historically the pines are of hoary age, for they are closely related to the growths that furnished the geologic coal measures stored up in the foundations of the earth for our use now. Economically, too, all the pine family together is of vast importance—"the most important order of forest trees in the economy of civilized man," says Dr. Fernow; for, as he adds, the cone-bearing trees "have furnished the bulk of the material of which our civilization is built." As usual, civilization has destroyed ruthlessly, thoughtlessly, almost viciously, in using this material; wherefore the devastation of the forests, moving them back from us farther and farther until in many regions they are but a thin fringe, has left most of us totally unfamiliar with these trees, of the utmost beauty as well as of the greatest value.
To know anything at all of the spruces, pines and hemlocks is to love them for the refreshment there is in their living presence, rather than to consider them merely for the timber value. But the point of view differs immensely with one's occupation. I remember finding in the depths of an Alleghany forest a comparatively rare native orchid, then new to me—the round-leaved or orbicular habenaria. While I was gloating over it with my camera a gray-haired native of the neighborhood joined me, and, to my surprise, assisted in the gloating—he, too, loved the woods and the plants. Coming a little later to a group of magnificent hemlocks, with great, clean, towering trunks reaching up a hundred feet through the soft maples and yellow birches and beeches which seemed dwarfed by these veterans, I exclaimed in admiration. "Yes," he said, "them's mighty fine hemlocks. I calc'late thet one to the left would bark near five dollars' wuth!" On the rare plant we had joined in esthetic appreciation, but the hemlock was to the old lumberman but a source of tan-bark.
This search for tannin, by the way, is to blame for much wanton destruction. Young hemlocks, from four to six inches in diameter, are felled, stripped of their bark, and left cumbering the ground, to invite fire and to make of the woods an unkempt cemetery. The fall of a tree from natural causes is followed by the interesting and beauty-making process of its mossy decay and return to the forest floor, furnishing in the process nourishment for countless seedlings and plants. A tree felled in maturity under enlightened forest management is all removed for its timber, and leaves the ground clear; but the operations of the bark-hunter leave only hideous destruction and a "slash" that is most difficult to clear in later years.
This same hemlock makes a most impressive forest. To walk among primeval hemlocks brings healing to the mind and peace to the soul, as one realizes fully that "the groves were God's first temples," and that God is close to one in these beneficent solitudes, where petty things must fall away, vexations cease, and man's spiritual nature absorb the message of the forest.
I wonder how many of my readers realize that an exquisite bit of real hemlock forest lies not five miles from Boston Common? At the Arnold Arboretum, that noble collection of trees and plants, "Hemlock Hill" is assuming deeper majesty year after year as its trees gain age and size. It presents exactly the pure forest conditions, and makes accessible to thousands the full beauty and soothing that nothing but a coniferous forest can provide for man. There is the great collateral advantage, too, that to reach Hemlock Hill, the visitor must use a noble entrance, and pass other trees and plants which, in the adequate setting here given, cannot but do him much good, and prepare him for the deep sylvan temple of the hemlocks he is seeking. To visit the Arboretum at the time when the curious variety of the apple relatives—pyruses and the like—bloom, is to secure a great benefit of sight and scent, and it is almost certain to make one resolve to return when these blossoms shall, by nature's perfect work, have become fruit. Here the fruit is grown for its beauty only, and thus no gastronomic possibilities interfere with the appreciation of color, and form, and situation! But again, to come to the Arboretum some time during the reign of the lilacs is to experience an even greater pleasure, perhaps, for here the old farm garden "laylock" assumes a wonderful diversity of form and color, from the palest wands of the Persian sorts to the deepest blue of some of the French hybrids.
The pines themselves will well repay any investigation and appreciation. Seven species are with us in the New England and Middle Atlantic States, seven more are found South, while the great West, with its yet magnificent forests, has twenty-five pines of distinct character. The white pine is perhaps most familiar to us, because of its economic importance, and it is as well the tallest and most notable of all those we see in the East. From its first essay as a seedling, with its original cluster of five delicate blue-green leaflets, to its lusty youth, when it is spreading and broad, if given room to grow, it is a fine object, and I have had some thrills of joy at finding this splendid common thing planted in well-placed groups on the grounds of wealthy men, instead of some Japanese upstart with a name a yard long and a truly crooked Oriental disposition! In age the white pine dominates any landscape, wearing even the scars of its long battle with the elements with stately dignity. A noble pair of white pines on the shore of Lake Champlain I remember especially—they were the monarchs of the lakeside as they towered above all other trees. Ragged they were, their symmetry gone long years ago through attacks of storms and through strife with the neighboring trees that had succumbed while they only suffered and stood firm. Yet they seemed all complete, of proved strength and staying power, and their aspect was not of defiance or anger, but rather indicative of beneficent strength, as if they said, "Here we stand; somewhat crippled, it is true, but yet pointing upright to the heavens, yet vigorous, yet seed-bearing and cheerful!"
Another group of these white pines that stood close to some only less picturesque red pines on the shores of a pond deep in the Adirondacks emphasized again for me one May day the majesty of this beneficent friend of mankind; and yet another old pine monarch against the sunset sky pointed the westward way from the picturesque Cornell campus, and alas! also pointed the danger to even this one unreplaceable tree when modern "enterprise" constructs a trolley line on a scenic route, ruthlessly destroying the very features that make the route desirable, rather than go to any mechanical trouble!
My readers will easily recall for themselves just the same sort of "old pine" groups they have record of on memory's picture-gallery, and will, I am sure, agree with me as to the informality, dignity and true beauty of these survivors of the forest, all of which deserve to be appreciatively cared for, against any encroachment of train, trolley or lumberman.
I am ashamed to say I have not yet seen the blossoms of the white pine, which the botanists tell us come in early spring, minute and light brown, to be followed by the six-inch-long cones which mature the second year. I promise my camera that another spring it shall be turned toward these shy blossoms.
Any one who has traveled south of Virginia, even by the Pullman way of not seeing, cannot fail to have noted the lovely green leaf-fountains springing up from the ground along the railroads. These are the young trees of the long-leaved or Southern yellow pine. How beautiful they are, these narrow leaves of vivid green, more than a foot long, drooping gracefully from the center outward, with none of the stiffness of our Northern species! In some places they seem to fairly bubble in green from all the surface of the ground, so close are they. And the grand long-leaved pine itself, maintained in lusty vigor above these greeneries, is a tree of simple dignity, emphasized strongly when seen at its best either in the uncut forest, or in a planted avenue. We of the North are helping to ruin the next generation of Southern pines by lavish use, for decorations, of the young trees of about two feet high, crowded with the long drooping emerald needles. The little cut-off pine lasts a week or two, in a parlor—it took four or five years to grow!
All pine-cones are interesting, and there is a great variation between the different species. The scrub-pine one sees along the railroads between New York and Philadelphia has rather stubby cones, while the pitch-pine, beloved of the fireplace for its "light-knots," has a somewhat pear-shaped and gracefully disposed cone. A most peculiar cone is that of a variety of the Norway pine, which, among other species brought from Europe, is valued for ornament. The common jack-pine of the Middle States hillsides wears symmetrical and handsome cones with dignity. Cones are, of course, the fruits or seed-holders of the pine, but the seeds themselves are found at the base of the scales, or parts of the cones, attached in pairs. Each cone, like an apple, has in its care a number of seeds, which it guards against various dangers until a kindly soil encourages the rather slow germination characteristic of the order.
The nurserymen have imported many pines from Europe, which give pleasing variety to our ornamental plantings, and aid in enriching the winter coloring. The Austrian pine and the Scotch pine are welcome additions to our own pine family. In these days of economic chemistry and a deficient rag supply, every reader of these words is probably in close proximity to an important spruce product—paper. The manufacturers say, with hand on heart, that they do not use much wood pulp, but when one has passed a great paper-mill flanked on all sides by piles of spruce logs, with no bales of rags in sight anywhere, he is tempted to think otherwise! Modern forestry is now planting trees on waste lands for the pulp "crop," and the common poplar is coming in to relieve the spruces.
Beautiful trees are these spruces and firs, either in the forest or when brought by the planter to his home grounds. The leaves are much shorter than those of most pines, and clothe the twigs closely. There is a vast variety in color, too, from the wonderful whitish or "glaucous" blue of the Colorado blue spruce, to the deep shining green of Nordmann's fir, a splendid introduction from the Caucasus. Look at them, glistening in the winter sun, or drooping with the clinging snow; walk in a spruce wood, inhaling the bracing balsamic fragrance which seems so kindly to the lungs; hark to the music of the wind in their tops, telling of health and purity, of God's love and provision for man's mind and heart, and you will begin to know the song of the firs. To really hear this grand symphony, for such it then becomes, you must listen to the wind playing on the tops of a great primeval coniferous forest, of scores and hundreds of acres or miles in extent. And even then, many visits are needed, for there are movements to this symphony—the allegro of the gale, the scherzo of the easy morning breeze, the deep adagio of a rain-storm, and the andante of warm days and summer breezes, when you may repose prone upon a soft carpet of pine needles, every sense made alert, yet soothed, by the master-theme you are hearing.
There is a little wood of thick young pines, interspersed with hard maple and an occasional birch, close by the lake of the Eagles, where my summers are made happy. The closeness of the pines has caused their lower branches to die, as always in the deep forest, and the falling needles, year by year, have deepened the soft brown carpet that covers the forest floor. Some one, years ago, struck by the aisles that the straight trunks mark out so clearly, called this the "Cathedral Woods." The name seems appropriate at all times, but especially when, on a warm Sunday afternoon, I lie at ease on the aromatic carpet, hearing the soft organ tones in the pine tops, and drinking in God's forest message.
I have visited these pine woods at midnight, when a full moon, making brilliant the near-by lake, gave but a ghostly gloom in the deep, deep silence of the Cathedral; but, more impressive, I have often trodden through in a white fog, when the distance was misty and dim, and the aisles seemed longer and higher, and to lead one further away from the trifles of temper and trial. Indeed, I do not believe that any one who has but once fully received from the deep forest that which it gives out so freely and constantly can ever think of things trivial, or of minor annoyances, while again within its soothing portals.
But of the trees of the forest of pine and spruce it must be noted that sometimes the deepest, glossiest green of the leaves as presented to the eye only hides the dainty, white-lined interior surface of those same leaves. To the outside, a somber dignity, unassailable, untouched by frost or sun, protective, defenseful, as nature often appears to the careless observer; but inside is light, softly reflected, revealing unsuspected delicacies of structure and finish.
To us who are not woodsmen or "timber-cruisers" the most familiar of all the spruces is the introduced form from Norway. Its yellowish green twigs are bright and cheerful, and in specimens that have reached the fruiting age the crown of cones, high up in the tree, is an additional charm, for these soft brown "strobiles," as the botanist calls them, are smooth and regular, and very different from those of the rugged pines. I have often been told that the Norway spruce was short-lived, and that it became unkempt in age; but now that I have lived for ten years and more beside a noble specimen, I know that the change from the upreaching push of youth to the semi-drooping sedateness of maturity is only a taking on of dignity. There stands on the home grounds of a true tree-lover in Pennsylvania a Norway spruce that has been untouched by knife or disaster since its planting many years ago. No pruning has shortened in its "leader" or top, no foolish idea of "trimming it up" has been allowed to deprive it of the very lowest branches, which, in consequence, now sweep the ground in full perfection, while the unchecked point of the tree still aspires upward forty feet above. A beautiful object is this tree—perhaps the most beautiful of all the conifers in my friend's great "pinetum," with its scores of rare species. Let me ask, then, those who would set this or any other tree of evergreen about the home, to see to it that the young tree from the nursery has all its lower branches intact, and that its top has never been mutilated. With care, such specimens may be obtained and successfully transplanted, and will grow in time to a lovely old age of steady greenness.
The balsam fir is almost indistinguishable from the Norway spruce when young, but soon grows apart from it in habit, and is hardly as desirable, even though a native. It is rich in the true balsamic odor; and this, again, is its destruction; for one "spruce pillow" may destroy a half dozen trees!
The white cedar, our common juniper, with its aromatic blue berries or fruits, is perhaps the most familiar of all the native evergreens. It comes to us of Pennsylvania all too freely at Christmas time, when the tree of joy and gifts may mean, in the wholesale, sad forest destruction. This juniper I have associated particularly with the dogwood and the red-bud, to the bloom of which it supplies a most perfect background in the favorite Conewago park, a purely natural reservation of things beautiful along the Pennsylvania railroad. Its lead-pencil sister, the red cedar, reaches our literary senses as closely as does the pulp-making spruce!
I might write much of the rare introduced cypresses from Japan and China, and of the peculiar variations that have been worked out by the nurserymen among the native pines and firs; yet this would not be talk of the trees of the open ground, but rather of the nursery and the park. Also, if I had but seen them, there would be much to say about the magnificent conifers of the great West, from the giant red-woods, or sequoias, of the Mariposa grove in California to the richly varied pines of the Rockies. But I can only suggest to my readers the intimate consideration of all this great pine family, so peculiarly valuable to mankind, and the use of some of the pines and spruces about the home for the steady cheer of green they so fully provide.
Well do I remember one of the admonitions of my youth, brought upon me by an attempt to take apple-blossoms from a tree in bloom because they were beautiful. I was told that it was wrong to pluck for any purpose the flowers of fruit trees, because the possible fruitage might thereby be reduced. That is, feeding the eye was improper, but it was always in order to conserve all the possibilities for another organ of the body. In those days we had not learned that nature provides against contingencies, and that not one-tenth of all the blossoms would be needed to "set" as much fruit as the tree could possibly mature.
The apple, well called the king of fruits, is worthy of all admiration as a fruit; but I do not see why that need interfere in the least with its consideration as an object of beauty. On the contrary, such consideration is all the better for the apple, which is not only most desirable and pleasing in its relation to the dessert, the truly celebrated American pie, the luscious dumpling of the housewife, and the Italian's fruit-stand of our cities, but is at the same time a benefaction to the eye and the sense of beauty, in tree, in blossom, and in fruit.
It is of the esthetic value of the apple I would write, leaving its supreme place in pomology unassailed. Look at the young apple tree in the "nursery row," where it has been growing a year since it was "budded"—that is, mysteriously changed from the wild and untamed fruit of nature to the special variety designed by the nurseryman. It is a straight, shapely wand, in most varieties, though it is curious to find that some apples, notably the favorite Rhode Island Greening, start in promptly to be picturesquely crooked and twisty. As it grows and branches under the cultivation and guidance of the orchardist, it maintains a lusty, hearty aspect, its yellowish, reddish or brownish twigs—again according to variety—spreading out to the sun and the air freely. A decade passes, and the sparse showing of bloom that has decorated it each spring gradually gives place to a great glory of flowers. The tree is about to bear, and it assumes the character of maturity; for while it grows on soberly for many years, there is now a spreading, a sort of relaxation, very different from the vigorous upshooting of its early youth. After a crop or two, the tree has become, to the eye, the familiar orchard member, and it leans a little from the blasts of winter, twists aside from the perpendicular, spreads comfortably over a great expanse of ground, and settles down to its long, useful, and truly beautiful life.
While the young orchard is trim and handsome, I confess to a greater liking for the rugged old trees that have followed blossom with fruit in unstinted profusion for a generation. There is a certain character of sturdy good-will about these substantial stems that the clinging snows only accentuate in winter. The framework of limb and twig is very different from that of the other trees, and the twisty lines seem to mean warmth and cheer, even against a frosty sky. And these old veterans are house trees, too—they do not suggest the forest or the broad expanse of nature, but, instead, the proximity of man and the home, the comfortable summer afternoon under their copious leafage, the great piles of ruddy-cheeked fruit in autumn.
I need hardly say anything of the apple-blossoms, for those who read these words are almost certain to have long appreciated their delicately fragrant blush and white loveliness. The apricot and the cherry are the first of the fruit trees to sing the spring song, and they cover themselves with white, in advance of any sign of green leaves on their twigs. The apple has an advantage; coming more deliberately, the little pink buds are set amidst the soft greens of the opening foliage, and the leaves and flowers expand together in their symphony of color and fragrance. The grass has grown lush by this time, the dandelions are punctuating it with gold, and everything is in the full riot of exuberant springtime.
But there are apples and apples and apples. Even the plain orchard gives us a difference in flowers, as well as in tree aspect. Notice the trees this coming May; mark the flat, white flowers on one tree, the cup-shaped, pink-veined blooms on another. Follow both through the fruiting, and see whether the sweeter flower brings the more sugary fruit. This fact ascertained, perhaps it may be followed up by observation of the distinctive color of the twigs and young branches—for there are wide differences in this respect, and the canny tree-grower knows his pets afar.
Perhaps there is a "crab" in the old orchard, ready to give the greatest burst of bloom—for the crab-apple flower is usually finer and more fragrant than any other of the cultivated forms. It is an especial refuge of the birds and the bees, you will find, and it invites them with its rare fragrance and deeper blush, so that they may work all the more earnestly at the pollination without which all this richness of bloom would be ineffective in nature's reproductive scheme.
This same crab-apple is soon to be, as its brilliant fruit matures, a notable object of beauty, for few ornamental trees can vie with its display of shining color. There was a great old crab right in the flower garden of my boyhood home, amid quaint box-trees, snowballs and lilacs. Lilies-of-the-valley flourished in its shadow, the delicate bleeding-heart mingled with old-fashioned irises and peonies at its feet. From early spring until mid-August the crab-apple held court of beauty there—and an always hungry boy often found something in addition to beauty in the red and yellow fruits that were acid but aromatic.
With a little attention, if one would plant crab-apples for their loveliness of fruit hue and form, a fine contrast of color may be had; for some varieties are perfect in clear yellow, against others in deepest scarlet, bloom-covered with blue haze, and yet others which carry all the colors from cream to crimson—the latter as the warm sun paints deeper.
Why do we not plant more fruit trees for beauty? Not one of our familiar fruits will fail us in this respect, if so considered. The apricot will often have its white flowers open to match the purity of the last snow, the cherry will follow with a burst of bloom, the apples and crab-apples will continue the show, aided by plum and pear and peach, and the quince—ah, there's a flower in a green enamel setting!—will close the blooming-time. But the cherry fruits now redden in shining roundness, the earlier apples throw rich gleams of color to the eye, and there is chromatic beauty until frost bids the last russets leave their stems, leaving bare the framework of the trees, to teach us in lines of symmetry and efficiency how strength and elegance are combined in nature's handiwork. Do you fear that some of the fruit may be taken? What of it? Plant for beauty, and the fruit is all extra—give it away freely, and pass on to others some of God's good gifts, to your own true happiness!
There is another crab-apple that is distinctive in its elegance, color and fragrance. It is the true "wild crab" of Eastern North America, and one who makes its acquaintance in blooming time will never forget it. The tree is not large, and it is likely to be set with crooked, thorny branches; but the flowers! Deep pink or rosy red chalices, rather longer than the commonplace apple-blossom, and hanging on long and slender stems in a certain picturesquely stiff disposition, they are a joy for the senses of sight and fragrance. This notable native may be found on rich slopes and in dry glades—it is not fond of swamps. It is grown by some enlightened nurserymen, too, and can well be planted in the home grounds to their true adornment. The blossoms give way to form handsome yellow fruits, about an inch in diameter, which are themselves much more ornamental than edible, for even the small boy will not investigate a second time the bitter flesh. I have heard that a cider of peculiar "hardness" and potency, guaranteed to unsettle the firmest head, is made from these acid fruits—but I have not found it necessary to extend my tree studies in that direction.
The states west of Kansas do not know this lovely wild crab, to which the botanists give a really euphonious designation as Pyrus coronaria. There is a prairie-states crab-apple, which I have never seen, but which, I am told, has nothing like the beauty of our exquisite Eastern native. This Western species lacks the long stem and the bright color of the flowers of our favorite, and its fruits, while quite as viciously sour, are a dull and greasy green. The great West has many other things, but we have the wild crab-apple.
Rather between, as to beauty, is the native crab-apple of the Southland, which is known as the Soulard crab. It is not as attractive as our own Eastern gem, a pure native possession, and one which our foreign friends envy us.
Curiously enough, our own fruiting apple is not a native of America. It was at a meeting of a New England pomological association that I heard, several years ago, an old man of marvelous memory and power of observation tell of his recollections of seventy years, notable among which was his account of seeing the first good apples, as a boy, during a visit in the state of New York. Think of it! the most widely grown and beautiful of all our fruits hardly older than the railroad in America! We owe the apples we eat to Europe, for the start, the species being probably of Himalayan origin. America has greatly developed the apple, however, as one who has looked over the fruit tables at any great exposition will promptly testify, and nearly all our really good varieties are of American origin. Moreover, we are the greatest apple-growers in the world, and the yearly production probably exceeds a hundred millions of barrels.
The curious story of "Johnny Appleseed" is given us by historians, who tell us of this semi-religious enthusiast who roamed barefoot over the wilds of Ohio and Indiana a century ago, sowing apple-seeds in the scattered clearings, and living to see the trees bearing fruit, selections from which probably are interwoven among the varieties of today. New varieties of apples, by the way, come from seeds sown, and trees grown from them, with a bare chance that one in ten thousand may be worth keeping. When a variety seems thus worthy, "buds" or "scions" from the original tree are "budded" or "grafted" by the nurseryman into young seedling trees, which are thus changed into the selected sort. To sow the seeds of your favorite Baldwin does not imply that you will get Baldwin trees, by any means; you will more likely have a partial reversion to the acid and bitter original species.
It is not only for the fruit that we are indebted to the Old World, but also for some distinctively beautiful and most ornamental varieties of the apple, not by any means as well known among us as they ought to be. The nurserymen sell as an ornamental small tree a form known as "Parkman's double-flowering crab," which produces blooms of much beauty, like delicate little roses. Few of them, however, know of the glorious show that the spring brings where there is a proper planting of the Chinese and Japanese crab-apples, with some other hybrids and varieties. To readers in New England a pilgrimage to Boston is always in order. In the Public Gardens are superb specimens of these crab-apples from the Orient, as well as those native to this continent, and for several weeks in May they may be enjoyed. They are enjoyed by the Bostonians, who are in this, as in many things, better served by their authorities than is any other American city. What other city, for instance, gives its people such a magnificent spring show of hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and the like?
It is at the wonderful Arnold Arboretum, that Mecca of tree-lovers just outside of Boston and really within its superbly managed park system, that the greatest show of the "pyrus family," as the apples and pears are botanically called, may be found. Here have been gathered the lovely blooming trees of all the hardy world, to the delight of the eye and the nose, and the education of the mind. To me the most impressive of all was a wonderful Siberian crab (one must look for Pyrus baccata on the label, as the Arboretum folks are not in love with "common" names) close by the little greenhouses. Its round head was purely white, with no hint of pink, and the mass of bloom that covered it was only punctuated by the green of the expanding leaves. The especial elegance of this crab was in its whiteness, and that elegance was not diminished by the later masses of little yellow and red, almost translucent, fruits.
A somewhat smaller tree is commonly called the Chinese flowering apple, and its early flowers remind one strongly of the beauty of our own wild crab, as they are deeper in color than most of the crabs, being almost coral-red in bud. This "spectabilis," as it is familiarly called, is a gem, as it opens the season of the apple blooms with its burst of pink richness.
The beauty-loving Japanese have a festival at the time of the cherry-blooming—and it is altogether a festival of beauty, not connected with the food that follows the flowers. They actually dare to cut the blossoms, too, for adornment, and all the populace take time to drink in the message of the spring. Will we workaday Americans ever dare to "waste" so much time, and go afield to absorb God's provision of soul and sense refreshment in the spring, forgetting for the time our shops and desks, our stores and marts?
Professor Sargent, that deep student of trees who has built himself a monument, which is also a beneficence to all mankind, in the great volumes of his "Silva of North America," lives not far from Boston, and he loves especially that jewel of the apple family which, for want of a common name, I must designate scientifically as Pyrus floribunda. On his own magnificent estate, as well as at the Arboretum, this superb shrub or small tree riots in rosy beauty in early spring. While the leaves do come with these flowers, they are actually crowded back out of apparent sight by the straight wands of rose-red blooms, held by the twisty little tree at every angle and in indescribable beauty. If the visitor saw nothing but this Floribunda apple—"abundant flowering" sure enough—on his pilgrimage, he might well be satisfied, especially if he then and there resolved to see it again, either as he planted it at home or journeyed hither another spring for the enlargement of his soul.
There are other of these delightful crabs or apples to be enjoyed—Ringo, Kaido, Toringo—nearly all of Japanese origin, all of distinct beauty, and all continuing that beauty in handsome but inedible fruits that hang most of the summer. My tree-loving friends can well study these, and, I hope, plant them, instead of repeating continually the monotonously familiar shrubs and trees of ordinary commerce.
But I have not spoken enough of one notable feature of the every-day apple tree that we may see without a journey to the East. The fully set fruiting branch of an apple tree in health and vigor, properly nurtured and protected against fungous disease by modern "spraying," is a thing of beauty in its form and color. See those deep red Baldwins shine overhead in the frosty air of early fall; note the elegance of form and striping on the leathery-skinned Ben Davis; appreciate true apples of gold set in green enamel on a tree of the sunny Bellefleur! These in the fall; but it is hardly full summer before the closely set branches of Early Harvest are as beautiful as any orange-tree, or the more upright Red Astrachan is ablaze with fruit of red and yellow. Truly, an apple orchard might be arranged to give a series of pictures of changing beauty of color and growth from early spring until fall frost, and then to follow with a daily panorama of form and line against snow and sky until the blossoms peeped forth again. Let us learn, if we do not already love the apple tree, to love it for its beauty all the year!
Willows and Poplars
"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst thereof we hanged our harps." Thus sang the Psalmist of the sorrows of the exiles in Babylon, and his song has fastened the name of the great and wicked city upon one of the most familiar willows, while also making it "weep"; for the common weeping willow is botanically named Salix Babylonica.
It may be that the forlorn Jews did hang their harps upon the tree we know as the weeping willow, that species being credited to Asia as a place of origin; but it is open to doubt, for the very obvious reason that the weeping willow is distinctly unadapted to use as a harp-rack, and one is at a loss to know just how the instruments in question would have been hung thereon. It is probable that the willows along the rivers of Babylon were of other species, and that the connection of the city of the captivity and the tears of the exiles with the long, drooping branches of the noble tree which has thus been sorrowfully named was a purely sentimental one. Indeed, the weeping willow is also called Napoleon's willow, because the great Corsican found much pleasure in a superb willow of the same species which stood on the lonely prison isle of St. Helena, and from twigs of which many trees in the United States have been grown.
The willow family presents great contrasts, both physical and sentimental. It is a symbol both of grief and of grace. The former characterization is undoubtedly because of the allusion of the one hundred and thirty-seventh Psalm, as quoted above, thoughtlessly extended through the centuries; and the latter, as when a beautiful and slender woman is said to be of "willowy" form, obviously because of the real grace of the long, swinging wands of the same tree. I might hint that a better reason for making the willow symbolize grief is because charcoal made from its twigs and branches is an important and almost essential ingredient of gunpowder, through which a sufficiency of grief has undoubtedly entered the world!
Willow twigs seem the very essence of fragility, as they break from the parent tree at a touch; and yet one of the willows furnishes the tough, pliable and enduring withes from which are woven the baskets of the world. The willows, usually thin in branch, sparse of somewhat pale foliage, of so-called mournful mien, are yet bursting with vigor and life; indeed, the spread and the value of the family is by reason of this tenacity and virility, which makes a broken twig, floating on the surface of a turbid stream, take root and grow on a sandy bank where nothing else can maintain itself, wresting existence and drawing strength and beauty from the very element whose ravages of flood and current it bravely withstands.
Apparently ephemeral in wood, growing quickly and perishing as quickly, the willows nevertheless supply us with an important preservative element, extracted from their bitter juices. Salicylic acid, made from willow bark, prevents change and arrests decay, and it is an important medical agent as well.
Flexible and seemingly delicate as the little tree is when but just established, there is small promise of the rugged and sturdy trunk that in a few years may stand where the chance twig lodged. And the color of the willows—ah! there's a point for full enthusiasm, for this family of grief furnishes a cheerful note for every month in the year, and runs the whole scale of greens, grays, yellows and browns, and even adds to the winter landscape touches of blazing orange and bright red across the snow. Before ever one has thought seriously of the coming of spring, the long branchlets of the weeping willow have quickened into a hint of lovely yellowish green, and those same branchlets will be holding their green leaves against a wintry blast when most other trees have given up their foliage under the frost's urgency. Often have the orange-yellow twigs of the golden osier illumined a somber countryside for me as I looked from the car window; and close by may be seen other willow bushes of brown, green, gray, and even purple, to add to the color compensation of the season. Then may come into the view, as one flies past, a great old weeping willow rattling its bare twigs in the wind; and, if a stream is passed, there are sure to be seen on its banks the sturdy trunks of the white and the black willows at least. Think of an average landscape with the willows eliminated, and there will appear a great vacancy not readily filled by another tree.
The weeping willow has always made a strong appeal to me, but never one of simple grief or sorrow. Its expression is rather of great dignity, and I remember watching in somewhat of awe one which grew near my childhood's home, as its branches writhed and twisted in a violent rain-storm, seeming then fairly to agonize, so tossed and buffeted were they by the wind. But soon the storm ceased, the sun shone on the rounded head of the willow, turning the raindrops to quickly vanishing diamonds, and the great tree breathed only a gentle and benignant peace. When, in later years, I came to know the moss-hung live-oak of the Southland, the weeping willow assumed to me a new dignity and value in the northern landscape, and I have strongly resented the attitude of a noted writer on "Art Out of Doors" who says of it: "I never once have seen it where it did not hurt the effect of its surroundings, or at least, if it stood apart from other trees, where some tree of another species would not have looked far better." One of the great merits of the tree, its difference of habit, its variation from the ordinary, is thus urged against it.
I have spoken of the basket willow, which is scientifically Salix viminalis, and an introduction from Europe, as indeed are many of the family. In my father's nursery grew a great patch of basket willows, annually cut to the ground to make a profusion of "sprouts," from which were cut the "tying willows" used to bind firmly together for shipment bundles of young trees. It was an achievement to be able to take a six-foot withe, and, deftly twisting the tip of it under the heel to a mass of flexible fiber, tie this twisted portion into a substantial loop; and to have this novel wooden rope then endure the utmost pull of a vigorous man, as he braced his feet against the bundle of trees in binding the withe upon it, gave an impression of anything but weakness on the part of the willow.
Who has not admired the soft gray silky buds of the "pussy" willow, swelling with the spring's impulse, and ripening quickly into a "catkin" loaded with golden pollen? Nowadays the shoots of this willow are "forced" into bud by the florists, and sold in the cities in great quantities; but really to see it one must find the low tree or bush by a stream in the woods, or along the roadside, with a chance to note its fullness of blossom. It is finest just when the hepaticas are at their bluest on the warm hillsides; and, one sunny afternoon of a spring journey along the north branch of the Susquehanna river, I did not know which of the two conspicuous ornaments of the deeply wooded bank made me most anxious to jump from the too swiftly moving train.
This pussy-willow has pleasing leaves, and is a truly ornamental shrub or small tree which will flourish quite well in a dry back yard, as I have reason to know. One bright day in February I found a pussy-willow tree, with its deep purple buds showing not a hint of the life within. The few twigs brought home quickly expanded when placed in water, and gave us their forecast of the spring. One twig was, out of curiosity, left in the water after the catkins had faded, merely to see what would happen. It bravely sent forth leaves, while at the base little white rootlets appeared. Its vigor appealing to us, it was planted in an arid spot in our back yard, and it is now, after a year and a half, a handsome, slender young tree that will give us a whole family of silken pussy-buds to stroke and admire another spring.
This same little tree is called also the glaucous willow, and it is botanically Salix discolor. It is more distinct than some others of the family, for the willow is a great mixer. The tree expert who will unerringly distinguish between the red oak and the scarlet oak by the precise angle of the spinose margins of the leaves (how I admire an accuracy I do not possess!) will balk at which is crack willow, or white willow, or yellow or blue willow. The abundant vigor and vitality and freedom of the family, and the fact that it is of what is known as the dioecious habit—that is, the flowers are not complete, fertile and infertile flowers being borne on separate trees—make it most ready to hybridize. The pollen of the black willow may fertilize the flower of the white willow, with a result that certainly tends to grayness on the worrying head of the botanist who, in after years, is trying to locate the result of the cross!
There is much variety in the willow flowers—and I wonder how many observers really notice any other willow "blossoms" than those of the showy pussy? A superb spring day afield took me along a fascinatingly crooked stream, the Conodoguinet, whose banks furnish a congenial and as yet protected (because concealed from the flower-hunting vandal) home for wild flowers innumerable and most beautiful, as well as trees that have ripened into maturity. An earlier visit at the time the bluebells were ringing out their silent message on the hillside, in exquisite beauty, with the lavender phlox fairly carpeting the woods, gave a glimpse of some promising willows on the other side of the stream. Twilight and letters to sign—how hateful the desk and its work seem in these days of springing life outside!—made a closer inspection impossible then, but a golden Saturday afternoon found three of us, of like ideals, hastening to this tree and plant paradise. A mass of soft yellow drew us from the highway across a field carpeted thickly with bluet or "quaker lady," to the edge of the stream, where a continuous hum showed that the bees were also attracted. It was one splendid willow in full bloom, and I could not and as yet cannot safely say whether it is the crack willow or the white willow; but I can affirm of a certainty that it was a delight to the eye, the mind and the nostrils. The extreme fragility of the smaller twigs, which broke away from the larger limbs at the lightest shake or jar, gave evidence of one of Nature's ways of distributing plant life; for it seems that these twigs, as I have previously said, part company with the parent tree most readily, float away on the stream, and easily establish themselves on banks and bars, where their tough, interlacing roots soon form an almost impregnable barrier to the onslaught of the flood. Only a stone's throw away there stood a great old black willow, with a sturdy trunk of ebon hue, crowned with a mass of soft green leafage, lighter where the breeze lifted up the under side to the sunlight. Many times, doubtless, the winds had shorn and the sleet had rudely trimmed this old veteran, but there remained full life and vigor, even more attractive than that of youth.
Most of the willows are shrubs rather than trees, and there are endless variations, as I have before remarked. Further, the species belonging at first in the Eastern Hemisphere have spread well over our own side of the globe, so that it seems odd to regard the white willow and the weeping willow as foreigners. At Niagara Falls, in the beautiful park on the American side, on the islands amid the toss of the waters, there are many willows, and those planted by man are no less beautiful than those resulting from Nature's gardening. In spring I have had pleasure in some splendid clumps of a form with lovely golden leaves and a small, furry catkin, found along the edge of the American rapids. I wonder, by the way, how many visitors to Niagara take note of the superb collection of plants and trees there to be seen, and which it is a grateful relief to consider when the mind is wearied with the majesty and the vastness of Nature's forces shown in the cataract? The birds are visitors to Goat Island and the other islets that divide the Niagara River, and they have brought there the plants of America in wonderful variety.
There is one willow that has been used by the nurserymen to produce a so-called weeping form, which, like most of these monstrosities, is not commendable. The goat willow is a vigorous tree introduced from Europe, having large and rather broad and coarse leaves, dark green above and whitish underneath. It is taken as a "stock," upon which, at a convenient height, the skilled juggler with trees grafts a drooping or pendulous form known as the Kilmarnock willow, thus changing the habit of the tree so that it then "weeps" to the ground. Fortunately, the original tree sometimes triumphs, the graft dies, and a lusty goat willow rears a rather shapely head to the sky.
This Kilmarnock willow is a favorite of the peripatetic tree agent, and I have enjoyed hugely one notable evidence of his persuasive eloquence to be seen in a Lebanon Valley town, inhabited by the quaint folk known as Pennsylvania Germans. All along the line of the railroad traversing this valley may be seen these distorted willows decorating the prim front yards, and they are not so offensive when used with other shrubs and trees. In this one instance, however, the tree agent evidently found a customer who was persuaded that if one Kilmarnock willow was a good thing to have, a dozen of them was twelve times better; wherefore his dooryard is grotesquely adorned with that many flourishing weepers, giving an aspect that is anything but decorous or solemn. Some time the vigilance of the citizen will be relaxed, it may be hoped; he will neglect to cut away the recurring shoots of the parent trees, and they will escape and destroy the weeping form which provides so much sarcastic hilarity for the passers-by.