Trees for color, life and intrigue

If you’re considering adding a tree to your home landscape, pay attention to various tree species this fall and throughout the year to help you find what appeals to you and may be a good fit for your property. Research the benefits of native tree species, determine the size of the tree desired and what birds and other wildlife you want to attract. Some of your research can be rooted in personal observations–make it fun!

Pin Oak. November 13, 2017. Douglas County, KS.

As autumn begins to wane, deciduous trees have released their leaves or are bursting with remnants of fall color. Osage orange fruit are dropping and providing nutrition for wildlife, with some fruit still grasping to leafless branches like early Christmas tree ornaments. A statuesque Pin oak I admire daily is full of firmly attached leaves of tinted green, amber and russet, shimmering after the recent rain. Their leaves won’t fall and migrate to my yard for some time. Unlike the Pin oak, the non-native ginkgo tree may drop all its leaves within hours in the fall when the temperature dips resulting in a sudden, photogenic assortment of golden fan-shaped leaves beneath the tree.

What trees are you noticing this fall?

 Look upward for secrets revealed during leaf-off. Great Horned Owl and Red-Tailed Hawk nests are more visible and never seem quite large enough for their purpose. What tree species were chosen for their nests? The Baltimore oriole nests I rarely see on my walks during summer nesting are becoming exposed—these intricately woven hanging nests spark respect and wonder. Did this nest I’m seeing for the first time up high in the eastern cottonwood by the lakeshore produce fledglings? Are the adult and juvenile orioles raised here thriving in their winter habitat? Will the beavers ignore this tempting cottonwood so it may host a new oriole nest next spring?

Tree identification in winter can be a challenging and entertaining exercise during the home gardening lull. Transform your walks around the neighborhood, parks and nature trails into scavenger hunts. How many deciduous tree species can you find? Look for leaves, seed pods, nuts and fruit remaining on the tree or on the ground for clues, and study the patterns of the bark to help you narrow the tree species. Notice the overall shape of each tree. Which species do you find particularly appealing? Just for fun drive to see some of Kansas’s champion trees and observe their seasonal changes.

It’s easy to add color, life and intrigue to your yard by planting a new deciduous tree native to our region. There’s something out there for every yard–rural, urban or suburban. Visit the Lawn and Garden Neighborhood inside the library for ideas and venture into the science and nature section to explore one of my favorite books featuring incredible photography, Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo and photographer Robert Llewellyn. It’s the book that enlightened me to what’s hidden inside the Sweetgum tree’s famous (or infamous?) spiky fruit. Did you know that each chamber of the Sweetgum’s gumball holds two small winged seeds? Check it out the next time you meet a Sweetgum. There are some of these trees very close to the library. Can you find them?

Kimberly Sain

As a Public Services Specialist, in addition to Reference work I promote the Travel, Pets, and Lawn & Garden Neighborhoods, coordinate nature-themed programs for adults and families, and serve on the Big Read planning committee. My interests include exploring new travel destinations, National Parks, Alaska, hiking trails in Kansas, Colorado and Arkansas, birding, Sandhill crane migration, Monarch waystations, Kansas native plants, citizen science activities, volunteer work as a certified Kansas Master Naturalist, and reading essays about the natural environment. Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country is my all-time favorite novel.