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Sycamores, Limosins and Eastern Wahoo

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sycamore bark, with its camo-patterns of gray, green, ghost white and cocoa brown, enchants me. I'd love to wear a dress of sycamore bark, if I wouldn't be mistaken for a deer hunter.

We planted a sycamore in our side yard, watched it grow to pyrimidal young prince, only to have its top break out in a dreadful fall windstorm in September '10. I know it will recover, but it's upsetting to see our proud giant beheaded. I'm looking forward to seeing it send up a new leader, to see it grow up with a kink in its trunk.

Today Bill removed the last of its broken branches, making the aspect less upsetting. Now, to wait. A man once told my dad he wasn't going to plant fruit trees because it takes too long for them to bear. My dad replied, "Might as well plant them. You're waiting anyway."

Dad's been popping up in my thoughts a lot lately. The wisdom he gave me, I pass on to my children. He never knew them, but he informs their thoughts. And so he lives on.

A nurseryman in Yellow Springs told me that sycamores are very good at compartmentalizing injuries. I liked that term, compartmentalizing. It means sending out lusty ridges and laval flows of scar tissue around the wound, going on, after a brief pause, with their tree-ey lives. Here's to scar tissue. Scar tissue keeps us moving forward, growing upward. We compartmentalize the injury, pad it with a healing ridge, and pick ourselves up to move on. It can take years, but we wrestle our minds around and most of us manage to do it. And so do the trees. Scars give us character, empathy, tolerance, grace, and a certain beauty.

Some Limosin cattle were peeking shyly out at us from behind their hay rack. The sun lit their ear fringes, giving them an enchanting rim of light. I love Limosins almost like I love Jerseys.

Soon we would come upon a little stand of one of my favorite fall plants--the eastern wahoo, Euonymus atropurpureus. Native Americans used it medicinally--it has compounds that work like Digitalis, a heart regulator that comes from foxgloves. They also used its super-straight tough stems as arrow shafts. I love its stripey green bark, and especially its fall fruit. Not to eat, just to admire.

I really like getting land and sky in my botanical photos. The Canon G-11 is really good at that. The photos have an almost surreal quality, as you make out details of trees hundreds of yards away even as you're getting a closeup of the plant in question. Of course, to accomplish this, you often have to drop to your knees. That's OK. I do a lot of that anyway in the course of my Science Chimping.

The fruits have a wonderful spongy pink capsule that bursts open and shows the red pericarp to great advantage. I'm guessing they're trying to attract birds as dispersal agents with all this color. I imagine waxwings, hovering. Mmmmm. Bluebirds, too.

Winged Wahoo is a common yard shrub; this is its wild, native Southeastern cousin. Another name for it is Burning Bush. Later its leaves will burst into orange flame. Altogether a lovely plant, and a welcome reminder of my Virginia childhood.

It's warm enough on this early winter day to make Chet Baker pant. He runs circles around me as I walk, always staying in earshot and racing back at my call, as a good dog will.

The grass is too inviting, so he stops to graze awhile. This is his grass-eating face, with his muzzlepuffs all pulled up and out of the way. He's being a Holstein for a moment. The world's smallest Holstein, with grass. Without milk.

I walk a little farther and find a Little Yellow butterfly, Eurema lisa. I'd found it in Virginia, but never before seen it in Ohio. This year I've seen two--one in my yard, and one here on Dean's Fork. They're irregular vagrants, coming up from the south in the fall. Much more common near the coast than inland--I'm lucky to see them here at all. I love butterflying in part for that element of uncertainty. Turns out it was a big year for Little Yellows in Ohio and elsewhere. I learned that on Facebook, from Kenn Kaufman. Facebook can be good.

That dull brownish spot on the rear margin of its hindwing, its tiny size, and its furiously rapid low flight render it instantly identifiable, if not photographable! Count this a pretty good shot of a Little Yellow.

I give a little whoop of joy and walk on.

Thanks for everything, you good old road. Long may you run.


I loves me sycamores! and your dad's lesson carries me back to my own childhood: one Arbor Day our kindergarten class was sent home excitedly with little spindly sycamores to plant. A few wks. later a severe storm came through snapping big branches off the grand old trees around our yard. I went crying to mother that my poor little tree didn't stand a chance, but she explained that because it was young and flexible it would bend with the wind (as the big stiff trees could not) and do just fine; not to worry. She was right and it lived to be a great old tree. I still remember that as one of my 1st lessons about the ways of nature (and of aging & growing stiff!).

I spent about fifteen minutes a couple of weeks ago trying to get a decent shot of a Little Yellow. All I got was tired and some sulphur-colored blobs. Nice job!

Talk of sycamores and a Virginia childhood have me fingering the ridgy scars just a little, and moving on.

AT the Honolulu Zoo, I took a picture of some tree bark that looked just like a sycamore, except that the inside layers were pink, orange, red, and green!

I love your sycamores also. But instead of clothes, I think of room colors. That beautiful gray-blue would go so beautifully with that brown. I've been dreaming of someday doing a bedroom in the dark teal green of a beautiful bamboo I once met, matched with its silver dusting.

I also want a library done in Wood Duck. It would look like an Indian style room with those colors in a room without windows.

And the pebbles in the streams I sometimes get to paddle in Mississippi - they are one color dry and another color wet. I gather color families and think about walls with dry colors on the sunny places and wet ones on the more shaded walls.

My mother's favorite tree was a sycamore. Back east, they were less common, so we'd stop in our travels whenever we found one close to the road so she could sketch.
Now in the Ohio River valley I find them everywhere.
And so she lives on.

Loving these comments from other sycamore fans, and knowing that there are others who stop just to look at a tree. I'm looking out at snow on the broken top of our young tree, thinking about the leader it will choose next summer.
Marilyn, I painted my orchid room/bedroom that dark mushroom-gray-green color of the darkest mottles of the bark. I chose it by holding chips behind my blooming orchids and seeing which color set them off the best. Our house (which needs painting again, ugh!) is the sage-green of the lightest mottles, as is our living room. No less than Martha Stewart chooses color families just the way you and I do.
Unmitigated, that tree is from Australia, and it's called a painted gum. I saw my first one in Guatemala on Los Tarrales, which is a beautifully landscaped plantation, and was lucky enough to be able to find out what it was and where it's from. I photographed and stared at that tree for ages. I remember saying to my companions that I would live in the tropics just to have a chance to grow a tree like that in my yard! Here's the URL of a gorgeous photo of painted gum bark.
Now imagine a room painted in those colors!

Thanks for the photo of the wahoo. I came across one of these for the first time in October at Whitewater State Park in Liberty IN, and was wondering what kind of plant it was.

We have a beautiful tree here in South Florida, the Rainbow Eucalyptus. The bark will peel like a sycamore,each layer revealing a different color. I don't know what their cold hardiness is, it grows too large for us to have as a yard tree, but would be a beautiful addition to your woods.

Hi Bonnie--that is the same tree I'm calling Painted Gum in the comments above yours. Yes, it is a HUGE tree! and certainly not cold-adapted, based on where I've seen it growing--pretty solidly tropical. I'm afraid Ohio isn't in the cards.

The sycamore is at the top of my list of trees for sheer lovliness. At all times of the year they add noble character to wherever they growing.
And here's another little sycamore tidbit for you: they are among the oldest tree species! They were around in the Cretaceous Period (144-65 million years ago), along with Redwoods.

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