Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Tulip Tree Flowers May 29, 2009

Filed under: Plants,Seasons,Spring,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 12:07 pm
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Our neighborhood Tulip Tree is finally blooming! Lots of other trees flower first and then open their leaves, but Tulip Trees do the opposite. So, here’s a side view of the flower, which reminds me of a subtly colored garden tulip (if there is such a thing):

Our neighborhood Tulip Tree is finally flowering!

Our neighborhood Tulip Tree is finally flowering!

Now, let’s peek inside a flower. Because Tulip Trees are a kind of magnolia, there are lots of pollen-producing parts surrounding a cone-like mass of seed-producing parts. They say this is what some of the first flowers looked like, back during dinosaur times:

The Tulip Tree flower has lots of male parts surrounding a cone-shpaed mass of female parts.

The Tulip Tree flower has lots of male parts surrounding a cone-shaped mass of female parts.

The next photo shows an unopened bud below a flower:

Some of the buds are not yet open -- that means you have a few more days if you want to see this Tulip Tree in bloom.

Some of the buds are not yet open -- that means you have a few more days if you want to see this Tulip Tree in bloom.

Oak Parkers and other who want to see Tulip Tree flowers can find this tree on the south side of Rehm Park, where Scoville deadends into the park. It’s a young tree, so some flowers are at eye level for adults. There are other Tulip Trees in town, but they’re so tall that you need binoculars to appreciate the flowers.

We’ve been following this tree since early spring. In case you missed those posts, here’s what a Tulip Tree twig looked like on April 29, when the leaf buds had just opened:

The Tulip Tree buds have opened, revealing expanding leaves around the remains of last year's fruits.

On April 29, the Tulip Tree buds had opened, revealing expanding leaves around the remains of last year's fruits.

Also on April 29, the flower buds were just beginning to form:

On April 29 the flower buds were still rather small.

In late April the Tulip Tree's almond-shaped flower buds were rather small.

Back on April 8th, the leaf buds were opening below the remains of last year’s seed pods:

Back on April 8th, the leaf buds were just beginning to open.

On April 8th, the Tulip Tree's duckbill-shaped leaf buds were just beginning to open.

If you want to see what happens once the flowers fade away and seeds begin to form, go here.

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Can you tell I like Tulip Trees? They remind me of my younger days, when I first explored the woodlands of southern Ohio and Indiana. I saw huge Tulip Trees in some of the old growth forests. I also love the link Tulip Trees provide to Early Cretaceous flowers (that’s the later part of dinosaur times). So, I’m glad that the Parks Department and Village Forester have planted at least a few Tulip Trees in our parks and along our streets.

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To learn more about Tulip Trees, you can check these websites:

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This post is our contribution to this month’s Festival of the Trees. This blog carnival includes several other Tulip Tree posts, plus posts on other tree flowers, tree fruits, knots and gnarls, and more. Go here to read the festival entries.

 

Tree Flowers, Then and Now May 1, 2009

This spring we’ve been following tree buds as they open, revealing new flowers, new leaves, and more. For instance, back on March 29th we got our first look at the spectacular pollen-producing flowers of the male Red Maple:

The male Red Maple flowers shed loads of pollen into the air.

Beginning in late March the male Red Maple flowers shed loads of pollen into the air.

We revisited our male maple on April 28th. Can you guess what we found?

On April 28th, the male Red Maple had opening leaves, but no flowers and no seeds.

On April 28th the male Red Maple had opening leaves, but no flowers and no seeds.

Once their pollen is shed, male flowers are done for the year. Our all-male Red Maple was just making leaves from its remaining buds. We also showed a female Red Maple back on April 8th. The female flowers were not as spectacular the male ones, but they had their own subtle beauty:

The female Red Maple flowers were not as flamboyant as the male flowers.

On April 8th female Red Maple flowers were not as flamboyant as the male flowers.

Here’s what the same female tree looked like on April 29th:

The female Red maple flowers have produced lots of winged seeds, but the leaves are barely beginning to open.

By April 29th the female Red Maple flowers were producing lots of winged seeds, but the leaf buds were barely opening.

Our female tree’s leaves were beginning to expand, but most its energy went to providing for the next generation. I guess the female Red Maple’s work was not yet done, at least not by the end of April. (You can insert your own gender observations here, but remember that at least some human dads stay home with the kids.)

We also showed American Elm flowers in our March 29th post. Unlike our Red Maples, elms have both pollen- and seed-producing parts in each flower:

On Americna Elm flowers, the male parts stick out, and the female ones are hidden.

On these American Elm flowers, photographed on March 20th, the male parts stuck out, but the female parts were hidden.

With both genders on the same tree, it’s no surprise that American Elms all over our neighborhood are loaded with green, ripening seeds:

On April 28th these rounded American Elm seeds were ripening, but the leaf bud on the tip of the twig was just starting to open.

On April 28th these rounded American Elm seeds were ripening, but the leaf bud on the tip of the twig was just starting to open.

Our first look at a Tulip Tree was back on April 8th. We saw some opening buds below the brownish remains of last year’s fruit:

On Aoril 8th, the Tulip Tree buds were barely open.

On April 8th, the Tulip Tree buds were barely open.

We checked back again on April 29th and found expanding leaves, but no flowers:

The Tulip Tree buds have opened, revealing expanding leaves around the remains of last year's fruits.

The Tulip Tree buds had opened by April 29th, revealing expanding leaves around the remains of last year's fruits.

Because Tulip Trees are a type of magnolia, we’re expecting a big flowers later this spring. Maybe they’ll emerge from the almond-shaped features at the end of the Tulip Tree twigs:

We're wondering if the Tulip Tree's flower will emerge from the almond-shaped thing in the center of the photo.

We're wondering if the Tulip Tree's flower will emerge from the almond-shaped thing in the center of the photo.

If you want to help us keep track of this tree, it’s in Rehm Park where Scoville deadends into the south end of the Park.

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Update added May 29, 2009: Our Tulip Tree finally bloomed today! To see photos, please go here.

 

Catching up with Spring April 17, 2009

Spring is about change, and right now change is happening so fast that it’s hard to keep up. Yesterday we showed one Dwarf Iris flower and two buds — today there were three flowers:

All three Dwarf Iris buds have opened!
All three Dwarf Iris buds have opened!

The Trout Lily bud we showed two days ago has not yet opened, but more flower buds have appeared, and most bud stems are no longer nestled in protective leaves:

Most Trout Lily buds were standing free, not wrapped in protective leaves.
Most Trout Lily buds were standing free, not wrapped in protective leaves.

Two fruit trees have burst into bloom along Garfield Street, east of Ridgeland Avenue:

I'm not sure what kind of tree this is, but it did attract the first honey bee I've seen this spring.
I don’t know the name of this tree, but I think it’s an ornamental fruit.

So, some flowers are already blooming; others are catching up with their first buds of spring. Here’s a Lily of the Valley from the Oak Park Arts District, along Harrison Street:

As usual, the first Lily of the Valley buds formed along a south-facing wall.
As usual, the first Lily of the Valley buds formed along a south-facing wall.

After watching for more than a week, I finally spotted the first Virginia Bluebell of the year in Columbus Park:

Virginia Bluebell is a native wildflower, although these may have been planted by the Park District.

Virginia Bluebell is a native wildflower, although these may have been planted by the Park District.

Now let’s move from flowers to fruits, and the animals that eat them. In late February we posted photos of Staghorn Sumac fruits, which added color to the winter woods. We saw squirrels eat some sumac fruits this winter, but most remained on the trees until last week. That’s when I noticed Northern Flickers and Downy Woodpeckers eating sumac fruits. By today the sumac trees were stripped bare:

It seems the Flickers and other woodpeckers had eaten all the sumac berries. Perhaps it was for wood, but the may have also used the red sumac pigments to brighten the colors of their feathers.

Flickers and other woodpeckers ate all the sumac berries. Perhaps it was for food, or maybe they used red sumac pigments to brighten up their feathers.

Here’s more news of animals in our neighborhood: I heard my first Columbus Park Bullfrog of the spring — it croaked as it jumped into the lagoon, too fast for me to see. I also watched Painted Turtles sun themselves on lagoon logs, and I spotted my first Cabbage White Butterfly of 2009 in a meadow near Austin Boulevard. And my first Honey Bee of 2009 was feeding on the fruit tree flowers on Garfield.

Finally, back in early March we started following hummingbird migration on hummingbirds.net. According to the online map, the first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds reached our area more than a week ago. We finally put out our hummingbird feeder yesterday:

Our backyard hummingbird feeder. We use a mix of one part sugar to 4 parts water, and we don't add any dye.

Our backyard hummingbird feeder. We use a mix of one part sugar to four parts water, heated to boiling, and we don't add any dye.

Why the wait? No matter what we see on hummingbirds.net, we don’t know any birders who’ve seen Ruby-throats this year in Illinois. There have been no reports on IBET, and none on eBird, either. According to eBird, last year’s earliest Ruby-throat for our County was April 27. Last year we saw our first in Columbus Park on May 23.

So, these days we don’t have much faith in hummingbirds.net. It’s possible those folks are seeing a different species — perhaps Rufous Humingbirds, which wander here in colder weather — or maybe something else is going on. Anyway, our feeder’s out, and we’ll keep it filled and fresh until next fall.

And that’s the news. We’re caught up — until the next time we walk outside. There’s sure to be some new sign of spring tomorrow!

 

My First Crocus of the Spring March 19, 2009

Filed under: Cultivated Flowers,Plants,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 1:22 pm
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Last week, on a dark and rainy day, I photographed new shoots from spring bulbs. Today, with bright sun but cool temperatures, I returned to the same garden in south Oak Park:

Last week's leaves had grown bigger, and the first crocuses had bloomed!

Last week's leaves were larger, and the first Crocuses had bloomed!

Getting closer, the three flowers varied from barely open to splayed wide in the sun:

As the crocus flowers opened, they revealed bright yellow insides.

As the Crocus flowers opened, they revealed bright yellow insides.

You could almost lose yourself inside the flowers:

The six petals surrounded a yellow secret -- the future of its kind.

Six petals surround a yellow secret -- it's where the seeds are made.

Here’s something I just learned: The spice, saffron, is made from the yellow insides of a kind of crocus.

It looks like the Daffodils will be next:

I'll come back next week to see if these have opened.

I'll come back next week to see if these have opened.

 

Searching for Spring, but Hoping for More Winter January 29, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Plants,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 5:41 pm
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On some January days, we really need to search for signs of spring.

This week, we’ve heard House Finches singing, the Cardinals are more aggressive and harder to count, and some male Goldfinches look a bit more yellow. And the buds on neighborhood trees seem to be swelling, like these maple buds from down the street:

These maple buds are getting bigger week by week -- a sign that spring is coming!

These maple buds are getting bigger week by week -- a sign that spring is coming!

But, I’m glad we still have some winter left. Our year lists still lack some winter visitors, like Black Scoter and Long-eared Owl.

And we’re still searching for White-winged Crossbills in our neighborhood. We gained some hope this morning when a birder reported Crossbills in a Westchester yard, a few miles to the southwest. But our hopes were dampened by an IBET discussion about what Crossbills eat. They have a tough time opening cones of Norway and Blue Spruce — and guess which spruce are common in our neighborhood?

By the way, I saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Columbus Park today. It wasn’t a sign of spring — just a winter visitor that lingered further north than its kin. But the sapsucker got me thinking about what’s going on inside all those barren trees. The tree sap must moving — otherwise, why would the buds be swelling? And what would the sapsucker sip?