We lost a beloved spruce last fall in the snowstorm that followed Hurricane Sandy. We had planted it the year we got married, cared for it, watched it grow, and used it as a backdrop for photographs of many happy events – a new baby coming home, family visits, graduations… Not to mention that the spruce had provided shelter for countless winged residents and passers-through. You get the idea. It was an important tree.
Conditions in the back yard have changed. It is shadier than it was years ago. We have changed, too. We decided to take all we’d recently learned about the importance of native plants to heart and embarked on a search for a native tree that would thrive in our little shady urban plot, a tree that would be “easy on the eyes,” resistant to disease, and an attraction for native wildlife.
After much research we chose the American Hornbeam or “Musclewood” (Carpinus caroliniana), a member of the Birch family, and native to much of eastern North America. The smooth gray bark and fluted trunk of a mature specimen suggests a strongly-muscled limb (to me, an animal leg), hence its nickname. In fact the trunk is one of the tree’s most attractive features, particularly during winter when its limbs are bare.
You may not see it now, but in a few years this tree will be buff!
The tree is slow-growing, to a height of 30 feet with a spread about the same. The American Hornbeam is not considered a particularly showy tree. In spring it has flowering catkins. In fall its leaves turn yellow to orange-red, and it bears small nutlets. Songbirds in particular are attracted to this tree for its fruit and the shelter it offers.
Yesterday this American Hornbeam was planted in our yard, not far from where the spruce once stood. It has been watered well. Its leaves are starting to unfurl.
My husband had just wondered out loud how long it would take the birds to notice the new addition when the mockingbird, who has been claiming our yard as part of his territory for the last few weeks, landed in the tree and then used it as a diving board for a plunge into the adjacent bird bath.
Much like deciding to have a child, planting a tree takes a leap of faith. You hope it will thrive. You hope it will be a benefit to the world around it. You hope you will see it to maturity. [In this case, we hope it will be a backdrop in many happy photographs.] We hope…
I hear the mockingbird singing.
Why Saturday Short Subjects? Some readers may recall being dropped at the movie theater for the Saturday matinee — two action-packed feature films with a series of short subjects (cartoons or short movies, sometimes a serial cliffhanger) sandwiched in between. Often the short subjects were the most memorable, and enjoyable, part of the morning. That explains the name. The reason behind these particular posts is that we are all short on time. My Short Subject posts should not take me as long to write or you as long to read (or try).