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A New Tree: Tree Following, May 2016

May 10, 2016

new treeAfter a year following my red maple (Acer rubrum) tree, it is time to choose a tree to follow for the next year. I had originally planned to focus on another tree species that dominates the woods around my house (oak or birch or pine or hemlock), but changed my mind and have instead chosen a sapling growing outside my study window.

This tree is new in the sense that it is a new tree for me to follow, but also in the sense that it is a young, new tree. It stands about 7’ high, with its main trunk dividing into two leaders about two feet above the ground. I’m sure it has been there for several years, but somehow I never noticed it until this March, when I was attracted to its cinnamon-colored bark.

new tree barkOne of my goals in following this tree for a year is to decide whether I should nurture it and make it a garden feature rather than just one of the dozens of wild trees growing around the edges of my garden.

The first step in making that decision is to identify the tree. In this I have been helped by The Forest Trees of Maine (Maine Forest Service, 2008), which is the textbook for the Senior College course on Maine trees that I have been taking this spring. When I first noticed my little tree, it was bare, but I could see that its lateral buds alternated along the stem. This ruled out trees with opposite leaves like maple, ash, horsechestnut, and most dogwoods. As winter turned into spring, each of those buds opened into a cluster of oval leaves with finely toothed edges. Then flower buds emerged at the tops of the two leaders.

new tree leaves

new tree flower budsUsing these clues, I have tentatively identified my new tree as one of Maine’s native cherries (Prunus). The two most likely candidates are pin cherry (P. pennsylvanica) and black cherry (P. serotina). Right now, I am leaning toward Prunus pennsylvanica (pin cherry) as the correct identification, mostly because the flower buds seem to be shaped more like the rounded clusters of that species than the elongated racemes of Prunus serotina. I will be able to tell more when the leaves fully mature and by the timing and shape of the flower blooms. Perhaps by next month, I will feel more certain of my new tree’s identity.

The tree-following meme is hosted by Pat English at The Squirrel Basket. Visit her blog to learn about the trees being followed by other garden bloggers.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2016 11:37 pm

    As the tree chose you in planting itself outside your window, it’s good of you to return the favor! Do you think you’ll get some fruit out of those flower buds this year?

    • May 15, 2016 9:27 am

      Kris, I doubt I’ll get any fruit from those flower buds, but the birds might. I don’t know if the tree is self-fertile or if it would need pollen from another cherry to produce fruit. If this is a pin cherry, the fruits are tiny and not of much interest for human consumption. I’m hoping to answer some of these questions as I follow this tree for a year.

  2. May 12, 2016 12:51 pm

    Excellent! I love the thrill of the chase to identify a tree.
    Best wishes 🙂

    • May 15, 2016 9:28 am

      Thanks, Pat. I’m waiting not-so-patiently for those flower buds to open, which will help me to identify the tree.

  3. May 12, 2016 5:48 pm

    that bark looks well worth training to an attractive view from your window.

    • May 15, 2016 9:29 am

      Diana, The bark is beautiful. I realize, however, that it will lose that bright color and smooth texture as the tree matures.

  4. May 15, 2016 3:08 pm

    Lucky you if it is a cherry and i look forward to seeing it grow with you.

  5. May 19, 2016 4:19 pm

    Hello Jean, when I saw the photo of the tree’s trunk, I thought it was a Prunus Serrula, a Tibetan Cherry, known for it’s polished, smooth bark. It’s an ornamental that I very much doubt grows in the wild so I thought it wouldn’t be that – it looks very similar though.


  1. Tree following link box for May 2016 | The Squirrelbasket

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