When we took up residence at our new home on Hedgehog Mountain we planted three Tulip Poplar trees. We got them from Arbor Day Foundation as not very hopeful bare root sticks. Over the ten years we’ve been here, two have survived. One is not much more than 3 ft tall while the other is pushing 30 feet.
Late last year we found old flowers seeds on the big tree, but we had not seen flowering. Moreover, I had never seen flowers son the two really big trees in Appleton Cemetery.
Tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipiera, is native to the mid Atlantic region and Appalachian Mountains. In its native range, trees can reach 150 or more feet in height, with long, straight, unbranched trunks and a spreading crown. I have seen magnificent trees in Maryland, not far from Washington DC, and in North Carolina. The species does not occur naturally this far north. These trees are beautiful. The few trees that I know for Deering are planted, the largest in the Appleton Cemetery sometime late in the 19th Century and in memory of some now unknown soul.
Although I had never seen the Appleton trees to flower, I have seen tulip poplar seedlings in Deering. One in Appleton Cemetery, next to the road and one deep inside the Titcomb Conservation Easement on Clement Hill Road — not so far from Appleton Cemetery. I am assuming the Appleton trees provided the seed. Maybe one day, with a warming climate, there will be magnificent specimens of tulip poplar in our forest?
The Appleton trees are currently in full bloom. It is a bit difficult to see the flowers in the trees as you travel at the legal speed of 35 mph on Deering Center Rd, but if you know to look at the trees, the flowers are visible from the road.
Tulip poplar is related to Magnolia, and their flowers are similar. But while the flowers of Magnolia are, basically, white or pink, the flowers of tulip poplar are orange and green. The flowers bear a superficial resemblance to a tulip. The flowers are quite beautiful and well worth a visit.
When I retired eleven years ago I decided that our new home would not have a lawn that required care. No verdant landscape rolling toward the horizon for me!
Here in Deering, on Hedgehog Mountain, what passes for soil is sand and is definitely on the acidic side. Just as well I didn’t want a lawn to mow because where we live, our little piece of heaven, is not a good bet for a grassy lawn anyway.
What we do have, though is a meadow of sorts. Not a lot of grass, but lots of flowering plants come up through the season. Pollinators love it.
One of the niftier North American native plants that flowers this time of year is narrow-leaved blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium. Our plants stand maybe ten inches tall and have narrow, grass-like leaves. Pretty deep blue, star-like flowers having six points arise in succession at the tips of the branches. Usually about three flower buds occur at the end of a stem, but buds open in succession — not at the same time — and remain open for a day or less, never at night. Thus the time window for pollination is rather small, but this is made up for by the continuing succession of flowers from May through midsummer. Without the flowers it would be difficult to recognize the plant as anything other than a grass, but Sisyrinchium is a genus of the Iris family.
On-line pictures of blue-eyed grass show the plants growing in dense clusters. Not so here. Blue-eyed grass prefers moist habitats, where it can be seen to be quite exuberant. Maybe it’s our nasty soil, but for us the plants are abundant, but are typically scattered. They are perennial from a rhizome, and reproduce by seed. The fibrous rhizomes store food. The capsule contains three seeds.
The profuse blooms of Narrow-leaved Blue-eyed grass attract a variety of pollinators including sweat bees, bumble bees, bee flies, and syrphid flies as well as spring butterflies such as the lovely blue Azures. Their seeds provide food for songbirds. Native Americans cooked and ate the spring greens and used the plant medicinally “to regulate” the bowels and treat diarrhea, and made a plant tea to treat stomach aches, but it seems far too lovely to eat!
The plant can be propagated and can make a nice addition to your garden, for those who make a distinction between ‘garden’ and ‘not garden.’
It is said that the ‘pink earth lichen,’ Dibaeis beomyces, can be identified from a car at 40 miles per hour.
I don’t know about that. But, this lichen is distinctive for its cushion-shaped, pink caps that top short, pale stalks. The pink cap is where the sexual spores form. They are spread by water splashing. The stalks arise from a thin crust, the crustose thallus, where cells of the photobiont — the green algal partner of this lichen — are found.
Dibaeis beomyces occurs on clay soils, often on road banks, and that is where these photos were taken. The species has a wide northern distribution in Eastern and North America, Europe and Arctic regions generally.
Deering residents compiled a list of the biggest trees in town in 1980 and 1985. The list was compiled well before the era of Global Positioning, and the locations given for individual trees were imprecise. Refinding the trees included in that list after 35 or so years has been a real challenge. However a few of the trees were recorded from cemeteries, and that considerably narrows the search range. I found big tulip poplars at the north end of the Appleton Cemetery at the entry to Deering on Deering Center Rd.
Tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, is one of the tallest trees found in eastern North America. On average these trees reach 70 to 100 ft, but occasional trees grow to 190 ft tall. Here in Deering we have two amazing tulip poplar trees, both in Appleton Cemetery, and both readily visible from Deering Center Rd at the north end of the cemetery. One of the trees is about 140 ft tall; the circumference of its trunk at 4 ft is 122″ and its diameter is 39″. In 1985 the circumference of this tree was 90″ and its diameter was 29″. Thus it’s increased by by about 10″ in diameter over the past 33 years. This tree has a single, straight trunk that is unbranched for almost half of the tree’s height. The trunk remains distinct and straight for the entire height of the tree, with large branches arising at right angles along the length of the trunk. The second tulip poplar is not as tall, but it has three trunks that seem to have a common origin, although they are not conjoined at the base. Like the single trunk tree, these three trunks are also unbranched for a considerable distance, and then branches arise at right angles to the trunk. Each has a circumference at 4 ft of about 90″, thus they are very large trees as well. The architecture of these trees is stunning once the leaves have fallen.
Tulip poplar is native to eastern North America, extending west to the Mississippi River and Ontario, but it is rare in New England. Large trees are common in the eastern Smoky Mts, as are the related Magnolias. The name ‘tulip poplar’ may come from the peculiarly shaped leaves, which resemble a tulip flower. Although Liriodendron is not related to poplar, like poplar the leaves of tulip poplar are brilliant yellow in autumn. Unlike most trees, flowers of tulip tree are conspicuous, quite large, and vaguely tulips. Here in the north the tree flowers late spring into June. Liriodendron is one of a few genera in the primitive plant family Magnoliaceae, which includes Magnolia species – – trees with equally showy flowers.
Tulip poplar is commonly sold as a horticultural plant and I know of two trees in Deering that have been planted within the past ten years. The trees in the Appleton Cemetery were planted a long time ago! Just how long is difficult to tell. The Appleton Cemetery is Deering oldest and largest burial ground, established in 1809. I have not seen records concerning the planting of trees in the Appleton Cemetery, but by comparing our tulip poplars with trees with a known history it might be possible to estimate the age of our trees.
There is a wonderful ‘grand allée’ of tulip poplars leading to the museum building of the New York Botanical Garden. The several trees that form the two rows of the Garden’s grand allée are similar in size to the Deering trees. They were planted as ten-year-old seedlings in 1903, and five years ago they were around 90 ft tall and the diameter of the trunk was 33″.
Based on their size differences, Deering’s trees might be older. Our trees are bigger than those in the Bronx, while growing under somewhat colder climatic conditions than found there. If the trunk increased in diameter at a constant rate, and over the past 33 years it added 10 ” in diameter, our trees could have been planted around the time of the Civil War. While the graves closest to the trees date from early 20th Century, there is sufficient space between them and the bases of the trees to suggest that the trees were present when those graves were dug, maybe marking the northern boundary of the cemetery. The oldest graves in the cemetery are some distance from these trees.
Coming up to Deering on Route 149 from Hillsborough, just past the cemetery at Clement Hill Road, on the left, you will see a very tall tree among other very tall trees that is just loaded with white flowers. A little further along on Deering Center Road, on the right, are a few smaller white-flowered trees. There is another really grand specimen of this same tree on Rt 9 heading into Concord at Currier Road. These are Northern Catalpa, Catalpa speciosa, and now is its time to bloom.
The exuberance of the blossoms of this tree, the mountain of white almost baroque flowers, seem out of place, here in flinty, cold, puritanical New England. But, here they are! And at least one of them has been in Deering for a very long time.
Northern Catalpa is thought to be native to the mid-west, the Arkansas and Illinois region. The species was introduced into New England late in the 19th Century as a shade tree in big Victorian estates. There was never a big Victorian estate at the location of Deering’s big Northern Catalpa, at the intersection of Clement Hill Rd and Deering Center Rd. I think it is on land that was owned by an early Deering settler, L. Otis, and may be the lot owned much later by John and Mary Herrick. The Herricks took up residence in Deering in 1917 at a place described as ‘the house by the side of the road at Route 149 and Clement Hill Road, formerly owned by the Otises.’ The Herricks were crafts people who were renowned for their work in pewter, silver and semiprecious stones (including garnets, quarts, crystals, and amethyst found in nearby stone walls). They were said to guard a secret formula for preparing cattails for reed chair seats.
Northern Catalpa trees are fast growing and can attain 40 – 60 feet in height and an age of 50 – 150 years (thus it is at least possible that the Herricks planted this tree early in the 20th Century). In New England the tree only occurs in garden settings in full sun; it is not known to be a forest tree. It can withstand a wide variety of soil conditions. The fruit is a bean-like pod that can reach 15 inches in length; it splits open to discharge seed. Sometimes the tree is called ‘cigar tree’ because of the fruit.
The big Northern Catalpa at the intersection of Clement Hill and Deering Center Roads has a trunk circumference of 105 inches (the circumference of the Hillsborough County champion Northern Catalpa, in Lyndeborough, is 156 inches). Catalpa did not appear in the 1980 or 1985 lists of big trees found in Deering.
Northern Catalpa is unusual in that its flowers are pollinated by bees during the day and by moths at night. Bees are attracted by the yellow and purple ‘nectar guides’ in the flowers, and moths are attracted by increased nighttime nectar production.
Catalpa is a genus of the family Bignoniaceae. It is not related to Bigonia, which is a member of the family Bigoniaceae. Catalpa is the northernmost member of the family. The Bignoniaceae is largely a tropical family, where it is represented by gaudily flowering vines and trees. A second species of Catalpa occurs as an ornamental in New England. Southern Catalpa, C. bignonioides, is a smaller tree that has smaller leaves and the leaves, when crushed, are said to have an unpleasant odor. The Southern Catalpa also flowers later than its northern cousin. Although Southern Catalpa is not supposed to be found in New Hampshire, there a big, old Catalpa in the North Weare Cemetery, on Route 149, that is not yet flowering; its leaves have at least a ‘funky’ odor that some might find unpleasant. It is likely to be Southern Catalpa
My favorite time of year here in New England is autumn. When I was much younger it was in the fall when I would fall in love. Even at this outer edge of my life the deepest of blue sky in autumn, and the leaves in their annual riot of color cause a frisson of joy. But leaf fall, the onset of winter, does not trigger depression in me. Winter is just another season and it one of breathtaking beauty. One of the favorite treats of winter is leafless old trees.
Now we’re in spring, at last. Before long our trees are going to leaf out and we’ll be into another summer. Take advantage of this in between time and really look at our trees before their branches are hidden behind leaves.
There is a lot of forest here in Deering, and in nearby town. The magnificence of the architecture of old trees is on full display now and has been throughout the winter. Look at a solitary old maple in the forest. The trunk all knotty and cankered, signs of depredation over even centuries. Deeply furrowed, the trunk sometimes seemingly twisted. Incredibly muscular branches that have supported generations of birds and squirrels. Solitary trees sometimes surrounded by their progeny, younger trees waiting their turn. These trees shade the forest floor to ensure regeneration of all sorts of life. They protect their young, and the young of others as they, in their own time will replace their elders. We now know that the trees are interconnected and communicate through a fungal network, and the network even extends to trees that were cut or that fell years ago. The old trees connect to us. We planted them before our houses many years ago and they stand, protecting our homes from wind, sun, and rain. They reassure us with their relative permenance. Some would say they are sentient, and there is a story of a man who trees loved and who was eventually enfolded by them. When I look at old trees with their often wild branching words that come to mind and images include power, strength, age, wisdom, beauty and community. I wish I were a poet. Words fail me in expressing my feelings.
Look around you at old trees living near you. Here are some of my favorites.
Let me know of your favorites!
This sugar maple at the top of Deering Center Road stands before ‘its’ house. Clearly this old tree stood before a different house, at another time. Maybe this is a modern iteration of the home that originally stood on this spot. Each autumn it’s leaves are outstanding.
The trunk of this maple looks to have been twisted but one gets an impression of strength, of muscles, of a readiness to defend the home and its occupants against evil.
These old sugar maples are all that remain of a population of several on the Baldwin property off Reservoir Rd. They were noted in the 1980 census of big trees but today they show signs of weariness, age. In their day one can imagine that they provided a good lot of New Hampshire maple syrup to their happy humans. The tree on the right was a champion nearly 40 years ago but today is a dignified but hollowed trunk. A reminder of what once grew in this part of the forest.
This sugar maple on East Deering Road started growing about 400 years ago.Sugar maple is not considered to be a long-lived tree! The trunk of this one is a mass of knots, scars of old branches and other predations. Despite those ravages, the tree is hanging on, reduced to a trunk and a few long, mighty branches, but probably good for a long while yet
There is another truly elegant sugar maple where Sleepy Brown had his house on North Road, many years ago. This tree is about 300 years old and, while looking at it leaves no doubt that it has seen a thing or two, it bears its age lightly. The Audubon Society, which now owns the tract, logged it recently and now this old tree is visible from the road. This proud old creature, surviving in the forest for all these years, does not in the least call to mind that sappy doggerel “I think I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.” This old maple speaks of the profane, of earth, of spirits present and past. At once a fierce monument to survival, remembering that 150 years ago this tree likely stood in a sheep meadow, now a projection of a forest community, a wise statesman to whom we should pay close attention.
White ash on Old County road, near the site of Deering’s Poor Farm. Not succumbing to Emerald Ash Borer, this tree has serious heart rot but still, there it stands alone in a pasture, not seemingly connected to any other trees. Certainly no trees any near in age to this one are close by, although there are two large ash trees in front of the house on the road. Maybe this is the parent to them.
What I do know is that this stately tree was beloved of a wonderful person who is no longer with us. Her ashes are scattered around the base of her tree. These trees, they are more than biologically connected to their ‘natural’ world. We join their networks. They reassure us. when so much else seems wrong or fleeting they remain close to us. They can enfold and protect us. It’s proven that just walking in a forest can improve our mood, influenced by ‘vapourscoming from trees. This ash was loved by a woman whose spirit persists. This ash will always remind of her and a wonderful day with friends. No doubt this ash has been loved before, and when we are long gone, this ash will be loved by others.
The Wilkins Family has been in Deering since the beginings of our town. They donated land for the first cemetery, on Old County Rd, and the Wilkins House has stood since the end of the 18th Century.It has been the home of the Walmsley family since the mid 1960’s. This apple tree was there when they moved in. Actually, this apple tree has been giving green apples since at least 1920. A very long time for an apple!
Blackgum is the longest-lived hardwood tree in eastern North America, with a maximum age of something over 600 years. Two blackgums in Deering are not that old, but they most likely were here when Deering was first settled. Blackgum was not included in the 1980 list of Deering’s biggest trees, despite there being several in town. They were most likely overlooked because they live in swamps or wet places, and the two largest are growing in a swamp that not close to any road or hiking ail.
Blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica) is a very slow growing tree that is able to grow under a wide range of conditions. Although here in New England it is more common in wet areas than on dry sites. It never comprises more than a small percentage of species in any forest and it is usually overgrown by other species such as red maple. These two Deering trees are taller than the surrounding forest, and their distinctive canopy can be seen from some distance
The trees have long, straight trunks. They branch from near the top of the trunk and branches come off at right angles to the trunk, resulting in a nearly flat canopy. Blackgum is resistant predators, including most insects and fungi. The trees were not taken in logging because even though the wood is very hard, it tends to rot. Bark in old trees is very thick, distinctive for being deeply ridged. Their thick bark makes the trees fire fire resistant.
I know of three places in Deering where blackgum grows. In two of them the trees are solitary, but at the third site on North Road there is a grove of maybe a dozen trees. The biggest two are found not far from each other in the Manselville swamp. I like to snowshoe out there and sit for a while in the cold of winter, looking at these wonderful trees.
A final favorite old tree is not in Deering. It is impossible to pass the Hillside (South Weare) Cemetery in Weare on route 149 from Deering to Weare an d not see the wildly branched catalpa at its entrance. It seems an appropriate sentry, stationed at the entrance to this burying ground to discourage those, physical and spectral, who would enter and disturb the local residents.
In the Big Tree Lists of 1980 and 1985 the two largest pines had circumferences of, respectively, 135″ and 132″. The larger one was recorded by John Dawson but its location was not given. The smaller tree was recorded by H. E. Baldwin as occurring in ‘Gregg land off Longwood.’
The town of Deering acquired a 6.7 a parcel from George and Katherine Gregg in 1970. The parcel is landlocked, situated in a triangle, one leg of which is Manselville Rd. and the other is Longwood Road. This must be the ‘Gregg land off Longwood’ refereed to in the 1980 tree list.
I looked for the tree in 2017 but without luck, although I think I found mountain laurel. This year I asked Ray Daniels, whose sand pit abuts the Gregg land, if he knew this big pine. He told me that that he could see it from his house and that it is not far from the ATV trail that runs from Longwoods road.
With that in mind I set out this morning (should have worn spikes) and trudged through the rapidly disappearing snow until I saw the magnificent tree just beside the trail.
In 1980 the circumference at breast height was 132″ and today it measured 148″. This is nowhere near the county record for white pine (179″) but it’s still an impressive tree, straight and tall. In seemingly perfect health.