Posts Tagged ‘Arbor Day Foundation’

Tree Spotlight: Northern Catalpa

Catalpa is a tree you may not have heard of, but once you see one you won’t forget it. With showy spring flowers, bean-like pods, and bearing one of the largest leaves of any tree in the northern hemisphere, it is a beautiful sight. Let’s join the Arbor Day Foundation in shining the spotlight on one of the most unique Michigan trees.

And if you want to see a truly magnificent one, the Michigan State Record lives on the lawn of the Capitol in Lansing.

Northern Catalpa: Rarely Unnoticed

By James R. Fazio | November 7, 2017


Catalpa speciosa

Catalpa is a hard tree to overlook. Trumpet-shaped flowers herald its awakening for the summer and are soon followed by some of the largest leaves in the northern hemisphere. Elephant ears would not be too far off the mark for their description. Finally come the seed pods — bean-like in shape draping the tree like green tinsel.

There are two key species of catalpa in the United States — southern and northern catalpa. Originally, southern catalpa was more widespread, but when the pioneers discovered the northern species in a very limited area of the Midwest, it didn’t take long to realize that this one grew larger and could tolerate colder winters better. Thanks to its fast growth and rot-resistant wood — and a promotional campaign by Nebraska governor Robert W. Furnas, a contemporary of J. Sterling Morton — farmers began planting it for fence posts and to sell as railroad ties. Today, as a shade tree, it is widely distributed in parks and yards throughout the country.

Catalpa is not a tidy tree. Maintenance people complain about cleaning up after it when the flower petals, leaves, and seed pods drop. But that may be a small price to pay for this tree’s tolerance to a wide range of growing conditions, its dense shade, and the interest it adds to the landscape. Guy Sternberg, author of Native Trees for North American Landscapes, has said that the old trees of this species, “become rustic and picturesque, their weathered crowns testifying to the passage of previous wind storms, and would look very much at home towering over Boot Hill on Halloween.”

Whether young and vigorous or old and stagnated, catalpa is a tree in the landscape that is difficult not to notice and enjoy.

What’s in a Name?

The common names for catalpa are many and colorful. Some of these include Johnny smoker tree, Linden log tree, cigar tree, stogie tree, bean tree, western catalpa, hardy catalpa, Catawba, caterpillar tree, and fish-bait tree.

The scientific name makes less sense. The genus is the same as the common name, Catalpa, and comes from the name that Cherokee Indians used for this tree, Catawba. The species name, speciosa, is from the Latin for — not surprisingly — species. The “osa” part is from osus, or “full of,” said to be in reference to its showy flowers.

In the Landscape

The catalpa tree is a tree that demands your attention. White, showy flowers, giant heart-shaped leaves and dangling bean-like seed pods make is a great ornamental tree. It reaches up to 60 feet in urban settings and grows well in a wide range of soils (hardiness zones 4-8).

While not ideal for every location, this unique and hardy tree is a fast grower that finds a home in parks and yards throughout the country.

Can My Tree Be Saved?

With all of the severe weather that has been hitting much of the country a lot of trees are suffering some sort of damage.  The question on many people’s minds when this happens to them is “can it be saved?”  Here is an article by the Arbor Day Foundation that may help you answer this question if, or more likely when, this question arises.

If the link to download the tool kit doesn’t work, the original article can be found here.

Can These Trees Be Saved?

In cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and the International Society of Arboriculture.

A storm can leave trees looking like there’s no tomorrow. Major limbs may be broken or damaged, foliage can be shredded or stripped, or the bark may be torn or gouged. But what at first glance may look like mortal wounds are not necessarily fatal to a tree. Trees have an amazing ability to recover from storm damage.

First, Assess the Damage

Before writing off a damaged tree as a “goner,” homeowners should evaluate their trees by asking the following questions:

  • Other than the storm damage, is the tree basically healthy and vigorous? If the tree is basically healthy, is not creating a hazard, and did not suffer major structural damage, it will generally recover if first aid measures are applied immediately after the storm.
  • Are major limbs broken? The larger a broken limb is, the harder it will be for the tree to recover from the damage. If a majority of the main branches are gone, the tree may have little chance of surviving.
  • Has the leader (the main upward-trending branch on most trees) been lost? In species where a leader is important to upward growth or desirable appearance, it may have to be a judgment call. The tree may live without its leader, but at best would be a stunted or deformed version of the original.
  • Is at least 50 percent of the tree’s crown (branches and leaves) still intact? This is a good rule of thumb on tree survivability. A tree with less than half of its branches remaining may not be able to produce enough foliage to nourish the tree through another season.
  • How big are the wounds where branches have been broken or bark has been damaged? The larger the wound is in relation to the size of the limb, the less likely it is to heal, leaving the tree vulnerable to disease and pests. A two- to three-inch wound on a 12-inch diameter limb will seal over with new bark within a couple of years.
  • Are there remaining branches that can form a new branch structure? The remaining limbs will grow more vigorously as the tree tries to replace its missing foliage. Look to see if branches are in place that can eventually fill out the tree’s appearance.
  • Is the tree of a desirable species for its location? If the tree is in the wrong location (such as a potentially tall tree beneath a power line), or an undesirable species for the property (messy fruit, etc.), it may be best to remove it if it has serious damage.

The thumbnail versions of artwork shown in this column illustrate some of the issues that need to be addressed in determining whether a tree with storm damage can be saved or not.

Then, Make the Decision

The questions listed above will help you make informed decisions about your trees. In general, the answer as to what to do about a particular tree will fall into one of three categories:

1: It’s a Keeper

If damage is relatively slight, prune any broken branches, repair torn bark or rough edges around wounds, and let the tree begin the process of wound repair.

Some examples:

An Easy Call: (Illustration b1)
A mature shade tree can usually survive the loss of one major limb. The broken branch should be pruned back to the trunk. In the months to follow, large wounds should be closely monitored for signs of decay.

An Easy Call - One major limb has broken off.
Illustration b1

Minor Damage: (Illustration b2)
Although the tree has been damaged, enough strong limbs may remain on a basically healthy tree to make saving it possible.

Minor Damage: A few larger limbs have broken off.
Illustration b2

Too Young to Die: (Illustration b3)
Young trees can sustain quite a bit of damage and still recover quickly. If the leader is intact and the structure for future branching remains, remove the broken branches and let the tree close over the wounds and recover itself.

Too Young to Die - Young trees recover faster.
Illustration b3

2: Wait and See

If a valuable tree appears to be a borderline case, resist the temptation to simply cut the tree down and be done with it. In such cases, it may be best to stand back for a while and think it over. Remember that time is on your side. After careful pruning of broken branches, give the tree some time to recover. A final decision can be made later.

Easy Does It: (Illustration b4)
Resist the temptation to prune too heavily. Remember that the tree will need all the foliage it can produce in order to make it through the next growing season. Remove only the damaged limbs, wait and see what happens.

Easy Does It - Prune away only damaged limbs.
Illustration b4

Hold Off: (Illustration b5)
A healthy mature tree can recover even when several major limbs are damaged. With large trees, a professional arborist should be brought in to assess damage on a borderline situation, and to safely accomplish needed pruning and branch removal.

Hold Off - Call in an arborist.
Illustration b5

3: Say Goodbye

Some trees simply can’t be saved or are not worth saving. If the tree has already been weakened by disease, if the trunk is split, or more than 50 percent of the crown is gone, the tree has lost its survival edge.

Tree Tragedy: (Illustration b6)
This otherwise healthy young tree has lost too much of its crown the leafy head that is vital for survival. It will probably not be able to grow enough new branches and leaves to provide needed nourishment, and will never be able to regain its former beautiful shape.

Tree Tragedy - Too much damage, and the tree is not worth saving
Illustration b6

Hopeless Case: (Illustration b7)
About all that’s left of this tree is its trunk. The few remaining branches can’t provide enough foliage to enable the tree to make it through another growing season.

Hopeless Case - If there is not enough foliage, the tree will not survive.
Illustration b7

Fond Farewell to a Friend: (Illustration b8)
A rotten inner core in the trunk or structural weakness in branching patterns can cause a split trunk the tree equivalent of a heart attack. The wounds are too large to ever mend, and the tree has lost its sap lifeline between roots and leaves. This tree is all but dead.

Fond Farewell to a Friend - A rotten and split tree trunk is a sure sign of a dead tree.
Illustration b8

Don’t Try to Do It All Alone

Some of your trees may have damage that’s too close to call, or may have hidden damage. To help with such questions, a tree professional may be needed to help you decide what to do about your trees. Don’t hire just anyone who shows up at your door following a storm. Look for qualified arborists in the phone book or by contacting your state or city forester.

For free information about saving trees that have been damaged in a storm, send your name and address to:

The Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Avenue, Nebraska City, NE 68410.

Please credit artwork as follows: Arbor Day Foundation Illustrations

Click here to download this kit. (ZIP)

Things to Consider When Planting a Tree


Arbor Day is just around the corner for those of us in the northern states.  Individuals and communities plant trees for various reasons as part of this green holiday.  However, before you plant there are a few things you should think about.

Plant for Final Size:  It should go without saying that the tree you are planting today is going to get considerably bigger than it is now…..know that and plan for it.  Years quickly pass and before you think it will happen, a tree planted too close to your house will become a pruning nightmare and a foundation upending ordeal.

Plant for Energy Efficiency: Think about where the sun hits your home.  A well placed tree can reduce home heating and cooling costs.  Deciduous trees placed to the southeast, south and southwest areas of your house can provide considerable shade and natural cooling during the summer.  In the winter these same trees will lose their leaves and the sun will shine through to warm the house.  Planting evergreen trees to the North and Northwest of your home can help to block winter winds by changing wind patterns over or around the building.  These effects have been shown to reduce energy costs by 30 percent or more.

Plant for Safety:
 It is never a great idea to conceal the main entry points of your home.  Putting a tree or large shrub in a position that blocks the front door not only sends an uninviting message to your guests, but it also invites the wrong sort of visitor — that is, the kind that will take advantage of the opportunity provided by all the concealment and break into your home.

Plant for Aesthetics: Just like in flower arranging, architecture, or most design disciplines, scale, color and shape are important considerations.  There is a big difference between an oak tree and an apple tree.  (Small and prunable vs huge and imposing, obvious flowers vs obvious acorns, open habit vs dense, different shapes, etc.) Every tree has its characteristics, and you should choose based on the fullest set of facts, considering how it will enhance your landscape.

Plant for an ecosystem: Trees invite other creatures.  Song birds, squirrels, and a whole host of tiny creatures will inhabit a tree which provides a healthy home for urban (and suburban) wildlife.  But the ecosystem goes beyond just the wildlife.  Tree roots prevent runoff and erosion by holding soil; soil filters water and runoff.  More trees means that regional water quality improves.

Plant for Stress Relief: Did you know that studies have shown that 5 minutes of looking at a tree reduces your blood pressure and muscle tension?  So plant your tree where you can see it when you need to.

and finally:

Plant for Posterity. There are only a few of us that will be remembered, beyond our families, years after we are gone.  And only a few of us will create things that are cherished by future generations.  I’ve been trying to convey to my children that their adored pop idols are remarkably fleeting and so are the things that they have and do — but by planting a tree, anyone can make an enduring mark.  It is the easiest and most beautiful way to give something enjoyable and beneficial to our current world and also to the future people that will live here.

Click here to find out when Arbor Day is in your state.

And if you happen to live in Michigan, here is a link to our Community Calendar.  Local Arbor Day Celebrations will be added as we head into April.

Trees in the News!

Lately, trees have been making headlines. Check out these interesting articles about trees.

Proposal would make it easier to retrieve sunken logs in Michigan

Countless now-valuable logs sank to the bottom of Michigan’s lakes and rivers during the 1800s, when loggers floated their hauls on water due to lack of roads and railroads.

Now proposed legislation would make permits to retrieve them easier to get. The goals is to eliminate roadblocks for a growing industry, said Chris Bailey, a legislative director for Rep. Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, the main sponsor. (Courtesy of Great Lakes Echo-Read More)

Trees hold thousand-year history of El Nino

A new 1,100-year-long history of the El Niño-La Niña climate cycle that dominates seasonal weather patterns now and then promises to sharpen the skills of computer models trying to simulate the impacts of global warming.

Climate specialists at the University of Hawaii-Manoa used an archive of tree ring measurements in the Southwestern United States to extend an El Niño historical record previously limited by Pacific Ocean coral data to only a few hundred years.

“Our work revealed that the towering trees on the mountain slopes of the U.S. Southwest and the colorful corals in the tropical Pacific both listen to the music of El Niño,” lead scientist Jinbao Li said in a statement released by the university. The study is published in the current issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.  (Read More)

Trees for more than climbing, Arbor Day Foundation Says

Stormwater clogs wastewater treatment systems, causing overflows that contaminate beaches and drinking water. It also washes roads, parking lots, and other surfaces of oils, sediment, chemicals and debris that end up in rivers, oceans, lakes and wetlands.

Trees can help. A search with the Arbor Day Foundation’s National Tree Benefit Calculator shows how. Type in your zip code and get a list of tree species native to it. (Courtesy of Great Lakes Echo-Read More)

Arbor Day Celebration draws kids outdoors

More than 1,000 tree seedlings awaited elementray students who arrived Friday at Lansing’s Potter Park Zoo for the State’s Arbor Day Celebration. 
The hope was for each child to take seedlings home and plant them after a day of education about the importance of trees, and taking caer of the environment, said Andrea Stay, executive director of the Eaton Conservation District, which helped organized the 14th annual event.
“Arbor Day is important to get kids outside and learning about trees, water quality and wildlife,” she said. 
Abby Flanagan, a 9-year-old fourth grader at Haynor Elementary School in Ionia, said she enjoyed learning about the environment and helping to plant a pear tree on the zoo’s property during Friday’s event. (Read More)
Arbor Day Foundation names Lexington a Tree City USA Community

Lexington, MI, was recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City USA community for its commitment to urban forestry. Lexington has earned this national designation for two years.

 The Tree City USA program is sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the National Association of State Foresters and the USDA Forest Service.

“We commend Lexington’s elected officials, volunteers and its citizens for providing vital care for its urban forest,” said John Rosenow, chief executive and founder of the Arbor Day Foundation.  “Trees provide numerous environmental, economical and health benefits to millions of people each day, and we applaud communities that make planting and caring for trees a top priority.” (Read More)

The mobile phone app that can identify a tree by its leaf

An app has just been launched that can identify a species of tree from a photograph of its leaf. Apps exist already that help you identify flora and fauna – the Forestry Commission recently launched an app called ForestXplorerfor identifying trees – but they have traditionally relied on the user deducing the species from a list of possible characteristics.

Leafsnap promises something different: a joint effort by Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution in the US, it uses the same technology as face-recognition software to identity the species itself: This free mobile app helps identify tree species from photographs of their leaves and contains beautiful high-resolution images of their flowers, fruit, petiole, seeds, and bark. Leafsnap currently includes the trees of New York City and Washington, D.C., and will soon grow to cover the trees of the entire continental United States. (Read More)

New Resource Available: Nature Action Kit

The National Arbor Day Foundation recently announced a new resource available for educators and families, Nature Action Kits.  The kits were created through a partnership between the National Arbor Day Foundation, Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and the World Forum Foundation.  The resources in the kit have been designed to help young children, early childhood educators and families address environmental issues in a developmentally appropriate way.

Activities in the kit focus on one stewardship-related theme and follow this format:

1. Have an Adventure

Help Children Get Personally Engaged. The field-tested science-based outdoor activities suggested for each stewardship theme enhance children’s observation and problem-solving skills and prepare them to want to take action to “green” the environment. Activities are open-ended so they can be adapted to children’s individual interests and needs. Print one activity sheet per child, or print one master copy and share pictures with children. Each activity comes with “Tips.”

2. Take Action

For each stewardship theme, parents, teachers and children together take one action that will help “green” the environment.

3. Celebrate Your Action

Talk with children about how their positive action is helping our world become a “greener” and healthier place.

4. Keep Growing

Use the list of resources provided to find other fun ways to support this stewardship activity in your early childhood program or home.

 Each week we will share a Nature Action activity with you. If you would like to receive a Nature Action Kit please contact us at