As Greg Crews mentioned in last week’s article What Happened to Fall? he describes how and why leaves change their colors.
I’ve always wanted to write an article about leaving leaves. I’ve definitely hinted this in previous articles, but here we go. So this week I want to talk about the benefits of LEAVING leaves (#leavetheleaves). Here are some good reasons to leave your leaves where they fall:
My wife was just talking to my grandson today and told him the leaves are going to be off of the trees soon and he said, “the leaves gonna stay on the water oak tree.”
Remember not all trees lose their leaves or needles at the same time, and some are persistent throughout the winter even after they change colors like the beech trees in the forest. Also remember kids pay attention to everything you say.
I hope you are having an amazing Fall!
This weekend I was riding around town and started to look around, observing how people use trees and, I would argue, love trees. Not only did I see beautiful trees and big trees, but I also noticed how people were attracted to the shade of trees. I know there are thousands of reasons people love trees, with shade being a prominent one.
If you’d like to learn more details of tree shade, check out James Luggan’s article posted a few weeks ago: Keep it Cooler in the Trees
Trees amaze me and are so thought-provoking. There is science on “how” trees grow but it still amazes me to think about how that process actually plays out.
Have you ever watched a tree grow? Some would say they grow too slowly to watch. But I have heard people tell me my entire career as an Arborist, that they remember when a tree was just a sapling and now it takes up their entire yard. Or, they don’t even remember when the tree was planted or how it got there, but the trunk diameter is 30 inches. Trees grow slowly, but in some sense, they also grow quickly.
I must have missed a class or wasn’t paying attention when they taught us how an acorn turns into a 100-foot oak tree. I don’t remember when I asked these questions, and I don’t have all the specific detailed answers in my head, but here is what I think I know:
Now we have an idea of how trees grow. But how do they really grow? Trees grow out at the tip of their branches and roots with cells called apical meristems. This is where the cells reproduce. The trunk also grows in diameter (grows out) when new cells are created in the cambium area of the tree (xylem and phloem). So, tree tips grow and tree root tips grow and trees get fatter, but they do not grow upward from the ground like you sometimes see in cartoons. Imagine that fence, birdhouse, or anything else attached to a tree; as the tree grows the height of those items does not rise.
I recently thought about my career as an Arborist and how 25 years ago the trees in Richmond were 25 years younger. They were 25 years shorter and they were 25 years smaller in diameter. I remember ropes were sold as either 120 feet long or 150 feet long. 150 feet, when you double the rope, could get you to the top of most of the trees in Richmond (about 75 feet). Of course, there were a lot of trees for which these ropes were not long enough but it did get us to the top of most trees. Today, I don’t believe any of our climbers use ropes less than 200 feet. How tall will the trees be in another 25 years?
Last week a group of interested tree lovers, wood lovers, and carbon storage lovers met to figure out what the Richmond Area can do to help preserve fallen or removed trees and reduce the number of trees and tree parts that get turned into wood chips. This meeting was inspired by a program that Harrisonburg, VA started and the efforts and education by The VA Department of Forestry program called VA Urban Wood Group.
This article and pictures are only a tease of what could happen here in Richmond, but I would like to think/hope it’s gonna happen. It is happening here but not by enough people, companies, or municipalities.
Across the country and across the state of Virginia, municipalities and woodworkers are doing what they can to re-purpose the wood that comes from tree removal projects, but it’s not enough and the know-how is not there either.
Discussions from the meeting were:
Why is it important?
What is needed to do this?
What should we do about it here in Richmond?
Those that will participate in this future tree network commodity are tree owners (homeowners and municipalities), sawyers and sawmill owners, Arborists (I know a guy), haulers, kiln owners, organizers, designers, retailers, crafters, etc.
I know this is only a tease and the discussion has just started. I hope one day you will see reclaimed and recycled trees with stories preserved in furniture, playground equipment, and art all over Richmond. What are you going to do with your next limb that falls or a tree that needs to be removed?
If you have been out in the woods walking around these past few weeks, it’s very likely that you have seen an eastern box turtle. If not, get out there (or back out there) and walk around and see if you can spot one. What does this have to do with trees? Well, I may repeat myself on what a tree needs and what makes healthy soil for a tree, but the habitat for the box turtle may also be the same. You will not find a box turtle living in the grass around a majestic oak tree, but I do think you might find a box turtle under the leaves below an oak tree in the woods, or in a yard that has been landscaped to be more like a woodland habitat.
I bring up the eastern box turtle for another reason – because their population has been declining due to habitat loss. The more woodlands that we can keep intact (or keep from turning into lawns), then the better the chance the turtle and other animals will have a suitable habitat.
(information below taken from my article I wrote previously https://www.urbanforestdweller.com/how-to-make-your-backyard-soil-come-alive/):
(info below in quotes is taken from this article https://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/reptiles/turtles/eastern-box-turtle/eastern_box_turtle.php):
So basically, by following the steps above, we’re helping out our eastern box turtle friends. Plus in turn, we all get the following benefits: natural canopy coverage, free mulch, free droppings for said mulch, potentially free berry plants (from said droppings), some free insect control (which the eastern box turtle eats), and more.
This week’s article is a top 10 list of the requests we get as Arborists, but not in order of popularity.
I love to look at trees in the winter. Every time I am out walking, riding, and driving this time of year I am drawn to the shapes of individual trees and contours of the hillsides in the woods.
I wish I had some good pictures of tree forms and shapes I could pull up on my phone, yet there are only thousands in my head. But even if I find a snapshot I’ve taken of an amazing tree, it’s hard to see the beauty I remember.
Not having to compete with leaves, the bark of a tree stands out in the wintertime more than any other season. Believe it or not, the tree below is an American Beech tree “without” smooth bark. I found this beauty on a property along the James River in a thick grouping of other trees. If you look closely at the smooth bark of most beech trees, you can actually see this pattern in the bark.
Another reason I love this time of year is that it’s easy to identify a tree 50-100 yards away just by looking at the tree’s form and growth patterns. Most tree species are very predictable and can be identified by shape, so when you see something out of the ordinary it catches your eye. Below is an elm tree in the field at Forest Hill Park. I can tell by the swollen buds and the shape of the tree… I did not get close to determining the exact variety of elm, but I would guess winged elm.
There was a chestnut oak tree outside my dining room window that I would stare at every winter and dream of climbing. It was flowing with seemingly entirely curved limbs throughout. The trunk looked as though it were in constant motion as if it were a roller coaster. In a big storm a few years ago, the tree sadly fell over. Seeing the tree on the ground, walking on and around it, I wasn’t able to discern the unique shape that I had admired for so many years.
When I am out in the woods during the summer, spring, and early fall, a lot of the time there is too much foliage to see all of the shapes of the land and its contours. It’s hard to see the hills, ridges, and valleys. If you are viewing a map on google you can select contours (terrain) which shows you a little bit of variation but you need to find a good topographic map or website (Here is a great one of the City of Richmond, zoom in for details) and it will give you a sense of how steep the land is or what’s on the other side of a hill.
This winter while biking along the Buttermilk Trail, I realized how close the railroad tracks and Riverside Drive were to me and how that little strip of land that has been preserved as a park is really not so wide. But in the summertime, I feel secluded and like I’m in a much bigger forest.
One sure way I’ve found to get the most out of cold winter days is to admire all the beauty that’s hidden 9-months out of the year! You can do this by:
Have an amazing winter!
This week’s article idea came to me after talking with one of my most favorite tree lovers and tree huggers in the Richmond Area (Anna Aquino). I can’t remember how we got into the conversation, but we started to talk about the benefits of dead trees, dead limbs, and also leaving dead limbs on the ground.
Anna introduced me to a website from The Cavity Conservation Initiative: https://cavityconservation.com/ Their mission is to encourage the safe retention of dead and dying trees as habitat for cavity-nesting birds and other wildlife. Here is a quote from the group’s Director, Gillian Martin: “When we haul away a dead tree needlessly, we take away half its life’s destiny.” I’m not sure if it was Anna’s passion or just the word destiny, but I have started to look at trees a little differently.
Before I go on, I wanted to give you my disclaimer: Not all dead trees or dead limbs should remain. Dead trees and limbs can harm people or property. A certified arborist who is tree risk-assessment-qualified can help you decide if your tree, or part of your tree, poses an unacceptable risk because of targets.
So, when appropriate, here are just a few reasons for leaving some dead limbs, snags, and dead trees for wildlife:
I’d love to hear your stories of dead trees or dead tree-parts you have left and observed on your
property. Feel free to email me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you ever heard of Forest Bathing? When I first heard people talking about this, I assumed it might have to do with taking a bath in the woods.
Back in 2019 I was at an arborist tree conference at Virginia Tech, where there was a presentation “Joy of Forest Bathing / Adaptation of Japanese Shinrin-Yoku by Melanie Choukas-Bradley”. Maybe 10 years earlier, I’m pretty sure I would have ignored this talk and gone to another class. But since I had been on a journey to improve my health, interested in foraging for wild foods, and questioning everything that I thought was normal, I knew I had to be at this talk with an open mind. The session was a guided outdoor walk, and I learned that Forest Bathing is basically encouragement to spend time outdoors – to sit or walk slowly, or even lie down, to see, smell, and touch the trees, forest, and soil around you. Melanie taught us a neat technique – by cupping our hands around our ears and putting our backs towards a creek or running water, the sounds are amplified into our ears. You hear sounds you otherwise would not notice!
So do you want to try Forest Bathing, but aren’t sure where to go? Ideally, pick a forest with little to no interference from external noises. Since most of you reading this may be in Richmond, you would have to drive a few hours out of town – and even then it will be hard to escape cars and other modern noises. I personally feel if I were to drive that far, I’d want to explore a good distance by hiking or biking. In all likelihood, you will be more willing to try this if it’s convenient.
Here in Richmond, with all of the traffic and lawn machine noises, I try focusing on smells, sights, and touch, and turn off any other sounds that I can.
There are many that have been studied and published. Look this up and find there are an array of articles, books and podcasts on Forest Bathing.
Lastly, a piece of advice from Reilly Meng, whom I have had the good fortune of practicing yoga with weekly: “It’s very difficult for humans to engage in activities for the sake of the activity itself, without aiming at productivity, accomplishment or results. Like with any meditation, it isn’t until one abandons striving and looking for results that the benefits will occur.”
I just recently listened to the book “Finding the Mother Tree” by Suzanne Simard. I believe Dr. Simard would say it’s more about relationships and less about competition. Even trees of different species use the living fungal network to connect and help each other. I can’t remember if she coined the term or used it in the book, but some people call it the “Wood Wide Web.”
What you will learn from this book:
While listening to “Finding the Mother Tree” I began questioning:
Why do I bring this up and why did I ask a lot of questions without definitive answers? It seems a similar story is being conveyed in other books I have recently read, including The Overstory by Richard Powers and The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohllenben. In these books, the authors discuss relationships among trees and their surroundings that appear to be fundamental in determining their long-term health, as well as the health of the other organisms in the ecosystem.
This week’s advice is more about observations and less about advice. When I look at trees or even wooden furniture I’m always amazed and look for faces or patterns.
This week I started to think about a few of the cool things I have seen in trees often caused by insects but also by mushrooms.
When I’m in my car I almost always miss some of the coolest things in nature. When I’m riding my bike or running I usually miss the details, but when I slow down and walk or just stop in the woods then I start to see some of the hidden beauty and art.
Below are insect galleries in elm wood from the elm bark beetle:
Below are galleries from Southern Pine Beetle:
The below picture is the twig girdler insect that chews a circular notch in the tree branch after she inserts her eggs in the stem. The stem then dies and when the wind blows the branch breaks and falls to the ground, where the larva overwinters and eventually will hatch:
Below if you look closely you might find a cordyceps mushroom growing out of the body of an ant. The story of how this happens is amazing and you must look it up. But basically, the mushroom takes over the ant, guides the ant to bite into the limb, and then the mushroom takes over the ant’s body. Zombie Ants:
Bees are just amazing in every way! Below, the patterns of the bald-faced hornet nest always amaze me…but if you know this bee, it also scares me too.
My advice is to slow down, maybe get on your hands and knees sometimes, and see what you can find in the woods or your own backyard.
First, let’s start with what is an arborist? There are a few definitions out there from Tree Surgeon to the International Society of Arboriculture’s definition of “A professional who possesses the technical competence gained through experience and related training to provide for or supervise the management of trees and other woody plants in residential, commercial, and public landscapes”.
But the definition I remember hearing the most, although I can’t recall its source, and what has stuck in my mind over the years is “The art and science of caring for trees”. I strongly believe that what we do daily in the trees whether it is pruning or removal is an art.
When I first realized I wanted to learn more about trees I signed up for an arboriculture class at J Sargent Reynolds for fun. All the information was new to me because a lot of what I learned at VA Tech was about Forestry and Wildlife Management. While taking this course I learned about becoming a Certified Arborist and started to see myself working in some capacity in the field of arboriculture.
I found a job and quickly began learning all that I could about Arboriculture and trees. After a short while, I knew I had found my career path. I studied for the Arborist Certification Test and became a Certified Arborist. I assumed that my knowledge and passing the test were the highlights of my career. What I soon realized is that it was only the beginning and it was the spark that made me ask questions and look deeper into the trees I would climb or see every day.
In addition to obtaining your certification, there is a continuing education part that needs to be documented so you can keep your certification.
But what is very cool about this field is it is not all about trees. There are so many aspects of the environment I have learned over the past 24 years and much more that I still need to learn. I have learned about building construction, architecture, design, lawn care, insects, diseases, soil microbes, hydrology, mushrooms, and many other disciplines that affect and work with and sometimes against trees.
There are a multitude of other certifications an Arborist or a business involved in arboriculture may obtain, like Board Master Arborist, Certified Tree Worker, Municipal Specialist, Utility Arborist Specialist, Tree Risk Assessor Qualification, Certified Treecare Safety Professional, TCIA Accredited Company, etc.
Next time you see me or a Truetimber Arborist, ask them what they’ve learned lately, or better yet, tell them what you’ve learned!
ISA Certified Arborist # MA-0657AT
Check out this great video about life as an Arborist at Truetimber.
Ever heard of a tree climbing competition? Interested in making a field trip to cheer on some of our Truetimber Climbers? This is not a logging competition with chainsaws but more about the day-to-day skills an Arborist must use or know to safely work in trees.
The Mid-Atlantic Society of Arboriculture (MAC-ISA) is having its annual Tree Climbing Championship event on Saturday, April 23rd, 2022, and Sunday the 24th in Williamsburg, VA. Parking is available at the Tavern Parking Lot off of E. Francis St. The main event will be on Saturday. On Sunday there will be a final event called the Master’s Challenge which will take the top scoring climbers and test all their skills in a single tree to determine the overall winner. The link above will give you more information on the event.
Why should you go?
The Truetimber competitors this year will be, Sebastien Carpentier, Chloe Eakle, Andy Ellis, Justin Grabosky, Jeff Inman, Christopher Martin, and Jared Swainston. And representing Truetimber as volunteers/judges will be Mike Mather and Drew Dunavant. I will be there as a spectator this year, so if you make it down find me to say hello.
This competition will test the climbers at five different stations:
In addition to watching Truetimber employees and other climbers from Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia compete, I have been told that Riverside Outfitters will have Jocelyn, Natalie, and Noah competing too.
See you there! -Peter
By Peter Girardi
My daughter, who is finishing her last year in college, mentioned she has been assigned to read the book “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben and journal throughout this semester on a specific tree on campus.
I remembered I needed to read this book too, as it has been sitting next to my couch for over a year. I dug in and just finished the book last week. I love how this author explains what trees and forests are doing and how they interact with the world around them; I feel like I know a lot of this, but I now have a fresh perspective.
A few weekends ago I went out to do some sightseeing while walking and riding in the woods, mostly to see what was new but to also check on what’s old. There was a lot going on outside and if I hadn’t slowed down I would have missed it: plants waking up. One of the thoughts I had while riding my bike was about the study of phenology that I learned back in college. You can look it up for more information, but basically phenology studies patterns that may exist between plants and other components of the natural environment and how that might correspond to insect and animal behavior. Here is a website that is all about Phenology https://usanpn.org/home. For example, I have always been told that a great time to get down to the river and fish for shade is when the downy serviceberry tree is in bloom. That’s probably why another common name for the serviceberry tree is shadblow tree.
So here are a few things I noticed:
Maybe I will also start to observe birds, insects, other animal behaviors as well as my own behaviors, including eating habits, during this time of changing seasons. I’m sure if I were to just slow down a bit I would detect connections between the trees and the world around them and vice versa.
Over the past two years, I’ve gone down a lot of rabbit holes on the soil food web, living soils, mushroom mycelia, and pretty much everything else related to soils and mushrooms (including attending some non-arborist conferences).
I believe that healthy soils equal healthy plants and trees in the same way that a healthy gut equals a healthy human.
This past weekend I spent a few days at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference in Roanoke listening to farmers talk about their success stories with improving soil quality to improve their gardens or orchards.
We started the conference with a few short movies the night before, but we also watched the movie “Kiss the Ground.” Here is a link to the Movie Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3-V1j-zMZw. I’m not going to summarize this movie here. It can get pretty depressing. But by the end, it will leave you with hope and motivation that we can do our part to help conserve our soils.
Here are a few takeaways from the conference that I believe can improve your yard, garden and, yes, even your trees:
Lastly, take a break, go outside to get some fresh air and sunshine!
If you want to get me excited, show me how you repurposed or recycled a tree or part of a tree. This includes cabinets or furniture used with solid wood and used on the landscape or in a house with no stain so you can see every grain in the wood.
Here are a few examples I came up with this past weekend.
As an arborist, I have been told and sometimes asked about tree facts that I’ve learned may not actually be true. I won’t cite any references to back up my claims, but here are just a few I believe to be false.
What do you think of when you hear the words tree protection or tree preservation? I start by thinking about what makes common sense and then I start to think like an arborist.
Over the years of inspecting trees I’ve noticed a few definitions of tree preservation people might use:
There are a lot of variables to consider while planning and designing a project with the trees in mind. After consulting with some of our clients over the years, many have held off on a house addition to avoid damaging or worse, removing, their tree.
Here are some things to consider when attempting to preserve your trees:
I like to think of tree protection as soil protection. Here is a list of things that can be done before and after construction damage to reduce stress on a tree and the soil around it:
When in doubt, talk to an arborist. There are techniques that can be implemented to reduce stress on the tree for future construction work to be done.
Have you ever wondered how it’s all connected? I wonder all the time! The reason I focus on mushrooms is that I’ve found mushrooms to be integral to the health of trees and soils. I’ve also discovered a beneficial purpose for some of the mushrooms that are supposedly harmful to trees. I see these “harmful” mushrooms everywhere, and yet they appear to live harmoniously with the trees instead of killing or damaging them.
Two weeks ago while riding my bike around Richmond, I noticed ringless honey mushroom, Armillaria tabescens, all over the woods. I guess technically I didn’t slow down enough to properly identify the mushroom, but this is what I believe I was seeing. If you research Armillaria you’ll find it’s a wood-rotting fungus that kills trees. I think Armillaria is everywhere in our woods and soil and only takes over stressed or dead trees, just like other diseases and insects.
Interesting Fact: An Armillaria species was measured in 1998 and determined to be the largest living organism in the world. Researchers measured the mycelium of the mushroom underground and, it was said to encompass 1,665 football fields. I am not going to discuss how they measured it so you will have to look that up if you are interested. But if you didn’t know already, there is a network of mycelium under our feet in soil, in our yard, and in the woods.
Mycelium is basically the vegetative body of a mushroom that you rarely see and is below the ground. The small fruit body part we see above the ground (the mushroom) is the sexual reproduction part of a mushroom. The mushroom releases spores. These spores are single cells and they float around in the air and lay around on the ground, or other substrate, to reproduce and produce hyphae. When two compatible hyphae meet, they create mycelium. Mycelium spreads throughout the soil and creates symbiotic relationships with the roots of many trees and plants.
When was the last time you went for a walk or bike ride intent on discovering mushrooms? Did you take any pictures and leave the mushroom “as is” for the next walker or biker? How about walking around your yard to see how many you can find or look for the smallest mushrooms? I personally have my radar on for mushrooms when I drive, walk, run and ride… but most of the time I seem to be too busy to slow down or stop to have a closer look.
This weekend I went out for a few long rides around Henrico, Hanover, and the City of Richmond to find Honey Mushrooms, but they were gone. I couldn’t find any to identify. I know their network of mycelium was still there but the fruiting bodies were absent. I’m sure there are some out there still, but they were not on my bike path.
While hunting for mushrooms, it’s easy to get sidetracked by all types of living organisms. The interconnectedness amongst plants, birds and insects become increasingly apparent and often times mesmerizing.
Throughout this article are pictures of mushrooms that were recently found, photographed and left for the next person or animal to enjoy.
Sometimes I feel like a detective while reading the description for my next arborist appointment. As soon as I get out of my car I start to gather clues. Most every tree or property I inspect daily are full of problems that need to be identified and hopefully solved. Here are 5 examples of what I have seen in the past two weeks…
My Pine Tree has Borers
My Oak Tree Has Curled Leaves
The Leaves on my Holly Tree are Black
The Trunk of my Tree is Diseased and Black
My Tree is Dropping Sticky Sap on my Deck
Sometimes I have to remind myself to appreciate the wonderful experiences I get to enjoy as an Arborist here in Richmond, Virginia. Below are just a few of the benefits that I experience each day:
My goal in writing this is to remind you how wonderful the plant world is around us and how fortunate we are, if we slow down and use our senses, to experience the trees and the plants and all they have to offer.
This past Friday I took a vacation day and rode my bike from my house in Henrico Co. to Pocahontas State Park for an overnight solo campout. The ride to Pocahontas was long — 70 miles along gravel roads, alleyways, and backroads paralleling I-95 south, to Henricus Park and Dutch Gap Conservation Area before heading west to Pocahontas. So what does this have to do with trees? Well, here are some things I observed:
Last but not least, I saw lots of signs on my journey that spring is almost here. So get outside and enjoy them. Smell the flowers as they bloom and get some Vitamin D!
As an Arborist here in Richmond, I have seen a lot of trees and I have seen a lot of ways people have unknowingly damaged, stressed and even killed their trees. So I thought I would give you 10 tips to help save or NOT kill your tree.
This list could go on and on, but I hope this will help you before your next project at your house or work. Trees can get very old and can handle a lot of stress, but too much stress and damage can cause them to decline and eventually die.
Tree identification has been a hobby of mine for over 20 years. There are multiple ways to identify trees — leaf shape, leaf color, bark color, bark texture, distinct buds, fruit, orientation of branches (opposite or alternate), tree form, tree location in the woods, and even TASTE.
The 7 species listed below are deciduous (loose their leaves in the winter) trees and one shrub that can be easily identified by smell:
Warning and Tree Care: First there are many trees that have a lot of poison ivy growing up the trunks here in Richmond. The poison ivy vine can grow off the trunk of a tree to look like a branch (know how to ID poison ivy). Lastly, we don’t want everyone out there on the trails or on street trees breaking off a lot of branches and limbs just to smell the tree. The technique I use is to take a branch (still on the tree) and use my finger nail to scratch the bark until you see the green on the limbs and SMELL (and taste!).
I’ve always wanted to try to make my own wild soda and wild fermented beer from berries that I found in the woods, using their native yeast to get the process going.
So what or who has inspired me to think about fermentation? First is the book The Wildcrafting Brewer by Pascal Baudar. Another is Tabol Brewing here in Richmond where I believe most of their beers are made with wild yeast they have collected. And another would be making my own sauerkraut with my wife.
Most fruits in the wild, like blackberry (still around right now), huckleberry (might find a few huckleberries around still in Richmond; they look like blueberries but actually are huckleberries), blueberries and eastern red cedar (they have berries) are all loaded with wild yeast. The cedar tree has berries that are actually not berries but really a fleshy cone. And speaking of eastern red cedar, it’s actually a juniper (Juniperus virginiana).
Tree on left is a male eastern red cedar and the one on the right is a female.
The blueish color you see on the cedar berries is called glaucous or glaucous bloom which is a covering of native yeast on the fleshy cone. Do you know any other fruits with a cloudy grayish or bluish color on their skin? (How about grapes, blueberry, and plums.)
So, if you look at your window right now or take a walk in your neighborhood, go and look for the disturbed areas that are unmowed or left untouched (edges of woods, right of ways, fields, etc.) and I bet you’ll find some eastern red cedars. So you found a cedar that doesn’t have berries? Not all of them do. Cedar trees are dioecious, which means that they have either female parts (berries (fleshy cones) in cedar) or they are male (small cones that produce a lot of pollen in the spring). Monoecious are trees that have both male and female productive organs; for example, if you have an oak tree, you get the pollen in the spring from the catkins and then later in the year the same tree will produce acorns.
So I’m setting off to go and harvest my berries. I had been on two long bike rides this weekend and saw piles of cedar trees full of berries. I told my wife on this day that I’m off for a bike ride to get some cedar berries. As I’m walking out my door, I’m thinking that although I’d love to get on my bike, I’m sure I can walk to find what I am looking for. I know the cedar in my front has never produced any berries (because it’s a male cedar) but then I start thinking I have power lines behind my house so I decided to walk down my yard to look for berries. Fifteen-feet off my deck I find my first cedar with berries. Another 20-feet, another cedar then into the back power lines I find more.
Close up picture of the fleshy cones on female eastern red cedar
All the fruit (the fleshy cone) I harvested had the glaucous bloom on them so I am hopeful I will get my soda soon. When these fruits mature in fall I hear they can be dried and used as a spice or flavoring. The distinct flavor in gin is from juniper berries. Also, I read that you can use juniper berries to help make a sourdough starter. So, I took my handful of juniper berries and added them to a 1 part sugar to 3 parts filtered water solution to feed the yeast and get the fermentation started. I also used a Ball jar with an airlock lid to let gasses release but also to keep bad bacteria out of my starter.
Fresh eastern red cedar in sugar starter with airlock top.
Why do I run around and collect wild foods and nibble on plants everywhere I go while I ride or walk? I want to reintroduce my body and more specifically my gut biome to wild bacteria and yeast you only find in the woods and in nature (it can not be found in a store or a bottle). I want to eat and breathe as much diversity as I can and visit as many diverse environments in the wildlands here in the RVA. This journey to gut health made me realize how important healthy soils are for our trees too.
So what else did I find on my ride this past weekend?
Peach trees in lawns
Pear trees in lawns
And one of my favorite mushrooms: Chicken of the Woods
Until next time. See you in the woods!
Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of rain. For me, this means more walking and less riding my bike in the woods. During my most recent walk, I noticed a lot of mushrooms popping up from the forest floor.
When many people and even most arborists see mushrooms on the ground they often think they are bad or something is wrong with the soil and that something needs to be done. They may even think that a spray or fungicide is needed to get rid of the mushroom.
In contrast, when I see mushrooms my mind starts to travel deep into the soil and I think of the miles of mycelium that are under my feet, and I think healthy soil.
Mycelium is basically the vegetative body of a mushroom that you never see and is below the ground. The small fruit body part we see above the ground (the Mushroom) is the sexual reproductive part of a mushroom. The mushroom releases spores. These spores are single cells, and they float around in the air and lay around on the ground or some other substrate to reproduce and produce hyphae. When two compatible hyphae meet they create mycelium. Mycelium spreads throughout the soil and creates symbiotic relationships with the roots of many trees and plants. Some have termed these mycelium networks in the soil as the information superhighway or the “Wood Wide Web.” These mycelium networks can link the roots of different plants so they can share nutrients and information. Paul Stamets called them “Earth’s Natural Internet”
When there is a beneficial relationship with mycelium and tree roots we call that mycorrhiza or mycorrhizal fungal associations. These benefits include water absorption, nutrient uptake, resistance to disease and pathogens, and increased plant health and stress tolerance. All the tree has to do is release some carbohydrates from its root system and the mycelium give the trees what they need.
Without good mycorrhiza in the soil a tree may not survive or thrive.
So, what else is so special about mycelium? Here are just a few examples to look up and enjoy!
Cleaning up toxic waste
There are some mushrooms that cause damage or weaken trees and should be observed or monitored closely by a Certified Arborist. Feel free to call.
P.S. This list below could be very very long, but I suggest starting here on your mushroom education journey.
Below you will find the Lactarius indigo mushroom that I harvested and ate.
Disclaimer: “do not eat any wild plants, herbs, trees, mushrooms until you have verified with your health professional that they are safe for you; these articles are for inspiration and entertainment. No liability exists against Truetimber Arborists, Peter Girardi, or Urban Forest Dweller or anyone who works or volunteers for us; nor can they be held responsible for any allergy, illness, or injurious effect that any person or animal may suffer as a result of information in these articles or website or through using any of the plants, trees, mushrooms, or things mentioned”
Last Friday I was riding my bike on a breezy day in the Southside of Richmond, heading from my office to the Dogwood Dell area where I had parked my car earlier. As I cruised along the road with my head down in the wind, I saw the sidewalk up ahead blocked by leafy branches with red and mostly black fruit. I could see from over 100 yards away that it was a mulberry tree with ripe fruit.
I hopped the curb and stopped under the shade of the tree and started to eat the darkest fruit I could find (there’s evidence that unripe mulberry fruit can cause digestive problems). Some I grabbed with my hand. Others I just ate right off the branch. This is a fruit that will leave evidence on your hands, your mouth, and your teeth. With my purple teeth, I smiled at a young man walking down the sidewalk. He did a double take. I think he was laughing at me.
I got back on my bike, and when I was near an apartment complex I saw two kids with a plastic bowl collecting mulberries. A few more miles down the street a young woman was reaching up into another mulberry tree in an empty lot collecting fruit. They must have been calling us to eat them!
I guess since we are talking about mulberry trees, we should talk about the different mulberry trees you’ll find here in Richmond: red mulberry (Morus rubra), white mulberry (Morus alba), and paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera)… have fun looking them up.
The fruit on the mulberry is technically not a true berry. It’s actually an aggregate of very small fruits called drupes. Other drupe fruits include peaches, plums and cherries. True berry fruits include blueberries, cranberries, grapes, and tomatoes.
Here are a few nutritional facts that I found on a quick internet search, on Dr. Mercola’s website:
Here is another mulberry comment I found in a book titled Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by “Wildman” Steve Brill:
So what else have I seen out there while on my bike over the past few weeks that may or may not be edible or have some medicinal use (I actually didn’t sample or eat any of these listed below):
Oh, and by the way: mulberry salad is delicious!
Foray RVA are my stories of walks, bike rides and adventures in the Richmond area while searching for edible plants and fungi. These experiences may include but are not limited to: recipes, tree identification, experiments with wild edibles, and generally the good, the bad and the ugly of my encounters in the urban forest.
I started exploring edible plants over 25 years ago, so I’m not new to it, but I’m also not an expert. Although I am relatively confident in my identification of trees, plants, and mushrooms, I am very aware I could make a mistake. So I’m not going to put a ton of time researching my articles since there are thousands of pages on “The Google” that can help give you more detailed information. Another note of caution: these are not your common foods bought at your local grocery store. Who knows, you just may be allergic to the same plants I have eaten and about which I am writing.
(Disclaimer: Sorry but I have to do this: Do not eat any wild plants, herbs, trees, mushrooms until you have verified with your health professional that they are safe for you; these articles are for inspiration and entertainment. No liability exists against Truetimber Arborists, Peter Girardi, or Urban Forest Dweller or anyone who works or volunteers for us. Nor can they be held responsible for any allergy, illness, or injurious effect that any person or animal may suffer as a result of information in this article or through using any of the plants, trees, mushrooms, or other items mentioned.)
This Foray was inspired by viewing photos from a year ago where I made a homemade wine from Elaeagnus fruit. The fruit I collected was most likely Silverthorn (Elaeagnus pungens), a plant closely related to Russian olive and Autumn olive.
Unfortunately I let the wine sit too long and instead of drinking it when it was ready, it became too sour (some would say it “went bad’). During the process of aging (rotting) I had some of the wine and it was OK, but not very great. The Elaeagnus species are considered an invasive species so most people spend a lot of time and money removing this shrub before it takes over the native flora; well I went back to the same spot this year for more fruit to try my skills at wine again and all I found were freshly removed browning shrubs and stumps; I’m sad but I guess I’m also glad.
The actual motivation for the Foray today was to find Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) which I had seen during my bike rides over the past few weeks and which, if you didn’t know, is an invasive species. I had only nibbled on garlic mustard before and never harvested any large amounts of it or cooked it at home. I heard stories of friends harvesting this plant to make a pesto. So, this was my chance to try and report on my harvest. I felt like it was getting a little on the late side of harvest, so I knew I needed to act quickly. I’m pretty sure you can walk along most any road or trail near the river and find this plant. Right now the plant is upright about 18-24 inches tall with white flowers. It’s usually found growing in a group. I harvested about two large handfuls of the smaller leaves and younger stem of this plant (below) and tried to saute it in a pan with butter.
I’ll say the raw leaves had more flavor, and I definitely didn’t succeed at cooking this plant this time (probably too much salt). But it’s not too late to try to make pesto.
In the picture above you can see a few other plants and mushrooms I found during my Foray. For simplicity and for comparison I attempted to cook all the items separately in a large frying pan with grass-fed butter, some extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt.
The American basswood (Tilia americana) is the American version of the European Linden tree (Tilia sps.) which is a very common street tree, an ornamental tree here in Richmond and across the country. Be aware of possible pesticides that could be on this tree before tasting the leaves, buds or flowers. It is common to find heavy populations of aphids on this tree which is why it sometimes will be sprayed by commercial tree and lawn service companies. But also “bee” aware: New regulations restrict the timing of any pesticide on these trees when the tree is in flower or about to flower to reduce the risk of bees dying from the pesticides being in the flowers nectar and/or pollen.
So, I tried the raw small leaves of the basswood this weekend and kept chewing on the sweet nutritious young leaf and noticed a little bit of mucilaginous reaction similar to that of an okra but not as much. I also tried to fry the leaves in butter/olive oil and actually I think these leaves would do better raw in a salad.
Pheasant’s Back mushroom or Dryad’s Saddle mushroom (Polyporus squamosus)
Stinging nettle (above)
In this picture, you can see there were more flowers than ice. When I do it again I will use fewer flowers.
Use redbud flowers as decorations if you want to add a little design to your cake next spring. The cake above was made by my two daughters. It was beautiful and soooo good.
I’ve always wanted to try the pods (the young fruit) of the redbud. They look like snow peas, and I’ve read that the fruit is tasty when eaten young and tender. Well, these were not very tasty. I think I will try again when they get a little larger to see if they get less bitter and have more flavor.
So, this was round one of my Foray RVA articles. Just thought I would share the mistakes I made this past weekend when harvesting and cooking these plants:
The soil food web is essentially a healthy and functional soil that is living with bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa, as well as more complex nematodes and micro-arthropods — and the sometimes visible earthworms, insects and small vertebrates. The soil food web is living soil and not dead soil, aka dirt.
These living organisms in the soil can convert silt, clay, sand, rocks and organic matter into available nutrients for our trees. Trees will also help feed these organisms with exudates (soluble sugars, amino acids and other compounds secreted by roots; these are produced from the sun and photosynthesis). Actually the trees and plants can send signals to these living organisms in the soil that indicate the nutrients the trees and plants need.
So what does a healthy soil do?
What does dead or unhealthy soil, aka dirt, look like or do?
Above picture: four-foot rod easily pushed into healthy soil
What does healthy soil look like?
Healthy soil EQUALS healthy tree… similarly like a healthy gut EQUALS healthy human
What can you do to help your soil?