Nothing gets me into the holiday spirit more than seeing Holly (Ilex opaca) decorating a house. This is actually an ancient tradition as the presence of holly was thought to ward off witchcraft and demons. Spooky, right?
Later, in England, mystical rules were used to govern when to decorate with holly. Under these rules, holly must not be brought into the house before Christmas and must be taken down on the Twelfth Night. It was believed that for every leaf left indoors past the Twelfth Night, a misfortune would occur.
Holly was once in danger because of heavy harvesting of natural stands during the winter months, but is starting to make a comeback due to commercial farm production. Holly is a dioecious plant, meaning it is either a female or male. Only the females produce the red berries, and they must be pollinated by a nearby male plant. If you are interested in planting this tree on your property and want a showing of red berries, you must plant at least one male plant for several females.
Many species of holly are also caffeine-rich. One species, Ilex paraguariensis, is used to make yerba maté, a popular South American drink. If you’ve never had it, I highly recommend it. It has an earthy flavor somewhat similar to green tea. Be careful not to boil the water first, this gives the maté a bitter taste.
However you decide to incorporate holly into your holidays, I hope you enjoy this most wonderful time of year!
Do you know of an amazing woody plant that deserves the PHS Gold Medal Award? Now is your chance to nominate it! PHS wants to know which members of your garden you consider the best of the best. Submit your nominations now through December 2, 2011. Download the nomination form here.
Since its inception in 1978, the PHS Gold Medal Plant Award program has recognized trees, shrubs and woody vines of outstanding merit. The program was originally conceived by noted nurseryman Dr. J. Franklin Styer, who realized homeowners and gardeners needed to learn about superior woody plants for their landscapes. These plants are evaluated and chosen for their superb eye-appeal, performance, and hardiness in the growing region of Zones 5-7. Many winners are hardy in a much broader geographic range. See past winners here.
When a gardener acquires a Gold Medal winner, he or she can be assured the plant will exhibit standards of excellence for pest and disease resistance, as well as ease of growing, when planted and maintained by recommended methods. Gold Medal Plants are also chosen for their beauty through many seasons, whether it be the foliage, flower, form, or bark.
I love October. The changing leaves, Sunday football, pumpkin carving, Halloween, the Phillies winning the World Series…next year—there is so much to see and do. Of all the autumn activities, my favorite is apple picking. That’s why I’m devoting the October Tree of the Month post to the entire Malus genus. There are literally hundreds of edible apples to choose from, but, being an urban arborist, my main interest lies in the ornamental crabapple varieties.
You may be tempted to scoff at my selection, but hear me out. Crabapples offer beautiful flowers in spring and wonderful, persistent fruit in late fall; lending it year-round interest in any landscape. Some newer varieties are also disease- and pest-resistant.
Crabapples are also used heavily in the production of traditional domestic apples. Domestic apple buds are often grafted onto the more cold-hardy root stock of certain crabapple varieties, allowing apple orchards to thrive farther north. Crabapples are also used as pollinizers (not to be confused with pollinators) in apple orchards.
True, the fruit of crabapple trees is seldom eaten raw because of the sour taste, but it can make a delicious jam or a tangy cider. In my opinion, this awesome tree also makes the best cooking wood; it burns slow and hot and has a great sweet/smoky smell.
If you attend…I mean, when you attend Meadowbrook Farm’s Fall Open House on October 15, you can purchase one of my favorite crabapple varieties, ‘Red Jewel’. If you see me in the sales-yard, say hi. We can talk about trees, brainstorm Halloween costumes, or count the days until Phillies spring training. Until then!
Casey has returned from his Australian odyssey, just in time to give you August’s Tree of the Month.
It’s been a memorable summer weather-wise, right? June and July had record-breaking heat and droughts and August is the wettest month on record. I recently read new research that claims plant species are moving one mile further south each year, which to me means that it’s even more important to select the correct tree species for planting.
A great tree that is heat/drought tolerant and can withstand wet conditions is the River Birch (Betula nigra). This tree’s cinnamon-colored, exfoliating bark makes it great for year-round interest.
The river birch was a very important species to the Native American tribes of this region. They used the boiled sap as a sweetener, which reportedly has a taste similar to maple syrup. The inner bark was also an important food source during harsh winters, and the aromatic oils from the leaves were used to hide the unpleasant tastes of some medicines.
The ‘Heritage’ cultivar of River Birch was selected in 2002 as the Tree of the Year by the Society of Municipal Arborists. It is also a PHS Gold Medal Plant. Most importantly, my coworker Jen (the park expert) says River Birch is her “all-time favorite” tree.
After reading all this, I bet you’re just dying to have a ‘Heritage’ River Birch on your property. Well, today is your lucky day! PHS is currently offering a selection of containerized trees for an amazing price of $45 apiece. These trees have been selected for their exceptional qualities and hardiness in this region. Check out the selection here.
Once you select and purchase your tree, you can pick it up at the PHS Fall Garden Festival. If you are unable to attend the Festival, we are also offering a delivery option. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Eucalyptus?!? Has Casey gone crazy? Well maybe a little, but mostly this is a special post from Down Under, mate. That’s right, I’m in wintery Australia right now where eucalyptus dominates the landscape. They say there are more than 700 species in the genera with only nine not occurring in Australia. Along with the koala—which I intend to pet, thank-you-very-much—I’ve always been a fan of this majestic tree. [Editor's note: Casey is in all Australia to receive the "True Professional" distinction from the International Society of Arboriculture. Way to go!]
The eucalyptus has long been used worldwide for its fast-growing nature and beneficial oils. Some developing countries have used the tree to drain swamps in order to prevent malaria. The tree is not without its controversies though, as it’s considered an invasive species by many due to the tree’s prolific water-suckers and high transpiration qualities.
Eucalyptus leaves are an extremely important food source to many Australian animals. The koala has a unique ability to smell the “ripeness” of the leaves, which are poisonous in large quantities. It avoids older leaves that may have too much oil and doesn’t bother with the younger leaves that would not be nutritious. The weird-looking flowers of the tree provide ample amounts of nectar and are an important food source for insects, bats, and birds.
Eucalyptus oil is used for cleaning, decongestants, and cough drops, and as a natural insect repellent. The oil is extremely flammable, to the point that trees have been known to explode during forest fires. It is reported that introduced eucalyptus trees add to the severity of southern California wildfires.
Well, that’s all for now. I’m off to throw a boomerang, wrestle a crocodile, and learn the didgeridoo…in that order. (Have I forgotten any stereotypes?) See you in a few weeks for my August tree selection.
My most recent Tree of the Month posting was about the Kentucky coffeetree, and I received a comment from someone who thought she spotted a few in West Philly. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to use our newest amazing tool, the PhillyTreeMap.
Previously described in this post, the PhillyTreeMap is an amazing, easy-to-use web application that will assist communities with the inventory and maintenance of urban forests. But, as it turns out, not one Kentucky coffeetree is listed on the PhillyTreeMap!
The gauntlet has been laid down. Whoever is the first to find a Kentucky coffeetree and correctly enter it into the PhillyTreeMap will be immortalized on the PHS blog and will also receive a free Tree Tenders shirt. Are you up for the challenge? Send an email to email@example.com if you are the super sleuth who tracks down the coffeetree.