Trees

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For our regular STEM Friday feature we recommend two books about trees for children, just in time for Arbor Day, next Friday April 24, 2015. (Read the rest of the reviews and see a video book trailer at Wrapped in Foil blog.) Then we'll finish out Butterfly Gardening With Children Week with a discussion of trees for butterfly gardens.

The first book, Branching Out: How Trees Are Part of Our World by Joan Marie Galat and illustrated by Wendy Ding (2014), describes a particular species of tree, how it used by humans, and what animals depend on that kind of tree in a series of four-page spreads. The 11 species of trees highlighted range from red maples and downy birches to pau brasil and cork oaks.

The second book, Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World by Margi Preus and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (2011), consists of a series of two-page spreads telling the stories of 14 famous, tall and exceptionally-old trees from around the world, the back matter gives more information about the trees and a number of suggestions about what the reader can do to help and encourage trees.

Appropriate for butterfly gardening week:  In the section about oak trees in the back matter of this book, we find out that a single large oak tree can support up to 34 species of butterflies!

That fact reminds us that although growing pretty flowers helps the adult butterflies, to have a truly productive butterfly garden you need to supply food for caterpillars as well.

Many beautiful species of butterflies require trees as larval hosts.

Examples:

1. Hackberry trees (Celtis species) are larval food for

  • Tawny emperor butterflies
  • Hackberry emperor butterflies
  • Mourning cloak butterflies
  • Question Mark butterflies
  • Snout butterfly

mystery-butterfly-2-identicationThe snout butterfly

Hackberry_Emperor,_Megan_McCarty46Hackberry emperor butterfly (Public domain photograph by Megan McCarty)

(Seed of the Week post about Canyon Hackberry)

2. Live oaks are larval food for California sister butterfly larvae.

California-sister-butterflyCalifornia sister butterfly, Ramsey Canyon, Arizona

Some duskywings and hairstreaks also use oaks for food.

3. Black cherry (Prunus serotina) trees are larval food for:

  • Red-spotted purple
  • Eastern tiger swallowtail
  • Coral hairstreak

4. Citrus trees (orange, lemon grapefruit) attract numerous giant swallowtails. Their larvae are called orange dog caterpillars.

caterpillar-orange-dogAn orange dog caterpillar on a grapefruit leaf

In addition to larval food, trees provide shelter for butterflies (and a multitude of other animals), provide safe places for the caterpillars to pupate, and some flowering trees supply nectar for many more adult butterflies.

In his book, Bringing Nature Home, entomologist  Doug Tallamy gives a list of how many species of butterflies and moths are supported by 21 kinds of trees. The numbers are astonishing! He says oak trees (genus Quercus) provide food for some 534 different species of butterflies and moths. Given that those butterflies are important pollinators and parts of the food web, that is an enormous contribution.

Activity:

If you are going to plant a tree for Arbor Day or any other event, consider choosing a local species that will host butterflies. You will get yet another benefit from a tree. Please leave a comment if you have any questions about how to choose a suitable butterfly host tree for your area.

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Wrap-ups:

 This is the final post for Butterfly Gardening with Children Week. Hope you enjoyed it. If you missed the previous posts from the week, check our links page for topics we covered.

butterfly-gardening-with-children

Interested in reading more great books about trees for Arbor Day? Try our giant, redwood-sized list of children's books about trees at Science Books for Kids.

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Disclosures: The books above were from my local library. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

 

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As Sara pointed out, our mystery seeds from last week were from a shagbark hickory, Carya ovata.

Shagbark hickory trees are found growing naturally throughout the eastern United States.

Shagbark hickories are easy to identify because, as their name suggests, the trees have bark that peels off in patches.

Even relatively small trees exhibit this trait.

The leaves are pinnate, with five leaflets.

They turn a lovely yellow color in the fall.

Here is a short video that gives more details about how to identify a shagbark hickory.

As the video mentions, the hickory is prized for its wood.

The nuts are found in a thick husk, which opens as they ripen. Although the "nutmeats" inside are fully edible, the shells of the nut are tough and it is hard to remove the seeds inside. That is probably why shagbark hickories aren't grown for commercial production like their cousin the pecan, Carya illinoensis. If you work at it, however, the resulting nuts are worth the extra effort. Hickory nut cakes and pies are delicious!

People also make shagbark hickory syrup. Apparently the syrup is made from the bark rather than the sap, at least according to some websites like this one:  Making Shagbark Hickory Syrup.

Have you ever eaten hickory nuts or hickory syrup? Do you have a favorite recipe?

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Our mystery seeds from last week came from the ironwood tree, Olneya tesota.

This unique tree gets its common name from the extreme hardness of its wood. Because there are a number of other trees with the same common name, it is sometimes called desert ironwood.

Desert ironwood is a small, shrubby tree found throughout the Sonoran Desert. The lower branches droop, giving a lovely form in its natural state.

The bark of the younger trunks and branches are pale gray to green at the tips.

It is a legume, having compound leaves of narrow, elliptical leaflets.

As with many desert plants, it is well armed, with many pairs of curved spines.

Desert ironwoods produce many lovely purplish-pink flowers in the spring. See Firefly Forest for a photograph of ironwood flowers.

The seed pods mature on the plant and then fall off.

The clue I mentioned that you might have noticed in the the mystery seed photograph last week was a drying leaf toward the bottom of the shot.

You can grow new trees from these seeds, but people often chose to purchase larger trees because desert ironwoods are very slow growing.

If you travel through the low desert you will often see dead ironwood trees. That is because the wood contains strong chemicals that prevent decay after the tree has died and the wood remains in place, sometimes for hundreds of years.

For more detail, see Natural History of the Desert Ironwood Tree (Olneya tesota) from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.