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The mystery seeds last week are from an unusual tree called the Moringa, Moringa oleifera.

The Moringa has gotten a lot of attention because it is fast-growing and virtually all parts of the tree are edible. It is grown in tropical areas throughout the world as a source of food for humans and livestock.

Even the leaves are edible.

It has lovely, lacy foliage.

The trees produce large white to yellowish flowers at least once a year.

The seeds form in large pods.

(Photograph by Forest and Kim Starr, downloaded from Wikimedia)

The pods are edible when they are young, about the size of a green bean.

(Photograph by Forest and Kim Starr, downloaded from Wikimedia)

Inside the pods are the triangular seeds with wings. The seed will readily sprout new trees.

Moringa trees are thought to come from Northern India. They do grow in the warm parts of Arizona. In fact, the first two photographs are of a tree in our yard.

Have you ever seen a Moringa tree?

For more information:

UBC Botanical Garden

Trees of Arizona


Our science fun this week is inspired by the book Seabird in the Forest:  Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet, written and illustrated by Joan Dunning (the link goes to a longer review).

This nonfiction picture book tells the incredible story of the marbled murrelet, a tiny seabird that searches deep in old forests to find a place to nest in a large tree. Once they build the nest, incubate the eggs and the eggs hatch, the parent murrelets fly all the way to the ocean to catch fish for their nestlings. They bring the fish back to the tree, a journey that may be as long as one hundred miles per trip.

The fact that murrelets nest in old-growth trees was only discovered recently, after all who would think of looking for a seabird nesting in a big tree?

Activity:  Investigate what sorts of animals live in a tree in your neighborhood.


  • notebook
  • pencil
  • binoculars (if available)
  • camera to record observations (if available)
  • field guides to help you identify animals

Pick a tree in your yard, or nearby, to study. If you can, try to identify the tree. Go out each day for fifteen minutes. Slowly approach the tree looking for birds and squirrels first. Listen and look through your binoculars. Once you write down all the birds and squirrels that you see in the tree, then get closer and look for insects and spiders. Try to figure out what they are and what they are doing. Do this for one week. Or even better go out in the morning for ten minutes and the evening for ten minutes. Do you find different animals at different times of day?  After you are done, count how many animals use the tree.

Here is a list of some of the animals we found in our desert willow tree, Chilopsis linearis:

We chose the desert willow tree because it flowers most of the summer, supplying nectar and pollen for many visitors.



Some animals that visit the flowers include,

carpenter bees like this one,

honey bees, flies,

green june beetles, hummingbirds,

verdins, and lesser goldfinches.

The lesser goldfinches might be taking nectar, but they also peck around the buds, perhaps looking for insects.

Although many birds perch in the branches to preen,

or to wipe their beaks like this house finch is doing, no birds have ever nested in the willow. Perhaps the foliage is too sparse to provide a good cover for a nest.

A few insects use the leaves for food.

We think these eggs hatched into...

this large caterpillar, which will become a Manduca rustica moth..

Several kinds of birds like the seeds.


The trunk of the tree serves as a home for tiny ants that look for food (forage) around the flowers.

It is likely that the roots provide food for insects too, such as cicada grubs.

Of course, all the insects that feed on the willow may also serve as food for other animals. I suspect the verdins and the hummingbirds both feed on the small flies that are attracted to the flowers.

It seems like a whole community of animals depend on our desert willow for their livelihood.

How many animals do you think you will find on your tree?

If you try this project, we'd love to hear what you discover.


Seems like you may have been confused about last week's mystery cones. I was actually hoping that someone would recognize the tiny cones as coming from Eastern or Canadian hemlock, Tsuga canadensis.

This hemlock is a common tree in the eastern part of North America. In fact, it is the Pennsylvania state tree.

The needle-like leaves are short (less than an inch long), flat, soft and have two whitish-colored lines on the underside of each.

Hemlocks give dense shade, cover and food to a number of different forms of wildlife, including deer.

The trees are able to grow in dense shade. In fact, the seedlings can not grow in full sun, so will not return to areas that are clear cut.

There was a seed in one of the cones I took a photograph of, but it doesn't look viable. One article I read suggested that although hemlocks produce a lot of cones, few of the seeds germinate. In the article linked below, the authors suggest less than 25%.

Eastern hemlocks are used as ornamental trees, but require quite a bit of space. In the right conditions they will live over 400 years, and maybe up to 800 years.

In the past, hemlock bark was gathered for as a source of tannins used the the process of tanning leather products.

Do hemlock trees grow where you live? What kind?

For a map of where Eastern hemlocks are found and more biological information try:

Tsuga canadensis