Saturday, December 23, 2006

Have a Green Christmas

Well, it is going to be a green Christmas this year. That's is always good, it is safer for those traveling. I even seem to have Christmas dandelions blooming this year, as well as the heather.

I did upload my Christmas tree photos before Christmas. Still debating about the silk chrysanthemums. I might try it again next year with silk pointsetta.

And the Yule Log. Too bad I don't have a fireplace. (Nor do my folks) I'm saving it for when I get a chipper shredder.

And the heather in bloom.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Colorado Blue Spruce

My dad has blue spruce acting as a wind break in his yard. If left, they can reach heights of 115 feet and live as long as 800 years. Especially in its native range in the Rockies. The soft, brittle wood is used for posts, poles and firewood. My dad's trees were important shelters for the neighborhood rabbits, until he removed some of the lower limbs. Now, they just help the birds and squirrels shelter.

The bark is scaley and thin. It starts off grey in color and deepens to a reddish brown with maturity. The bark flakes off in circular patches about 5-10 cm in diameter. The needles range in color from grey-green to slate blue. The needles are noticably four sided, although more in rhombic configuration. And they an inch to an inch and a half long. They have a resinous odor when crushed.

Trees have male and female flowers in different locations on the tree. The female flowers form cones which are initially reddish purple, but fade to pale brown upon maturity. The cones hang from the branches up to two years after the seeds have fallen. The scales on the cones have a wavy edge.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Leyland Cypress

First, Happy Solstice!

Leyland Cypress are a sterile hyrbrid between a Monterey Cypress and an Alaskan Cedar. Impressively, six seedlings were discovered in 1888 on an Estate in Wales. The trees had spontaneously crossbred. The owner of the Estate, Leyland and his newphew developed the trees and as a curiosity, since intergenetic crossbreeding is rare in conifers. All trees today are produced from rooted cuttings, since they hybrids are sterile and crosses do not reliably produce seeds. In fact, all of the nearly twenty occasions when the cross has been noted to occur, it was due to open pollination.

They show promise as Christmas trees because their fast growth and pleasing shape. The attractive feathery foliage varies depending on the exact cultivar ranging from bright green to gray, and appears more like an arborvitae or cypress, than the traditional firs. Although there are variegated cultivars with green foliage and white, yellow and gold tips. The Leighton Green cultivar is favored for the Christmas tree trade due to its traditional dark green color. However, these trees do lack a noticeable aroma.

Since it is a hybrid produced from rooted cuttings, it is not generally used for lumber. Leyland cypress find commerial uses outside of the Christmas tree trade as hedges and windbreaks. However, the tree grows swiftly and needs regular pruning to avoid outgrowing its space. Plus, the tree is not reasonably long-lived. They typically only last for 20-25 years.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Beware the Pink Stink

With Christmas fast approaching, Christmas tree poaching is on the rise. Between people unable to afford (or unwilling) to spend money on a tree and too selfish to go without, prize evergreens seem to go missing from people's yards and public grounds.

To combat the trend, some organizations and municipalities take drastic action. Some, like the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Washington State University, combat the poaching with odor. While the cold tends to keep the smell down on campus, in the warmth of someone's home, the treatments of fox urine or skunk oil quickly stink up the poacher's Christmas, if they can't heed the warning signs.

Cornell University and New York's Department of Transportation take a more garish approach to deter those illegally seeking free trees. They use an "Ugly Mix" of food coloring to discolor the trees. While the trees do nothing to spruce up the neighborhoods in the month until the mix fades, the trees remain to be enjoyed during the coming year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Balsam Fir

Balsam fir is another Christmas tree favorite which is similar to the Fraiser fir. It is named after the many resinous blisters on its ash grey bark. On older trees, the bark darkens to a reddish brown color with scales. On lower branches, the needles tend to form rows on either side of the branch. On older branches, these needles develop a slight upward curve. The needles themselves are flat and may have blunt or notched ends. They also have a circular base, with a lighter green underneath. The cones are a dark purple and perched on the branches pointing upright.

The wood is soft and brittle. It is used for light structural frames when weight is a factor, and also for pulpwood. The resin was the original chewed gum. The tree itself is the least fire restistant of the North American conifers, which is reflected in the fact that the resinous fir knots used to be used as torches. The resin was also used as a medical balm for external applications.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Douglas Fir

Douglas-fir, usually hyphenated to indicate that it is not related to firs, is native to the western United States and Vancouver. It is named after the famous botanist David Douglas who introduced the seedlings to Europe. Although, the latin name is named after Archibald Menzies who first discovered the tree on Vancouver Island. It is one of the largest trees in the world and forms gigantic forests. The sapwood is whitish to pale yellow, and sometimes reddish white. The heartwood deepens to yellow or pale reddish yellow.

The leaves of a Douglas fir are flat and thin, giving a needle-like appearance. They are usually about an inch long and are either blunt of slightly rounded. The color can be yellow green to dark bluish green in color. When rubbed, they emit an smell reminiscent of camphor oil. The bark starts off smooth with transverse resin blisters. With age, this becomes reddish brown with deeply fissured thick and corky bark. The fissures form scaly ridges or flake. The branches are generally pendulous with irregular whorls.

The distinctive cones are pendulous with persistent scales. This is what distinguishes them from true firs. The cones also have unique in having a long three pointed bract that protrudes prominently from each scale. There is a Native American myth from California that explains that the bracts are the tail and two hind legs of mice who hid inside the scales fo the tree's cones for sanctuary from forest fires.

Douglas-firs are a valuable and rugged softwood that has a variety of uses especially as structural lumber. It is dimensionally stable and recognized for its high strength-to-weight ratio. It also holds nails and plates very well, and has a high performance record against strong forces such as high winds, fierce storms and earthquakes. But the most recognizable and enduring use is the Christmas tree, where its ability to retain its needles is highly valued.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Freaky Fog

I'm still trying to remember to upload my photos of my Christmas tree, but so far, no good. I did decorate it last Friday. Maybe tonight.

We had some freaky fog yesterday in the area. It remained 20 degrees cooler in the low lying areas with exceedingly low visability all day! That is not normal in the DC region. Normally the sun bakes it off by midday. And on top of all of that, by three in the afternoon, it starting creeping out of those areas. Eep. Not good to have fog for the morning and evening rush hours!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Little Average

Well, keeping true to form this year, after a cold snap, we're seeing temperatures in the 60s most of this week. A bit cooler today, but that's because some rain is coming through.

It is a little disappointing that our weather this year is going down in the history books as close to average. With the high highs and the low lows, it still comes out average in the end. Although, I like warm temperatures in December, I'd still prefer that we stay on a steady trend of average. That way I at least don't have to keep switching coats each week.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Turkey Wake Up Call

My turtles brumate over the winter. Meaning I enjoy a few weeks of not shoveling food down their voracious throats, it eases my costs a little bit. Other than slowing down in feeding them, I don't do anything different. They dictate when they stop eating and when they start again. It is usually in respect to the change in daylight and that period of time where I cannot convince myself that it really is time to turn the heat on again. My turtles are my companions, so I don't hide them away. They still acknowledge me when they are brumating, but aren't as perky or outgoing. (Yes, yes, yes. I know what you are all thinking, but my preception of my pets is my perception.)

But this weekend, I felt like roasting a turkey. I get this urge every now and again. I want nice cooked turkey to eat for days on end and stuffing. The best stuffing is always made in a turkey, especially using potato bread cubes. So naturally, I attempt to share turkey. And wouldn't you know it? Those little beggers felt that they could "wake up" for turkey. Back on the feeding schedule, I guess.

Friday, December 08, 2006


Well, it seems that the first snowfall of the season here in the DC region will arrived yesterday. But only in the form of flurries. That is really nice. Or would be if our temperatures were not stuck in the low 40s and 30s, with windchill dogpiled on top. I know it isn't as bad as it could be, but my poor circulation still wants better.

But at least yesterday it was good cloudwatching weather.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Toads and Infamy

A recent news article got me thinking about frogs and toads. I'll talk about the article another day. Today, I'd prefer to think about why I like toads so much. And why I must constantly fight the temptation to pick them up.

My dad always liked reptiles and amphibians, so playing with turtles and salamanders came naturally. But it was not until we moved to the tippy top of New York State (Glens Falls region) that a true love of toads sprung up. Our house was at the end/beginning of a logging road. The yard and forest in back was pine trees in sand. Fun digging. My dad had a "native shade" garden. There were tons of peepers and toads around. And they seemed especially attracted to one window well in particular. I'm not sure why, maybe it was dew collected there keeping it moist. Maybe there was a light on that attracted lots of bugs most nights, I forget what was in that corner of the basement. Maybe the toads just fell in while making a bug eating circuit of the house. Who knows. But there were always toads there.

We even kept a bowl of fresh water in there. It was only about a foot, maybe 18 inches deep, the toads could have gotten out if they really wanted, I suspect. But my dad taught us how to handle toads. How to pick them up without hurting them, and without getting peed on. It was fun. It even prepared me for Junior High School when I chased a boy around with a live toad. To me, toads were always meant to be picked up.

Toads and peepers were always welcome, they ate the terrible black flies and mosquitoes that seemed to attack every summer. And now, I welcome the toads in my yard for their diet of bugs. And I hope they eat the slugs too. They are supposed to.

But the way the toad I found in my front yard cried, has me hestitate picking them up. Also the fact that I have not seen that particular toad since. And Chytrid fungus does not help matters. I know it is in Maryland. I just would not want to be responsible for spreading a deadly fungus to any toad, let alone one that is in my backyard doing good things for me.

Also, a moment of silence to remember Pearl Harbor.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Whispering Words of Wisdom, Let It Be

My favorite Christmas tree stand was open on Monday. I did not get the perfect tree again this year though. The variety I like was under represented. But you make due. I still got a beautiful tree. It just does not trim like butter.

Speaking of trimming, I had trouble finding my nippers. I should have taken it as a sign. I really should have. I had the perfect bottom on the tree, even freshly sawed by the seller for me. But no, I got trim happy, which means I had to saw a new bottom. :( Grrr. And now the tree wants to wobble. Next year, I will let it be.

But this way the turtles have fresh cut pine tree limbs to hide in. Some good with the bad.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Leaf Rakers

Okay, I lost the leaves on my front yard for my garden. In my defense, it was in the interest of community good will. I had delayed for quite some time, and Wednesday night, several little boys rang my door and begged for the opportunity to rake my yard. I thought they were just the little boy from next door and his friends wanting a leaf pile, when I agreed. But they were doing it for cash. It is a downpayment on the future. I don't want to be the mean neighbor lady. Let's face it, I'd rather have the neighborhood kids kindly disposed to me, rather than have them want to key my car and egg my house. It's the same thing that has me handing out candy to kids obviously too old to trick or treat.

I console myself with the fact that it was not a perfect job, nor are all the leaves off the trees, and there are plenty of leaves in my "gutter" in the parking lot. Besides, there are leaves in my backyard too. And let's face it, my grass is greener than either neighbor's. :) Especially the neighbor who fertilized.