Monday, December 11, 2017

Tree Following, Road Following

Boxelder displays its oppositeness.

No surprise—the boxelder I’m following hasn’t done much since my report a month ago. But I took photos anyway. It’s a nice-looking young tree, with a canopy that should be full when it leafs out, probably in May or June.
The nook where it grows faces north and west, and gets little if any direct sun this time of year (I don't know because I never go there midday). So maybe the boxelder hasn’t been mislead by our "spring" weather—day after day with highs in the 40s F. This is quite mild for Laramie in December, at 7000 feet elevation in the continental interior. Prairie grasses in my yard are greening up, and some annual weeds have germinated and are growing. Maybe they'll die when true winter arrives, and I'll be weeding less next year (hah!).
Below the boxelder I did find changes—in accumulated trash. The inspirational message from last month was gone, with nothing particularly interesting replacing it (unless you are inspired by brake parts cleaner). Note persistent snow in the shade.

Meanwhile, there were major changes in the road construction project that I walk through every morning with my dog, and whenever I visit the boxelder. Last month, as I wrote my post, the Gomaco 6300 was being fired up to start on the bike path. Now it's done except for the section over the new bridge, which will go in next spring or summer. Though the road is closed to traffic, we can walk on it on weekends.
The amazing Gomaco 6300 on left, mid-photo.
The Gomaco 6300 truly is amazing! In laying the bike path, a concrete truck poured concrete ahead of it (between form boards) as it moved forward very slowly, vibrating and leveling as it went. Several workers followed, filling any low spots. Even more impressive, it can squeeze out curb-and-gutter! Concrete is poured into the machine, and out comes curb-and-gutter through a nozzle-like thing—like decorating a cake!!
The next day, after bike-path or curb-and-gutter work, three guys with big heavy saws cut joints. I have it on good authority (my brother, see note at end of post) that cut joints are prohibited in California, as sharp corners flake or spall with time. Instead, a large crew follows the machine, forming joints in the fresh concrete. But not in Wyoming, apparently. However, we do require major joints with expansion board, as in California.
Yellow paint marks where joints are cut in.
Expansion joint.
Close-up of joint with expansion board.
This road construction is underway (finally!) because we badly need a new bridge over the railroad tracks that split our town. I suppose construction of the bridge itself is far more complex and interesting than bike paths and curb-and-gutter, but I rarely see it. One of these winter months, while the boxelder is still “asleep”, I will include a bridge update in my monthly “tree” following report.
New road ascends to bridge, visible just left of trees.
New bridge under construction.

Note  My brother, in California, started his career as a concrete mason. Now, after 40 years, he supervises commercial projects with lots of concrete. He’s also a wonderful storyteller, so it’s not surprising that we had a 45-minute conversation about concrete adventures when I called to talk curb-and-gutter machines :-)

Many thanks to Pat of The Squirrelbasket for hosting our monthly tree-follower gatherings. Check out the latest news. Want to join us? More info here.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Quercity—Thoughts on Oaks

Coast live oaks, Quercus agrifolia, in the California Coast Range.

Free time has been scarce lately, so I’m offering a short post on oaks, inspired by “Querc-y Characters” at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website.

I have a fondness for the Wildflower Center that surfaces at the least provocation, for I once talked plants with Lady Bird! It was 40 years ago, when I was botanist and sole employee of the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database. Jane Sullivan, wife of the governor, invited a small group of botanically-inclined ladies to gather for tea with Mrs. Johnson in Jackson Hole, at the base of the Grand Tetons. Conversation was awkward at first, but Lady Bird had done her homework, and as we introduced ourselves, she responded with what she had heard or read about our work. Soon we were happily discussing plants. Afternoon tea is not my idea of fun in the Tetons—I prefer hiking. But I really enjoyed my time with Lady Bird. She was so gracious and down-to-earth, a wonderful mix.

Now to the oaks …
Bur oak leaves, Dugout Gulch Botanical Area in the Black Hills.
In Wyoming, we have two oaks, both at the edge of their range here. Bur oak, Quercus macrocarpa, is a tree of the eastern and midwestern US that reaches its westernmost extent in northeastern Wyoming, mainly in the Black Hills. Gambel oak, Quercus gambelli, is common in Colorado and the southwestern US, but in Wyoming it grows only in the Sierra Madre, near Colorado. I was going to add “northernmost extent” but when I checked the NRCS PLANTS Database distribution map, I discovered that Gambel oak has been reported from South Dakota! However, there’s no county recorded, and the Forest Service FEIS treatment doesn't mention South Dakota. This would be a major disjunction, and news to me. But it’s an oak matter for another time.
Gambel oak; source.
In a way, we’re lucky we have just two oaks in Wyoming. I worked several winters in southeast Arizona, and struggled with the oak situation there. Apparently it’s even worse in Texas … or better, if you're not obligated to come up with identifications. Texas has more oak species than any other state in the US. Amy McCullough has put together an elegant straightforward guide to four of the common ones in Central Texas: Querc-y Characters, illustrated by Samantha N. Peters. Besides being a work of art, it shows clearly the characters and challenges in oak identification.
If you’re a hardcore oak fan, or looking for a botanical adventure, check out Quercus in the Flora of North America (FNA). There are 90 oak species in North America according to taxonomist Kevin Nixon, who prepared the FNA treatment. The exact number is debatable because oaks hybridize readily. “An astounding number of hybrid combinations have been reported in the literature, and many of these have been given species names, either before or after their hybrid status was known. … Hybridization in most cases results in solitary unusual trees or scattered clusters of intermediate individuals.” Oh dear!!

Even if you’re not up for a Querc-y Mega-Challenge, you might find Nixon’s introduction interesting—a revealing glimpse into the tortured world of oak taxonomists.
“A representative selection of mature sun leaves” is required for oak identification. Shade leaves won’t do. These are leaves of the coast live oak—sun above, shade below.