More Winter Interest:Persistant Leaves


More Winter Interest

Persistent Leaves

Some deciduous trees (mostly oaks) hang on to their brown crackly leaves all winter, not dropping them until spring.

White Oaks Lord's Park Lagoon

12/27/2010  Lord’s Park Lagoon.   White Oak (Quercus alba) hangs unto its leaves through the winter when it is young, but as it ages, the leaves fall off in autumn.

While White Oaks are almost impossible to transplant, they grow easily from acorns.  In 1935, school children were asked by Jens Jensen to gather acorns from White Oaks to plant at the Lincoln Memorial Garden in Springfield that he had designed for the Garden Clubs of Illinois.  The acorns were planted in a grand ceremony in 1936 by local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.  (I have never seen this garden, but it is on my list.  Have any of you been there?)

Red Oak BSF

3/23/08 Bluff Spring Fen  Red Oak (Quercus rubra) holds on to its leaves until spring.  Red Oak is the easiest oak to transplant, because of its lack of a taproot.  I had one planted on my west treebank in spring of 2009 and it is thriving.  It does not, however, retain any of its foliage in the winter.  Those of you that have Red Oaks on your property–what is your experience?

Chinquepin Oak parking lot

12/29/09  Geneva Commons  Chinquapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) is also called Yellow Chestnut Oak, referring to the leaf’s resemblance to that of the American Chestnut.  It the wild it is found on dry.limestone outcrops and wooded, rocky slopes, usually in calcareous soil, which makes it suitable to plant in parkways and parking lot islands that are surrounded by alkaline concrete.  For that reason, it has recently become popular and, therefore, available at local nurseries.

Wide-spreading, it grows  50-60’ tall and wide.  The small, sweet acorns, produced every 3-4 years, are relished by critters.  It is drought-resistant and will grow in full sun or part shade.  It doesn’t need to be limited to parkways or parking lots–it can and should be planted wherever one needs shade.

10/2/14  My house.  Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria) is another oak that has just recently become available in commerce, but is not yet well-known.  I have a baby Shingle Oak  in my back yard, delivered to me by mistake, instead of the Hill’s Oak I had ordered.  But I’m delighted I have it.  Its dark green. leathery, lance-shaped leaves, unlike other oak leaves, are unlobed.  They turn gorgeous fall colors, then turn russet, then yellow-brown and persist through early winter.

Shingle Oak 10:2:14

It needs full sun, but is adaptable to various soils:it will grow in hillsides and floodplains; clay, sand, or gravel in calcareous soils, making it, also, suitable for street or parking lot planting.    Pyramidal when young, it grows into a broad rounded shape up to 50 to 60’ tall and wide. Needless to say, it does well as an all around shade tree anywhere.  Because of its winter retention of leaves, it makes a great screen or windbreak.  With more knowledge of this tree, it could become one of the best selling oaks we have.

The wood of the tree naturally splits into slabs of wood, making it extraordinarily suitable for shingles.  The Latin species name, meaning overlapping, and the common name both refer to use of the wood for shingles by the pioneers, a practice continued today.

Ostrya virginiana

photo by Jack Shouba

Ironwood or Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) is a common understory tree in oak savannas in our area, growing to 30’.  In my experience, it associates with a lot of Wild Gooseberry (Ribes missouriense) at its feet.  Its wood is exceptionally hard: hence the name”ironwood”.  (In the eastern states, Carpinus caroliniana [Blue Beech or Hornbeam] is also called “Ironwood”).  The wood is used to make handles for small tools.

Its finely serrated, rusty, elm-like leaves cling to the tree all winter, but it has even more winter attributes.

Its grayish brown bark grows in long strips, loose at each end, that gives it a shaggy appearance.  Its male catkins, grouped in 3‘s, are evident all winter along with dangling nutlets which resemble the fruit of hops–hence the name–Hop Hornbeam.

The Natural Garden planted a Hop Hornbeam in the entry courtyard to their office–a nice welcome, no matter what season one was there.  A lovely tree for a home landscape, as well.

One last thought.  Wherever you decide to plant these splendid trees, underplant them with grasses, sedges, and wildflowers–especially sedges.  See below:

Underplanting Trees

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11 Responses to More Winter Interest:Persistant Leaves

  1. Mary Alice Masonick January 15, 2015 at 5:09 pm #

    Beautiful photos of beautiful trees!

  2. Peggy Timmerman January 15, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

    A couple notes about Ironwood–if you are chopping pieces in the dusk on a cold winter evening, you will see sparks fly from your axe! Apparently there is silica (or some other mineral?) in the wood that will react to the metal in your axe to create sparks.
    Ironwood was originally a small portion of the understory in oak woodlands, according to our forester, who said it would have made up about 5% of the understory. Because it can tolerate disturbance and especially grazing, it is now a native that is out of balance, in places taking up 80-90% of the understory. We cut it all the time on our property, especially in areas where we are trying to open up the woods, let in more light and encourage oak regeneration. If you plant it in an urban yard just be aware of new ones popping up all over!

  3. PatHill January 15, 2015 at 6:24 pm #

    Thank you, Peggy, for all this information–I had no idea. The photo of it I showed did contain a lot of Ironwood.

  4. Sue Harney January 16, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    We have very few ironwood on Township open space and none my yard. I’ve not seen the level of proliferation as described above. Ironwood is in the Birch family, a species that supports 413 species of moths & butterflies. Is there any hope of getting some research to find out what makes this area so good for Ironwood? I could use some ideas on increasing the ironwood population on our sites.

    Is this a widespread problem?

  5. Carol Rice January 17, 2015 at 5:55 am #

    Hi Pat –

    On the subject of transplanting white oaks, I have heard that you can transplant them if you do it when they are dormant. I haven’t any personal experience, but wonder if any of your readers can comment on this.

  6. Jason January 19, 2015 at 9:52 pm #

    In my fantasy garden I would have an oak in the back instead of the silver maple and siberian elm. A hop hornbeam is probably more realistic.

    • Pat Hill January 19, 2015 at 10:19 pm #

      It’s a lovely tree.

  7. Suzanne Massion January 22, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    Had to look up my site maps, but, thanks to Tom Vanderpoel, we planted 5 Ostrya Virginiana out in the prairie in ’94 or ’95. They are tall trees now. We protect them each spring when we burn. 5 more were planted by Tom, along with 5 Blue Beech near the southern edge of our property in 2004. They are more shrub like and big. The Blue Beech and Hop Hornbeam were some of the best choices we’ve made over the last 20 years.

  8. Debbie Zonca April 13, 2015 at 7:04 am #

    Does anyone have a good source to buy 2-3 ft seedlings of oaks, hickory or sycamore? We’re attempting to clear and restore an oak savannah in NW IL, Galena.

    • ambien0 July 18, 2015 at 12:29 pm #

      Did you find your source? If not I can give you one in Iowa just across the Mississippi I used for reforestation in Crawford County Wisconsin.

  9. ambien0 July 18, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

    Forgive my late response, but I also have been battling Ironwood for 30 years on wooded property in Crawford County WI. Dominant vegetation on one hillside are Ironwood, Shagbark Hickory and Prickly Ash. Despite its annoyance, I do love the way the branches fan out on a horizontal plane.

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