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Trees Etch Artful Designs On Canvas Of Winter Skies

Trees Etch Artful Designs On Canvas Of Winter Skies

By Nancy Buley, Director of Communications, J. Frank Schmidt & Son, Co.
Photographs courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son, Co.

Winter brings into sharp focus the elegant structure of our deciduous trees. This pause in the growing season gives us pause to appreciate the unique growth habit and character of each species of tree that cools us in summer. A mantle of snow on bare branches does much to accent winter bark and fruits, and highlights their unique “bones” that are hidden by the fluttering leaves of summer.

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Bare branches etched on a canvas of grey winter skies give us reason to go outdoors and appreciate Nature’s artwork. Hoarfrost accentuates the arching limbs of shade trees. Delicate twigs flocked with snow, zigzag and wavy branches, plump buds perched on bare branchlets and distinctive bark are among the many delights of winter-bare trees. A personal favorite of mine, this four-season standout, above, is pictured in leaf and flower in a previous GardenSMART post: Cornus cornucopia spills color into the garden.

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June Snow™ Dogwood is a winter wonder, thanks to its purple-black, lenticel-speckled bark and distinctive, horizontally layered branch habit. Lined up along the length of each branch, last season’s twiggy growth creates a unique pattern against the winter sky while slender branches hold billowy tufts of snow.

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American Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) is a handsome, underused North American native tree. Winter branches bearing alternate buds form an interesting zigzag pattern. Late winter catkins and shaggy gray-brown bark add seasonal interest. Known regionally as Ironwood, its hard wood and strong branch angles resist damage from snow and ice.

A carefree, pest and disease resistant choice among trees of small to medium stature, it is tolerant of shade, drought and alkaline soils. In summer, its pendulous, ivory-colored, hop-like fruits stand out against dark green, finely serrated hornbeam-like leaves that turn rich yellow in autumn.

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Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) branches are long and slender, forking often and presenting a slight zigzag appearance due to the alternate placement of the buds along its twigs and branches. Upright, arching branches form an elm-like, vase shape that is elegant and refined. In spring, compound leaves unfurl a bright yellowish green and darken to medium green in summer. Though this North American native tree doesn’t bloom every year, the show of long chains of fragrant, pea-like white flowers that appear among the leaves of early summer are well worth the wait. Foliage turns golden yellow in autumn. Smooth light gray bark resembling that of American Beech enhances this elegant tree's graceful winter silhouette.

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Shishigashira Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’) branches are sturdy, dense and perfectly suited for catching and holding snowflakes that pile up on their stout, ladderlike twigs. This unusual multi-stem beauty has a strongly upright growth habit and dense branches that can handle snow and ice better than is typical of Japanese Maples. Distinctive green bark and reddish buds add to its winter beauty. Come spring, buds swell and open to reveal dark green, crinkled leaves that turn brilliant golden orange in autumn. Leaves grow close together on twigs and branches, giving the effect of a curly lion’s mane, hence the common name inspired by the mythical lion of Japanese theater: Lion’s Head or Lion’s Mane Maple.

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Twisty Baby® Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Lace Lady’). Winter or summer, the irregular, artistic form of this contorted Black Locust brings unique form and texture to the landscape. Branches twist and turn at every node. Even the crinkly foliage, cascading from the contorted branches, is twisted. New leaves are pale green, deepening to medium green in the summer. New foliage against a background of darker green, mature foliage creates a two-tone effect in late spring and early summer. Green leaves of summer turn yellow in autumn and fall to reveal the contorted twigs and branches of this unique tree that matures to a rounded shape of about 20’ x 20’.

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Jefferson Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Jefferson’) presents a breathtaking silhouette before a backdrop of winter skies and the National Museum of Natural History. Towering above the wide pathway that connects the Washington Monument and the Capitol of the United States, its offspring are available to gardeners and tree planters across the continent. Arching limbs and upright vase shape distinguish this disease tolerant cultivar that was jointly introduced in 2005 by the National Park Service and the U.S. National Arboretum.

Leaves deepen to dark green earlier in spring than most of its neighboring elms and hold their dark color longer in the season before turning bright yellow in autumn. Planted on the National Mall near Jefferson Drive in the 1930’s, it’s a monumental tree growing among monuments. Its broad-spreading canopy casts equal-opportunity shade on tourists, joggers, lobbyists, legislators, protesters and children who play on the expansive lawn near the twirling carousel and Smithsonian museum headquarters.


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