Like other deciduous larches, the subalpine larch, Larix lyallii, sheds its needles each year. The trees make a grand show up there near the treeline, with their yellow needles and often twisted form. Further down the mountains, they tend to be taller and grow straighter. Fresh new twigs have single needles, whereas older twigs have clusters of needles growing from a little raised knot along the twig. Cones are spherical with long bracts extending out past each scale, giving the cones a shaggy appearance. These trees grow along with their very close and very similar relative, Larix occidentalis, in the upper Rocky Mountains and Cascade range in the northwestern United States and nearby regions of Canada.
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Native Americans used the peeling bark of the paper birch, Betula papyrifera, as a waterproof covering or even container (such as a drinking cup or ladle). This hardy tree forms beautiful stands of white-bark trees from the southeast United States, across to Alaska. It is absent from the southwest, but extends far north into Canada. The serrated edge leaves appear alternate on the branches — or in groups of 2 or 3. In the spring, the dangling male catkins are about 3 inches long, female about half that length. The tree produces winged fruits in late summer or early autumn.
The honey locust tree, Gleditsia triacanthos, is easily identified by its combination of thorns, long narrow compound leaves, and long curly seedpods. Found in the eastern United States, this species is actually a legume, in the family Fabaceae. Its long seedpods resemble beans and peas, which are more familiar legumes. Honey locust pods start out green and eventually turn crisp and dark brown, growing up to about 7 inches long. The pods are sometimes eaten by livestock, which digest the pulp and excrete the seeds. Thorns are found on both the trunk and branches of this tree species, again starting out green, but then turning red, and eventually grey. Leaves of honey locust are pinnately divided, similar to mesquite and acacia.
Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) is a flowering shrub or small tree native to China and Korea and cultivated widely in the southeastern United States, Australia, and elsewhere. It has one of the longest flowering seasons, up to 4 months of brilliant summer flowers. There are several varieties of this plant, many which are named after Native American tribes. The flowers can be white, purple, red, or a wide variety of pinkish colors.
The silk floss tree, Ceiba speciosa, is related to baobob and kapok trees and features the family’s swollen trunk. Not only does it have huge showy flowers up to 6 inches across, but its bark is covered in spikelets that hold water. As if it weren’t unique enough already, when young the trunk of this tree is green with chlorophyll, performing some of the photosynthesis for the plant. With age, the trunk turns grey.
Watch the nearly silent video tour of a silk floss tree, and click the links below the video to learn more — including how it got its name!