Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Big Leaf Out. It's All About the Trees

The leafing out of the trees is underway. By early April many trees and shrubs are already showing their greenery here in North Georgia, creating a stunning canopy of fresh foliage. Do you enjoy watching leaves emerge in spring as much as the vibrant flowers? This spring I began to really pay closer attention to the beauty of this process. Each day I walk our woods and observe the new leaves and flowers appearing on the trees.  This is the street view looking toward the woods from a southerly direction. The majestic trees make one feel very small in this wondrous world.


Leaves have been breaking bud and unfurling their leaves for several weeks now. The tree canopy is already peppered with green from the hickory, sweetgum and tulip poplar trees. The oaks, beech and sycamores are not far behind.


Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa) is one of several hickories common in our woods and one of the first of the big trees to begin to show its leaves.  The buds are fascinating to watch emerge.

Hickory leaves unfurling

These leaves are food for the larval of several moths including Luna and Regal.
See my post on these showy moths here.


As if someone is handing you a bouquet of leaves

Within a week the tree is full of luscious lime green leaves and the tree canopy is beginning to fill in. This is where many birds and insects hangout in early spring.

Hickory leaves

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) trees are abundant at the woodland edge. They are fast growing and establish themselves in abandoned pastures and clear-cut areas. The leaflets are soft and attractive contrasting those fat, piercing thorns.

Black Locust leaves with thorns

This member of the legume family is a nitrogen fixer and grows in nutrient poor soils. Also a good tree for erosion control and with our sometimes steeply sloped property is welcome. Bonus is the flowers support bees and those thorns, well let's just say its good security.

Locust leaves and flower bud

The tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), a member of the magnolia family, synchronizes its leaf emergence with the first sighting of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies. These dainty leaves will serve as larval host of the Tuliptree Silkmoth and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

emerging leaves of Tulip Poplar

The tulip shaped leaves grow almost as quickly as my children, as my son is demonstrating in this photo.


The American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) is commencing its leaf out, while still holding on to a few of its marcescent leaves. As new growth emerges the faded leaves gently fall to the forest floor sometimes scooped up by the wind and sent drifting off further into the woods.

American Beech

Beech trees are very shade tolerant and generally one of the later emerging leaves in our woods. Together with Sugar Maples they are an indication of a climax succession in a hardwood forest.

prominent lateral veining on Beech

A Boxelder (Acer negundo), which prefers moist conditions and generally found in floodplains, has established itself along a runoff area deep in the woods. This understory tree normally prefers sunnier conditions but seems to be content in this location.

Male flowers on Boxelder tree
The leaves emerge concurrently with the dioecious flowers as shown in the photo above. The young leaves are said to resemble those of poison ivy.

Boxelder leaves

What say you? Would you mix these two up? Maybe, if it was a seedling coming up through the leaf litter.

poison ivy leaves

The palmate lobed leaves of the Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) tree are just starting to show themselves on the lower branches. This is a pioneer plant, growing quickly and taking over a disturbed area. It is well established on our property, once farmland with acres of open fields.

Sweetgum leaflets

Looking up the monoecious flowers are already blooming amid the more mature star shaped leaves that receive more sunshine. Ruby-throated hummingbirds will visit these blooms for nectar.


Sweetgum flowers and star shaped leaves

A typical stream bank species, Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) trees are long lived and rival the tulip poplar for height; however, the Sycamore has a much thicker trunk.

Female flower (red bud)on Sycamore
Simple leaves emerge after flowering has begun and will provide a wide canopy with its broad leaves.

Sycamore leaves with flowers
A mature sycamore stands at the edge of the woods on the Northeast side of our home. I'm rather in love with this tree for its fabulous exfoliating, mottled bark, which in my book rivals the South's revered Crape Myrtle any day. Plus watching the leaves dance and sway in the wind is very calming.

Newly emerged Sycamore leaves with male & female flowers

Trees are naturally gorgeous. They are inviting, protecting and endearing. Their leaves get most attention in fall when they bring vibrant color to the landscape but I think they are just as spectacular in spring when they are newly emerged.  I encourage you to get out and do a leaf walk and see what new discoveries you find.

13 comments:

  1. Ah trees, our great companions, is so enriching to learn about them! great post.

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    1. Trees are tricky for me. Some are hard to identify...easier with leaves and flowers. I took a class on winter tree identification a few years ago just on bark and buds. It was definitely challenging!

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  2. Spring had truly arrived for you - I must say it's one of my favourite times of year. One of the reasons I enjoy winter so much is that it makes the wonders of spring all the more appreciated. And I too enjoy seeing the trees leaf out, a sure fire sign that spring has arrived and is here to stay...unfortunately, that's still a few weeks off for us...as I look out my window at the snow falling ;)

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    1. Sometimes we get late spring freezes which damages the tender leaves. One of the drawbacks of starting early. It happened a few years ago and all the leaves turned brown and it was really ugly. There is a threat tonight of low temps and I am going to have to bring in my tropical fruit trees.

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  3. Lovely pictures, I feel exactly the same way - these are every bit as beautiful as the flowers. Nice to find a kindred spirit.

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    1. It really is fascinating to watch the leaves unfurl. Very underappreciated unless one takes a closer look and really studies them. But, they have me!

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  4. What a glorious sight Karin when all the bright green growth of new leaves springs forth on the tree branches. Gorgeous views there and so many unusual leaves...all except those poison ivy leaves....I spotted those right away....I have alarm bells tied to seeing those leaves. Not looking forward to them.

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    1. I fully understand that Donna. We have two very mature poison ivy vines growing up trees which I leave for wildlife. However, I just noticed lots of poison ivy growing in a path we cleared on the new property about a month ago. They will have to go. The dogs run up there and if they rub against me that would be bad news!

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  5. It is so nice to see the trees leaf out. We are still waiting. I always look forward to the sycamore. Such large stately trees with loads of landscape interest.

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    1. Exactly! I am so happy we have a few on our property. Their bark is so spectacular and the dangling flowers and fruit are fun to watch sway in the wind too. Great tree!

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  6. Yes, it does look like someone handing me a bouquet of hickory leaves! I always know we are irrevocably into spring when the trees begin to put out their leaves. It is a wonderful time of year!

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  7. I love all of the different shades of green in the spring, especially the pale silvery green and vibrant spring green of the oaks. I'm always a little sad when they darken to a uniform green. That means it's going to get very hot! lol

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  8. I always think that the emergence of tree foliage is spring's most dramatic moment. After a long Canadian winter the greening of the trees is so welcome.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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