Did you know that a tree was named for Benjamin Franklin? The Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) was named for Benjamin Franklin, a friend of father-and-son botanical explorers John and William Bartram. The two discovered the plant in 1765 near Fort Barrington on the Altamaha River, near what is now Darien, Georgia. In 1773, on a second journey, William Bartram collected seeds. Descendants of those plants still grow in Philadelphia at the edge of the Schuylkill River in Historic Bartram’s Garden. The plant has not been seen in the wild since 1903, and “it is believed that all Franklinias today growing anywhere in the world are descended from those propagated by the Bartrams,” said Martha Wolf, the executive director of Bartram’s Gardens.
Barking Up the Right Tree – Though trees are seldom chosen for the splendor of their bark, it’s a design detail that deserves attention, especially in any climate where winter is leafless for longer than about five minutes. Possibilities range from the rich coppery colors of Amur cherry (Prunus maackii) to the dark ridges on Amur cork (Phellodendron amurense), from the scrolling sheets of glowing amber that peel from the milk-chocolate paperbark maple (Acer griseum) to the ghostly silver sheen of sycamore (Platanus spp.). These beauties do not appear until the trees are several years old, so you can’t go by what you see at the nursery. Photographs can help, of course, but for best results, take a few field trips to arboretums where you can see mature specimens. While you’re there, keep an eye out for paperbark cherry (Prunus serrula), katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana), and shagbark hickory (Carya ovata). And don’t be shy about asking for hints. People who spend their days caring for trees tend to notice subtleties that a quick tour might overlook.
Bark for Canoes – The early American Indians were careful — in some cases worshipful — of the world around them, but that doesn’t mean they were unwilling to kill trees. When they needed a birch for canoe material, they took it down. Small amounts of the thin outer bark can be removed without harming the tree; it naturally sheds patches. But to build a canoe you need all the bark layers, including the cambium that is essential for life, and you want all the layers in one piece. The fewer seams you have to caulk (with spruce resin), the more watertight your vessel will be.
Do Trees Breathe Through Their Bark? It is true that gases, including oxygen, pass through the outer bark to and from the living cells of the inner layers of a tree. This is a form of respiration, or breathing. The gases move through them pores called lenticels, whose function is equivalent to that of stomata, or breathing cells, found on leaves.
Why do Trees Weep? The weeping tree form is a mutation, and scientists don’t really know why it happens. What they do know is that most “normal” plants have a single growing tip that remains dominant, and this is what causes the trunk of head in a vertical direction. In the weeping tree, this dominant control mechanism is somehow disrupted. Instead of developing an upright trunk from the vertical growing shoot, the weeping tree develops a downward form by superimposing one layer of horizontal growth on top of the previous one. The process by which weeping plants assume their pendulous position, deviating from the vertical, is called plagiotropism.