Leaves and Trees: Redbud

One of the prettiest trees to bloom in the spring is the Redbud. This small tree is prevalent in the South, particularly in Arkansas, Oklahoma and eastern Texas. This beautiful photograph was taken by the fabulously talented Kathryn Kolb.

In the spring, the leaves are red but quickly turn green for the summer, then a bright yellow for autumn. The Redbud can be fairly easy to identify in a forest by just looking at the leaves, as they're shaped like a heart. 

The bark is gray and smooth in young trees, reddish brown in the older ones. The Redbud is often seen as an ornamental tree along streets or inside gardens but is a common and important understory tree in the forest. 

I love how the flowers cling close to the bark. The buds will last just a few weeks unfortunately so we have to admire them while we can. The vibrant flowers are actually edible, with a slightly nutty flavor... great to add to pancakes, oatmeal, muffins, ice cubes or spring salads. 


Photos and Content: Sweet Peach

Leaves and Trees: Water Oak

Leaves and Trees contributor, Kathryn Kolb took this photograph of Water Oak leaves in her own backyard. She was drawn by the pretty placement and design of the leaves. In her own words, "The very clean, graceful forms and strong sunlight portrayed a warm and bright spirit." Her photographs always entice you to stare a little longer and this lovely moment in time is no exception.  

It's the winter here in the South and although most leaves are long gone, many of you may have noticed these leaves under foot. The Water Oak, which is truly a southeastern tree, loses its leaves later than most other trees, so their colorful "fall" can best be seen in December and January. The spatula-like leaves are fairly easy to identify- rounded at the top and narrow at the base. (some refer to them as 'duck feet') One of my favorites, the Sweetgum tree is often found in the same vicinity as a Water Oak. They're friends...

The Water Oak is plentiful in the South as it finds root in wet areas such as swamps and lakes, yet also likes well drained, even compact soils from Texas all the way to Virginia. It needs a lot of sunshine and is certainly found a lot here in Georgia. Water Oaks were often planted as street trees without any knowledge of how big they can get, (up to 100 feet) which is why, sadly, they are often cut down. But I say, the bigger the better... Thank you for the lovely pics Kathryn. To see more of her inspiring work, just click here.


Photos: Kathryn Kolb   Content: Sweet Peach 


Leaves and Trees: Sparkleberry

If you're looking for a pop of color on your walls, Kathryn Kolb's Red Leaves image may do the trick. This stunning photograph was taken at Sweetwater Creek State Park, just west of Atlanta. Kathryn easily spotted these Sparkleberry leaves, which turn a pretty red in the fall, as they were backlit by the setting sun and emanating a bright, rich hue. Wanting to capture the feeling of the scene before her, Kathryn got up close and threw her subject out of focus. Often in the winter, the red leaves of the Sparkleberry may be the only color in a graying forest- a most welcome sight on cold, weary days. 

Sparkleberry trees are easy to discern. Found in the Southeast, from Virginia to Texas, their twisted limbs and shredded bark give off a reddish hue and they can often be found close to streams and lakes. 

Wildlife depend heavily on the tree for its shiny bluish-black berries that lucky for them, aren't as tasty to humans. The nook and crannies of the tree limbs provide perfect spots for birds to perch and nest. Add this tree to your yard and you'll add a bounty of life to your landscape...


Luscious Acorns

For wildlife that live near oak trees, acorns are one of their most important food sources. And there's many to find this fall, as my friend Kathryn Kolb says, "It's a banner year for acorns." We took a walk on Saturday with our pups and found some really wonderful ones, all manner of pretty, fall colors. Above are some big and luscious chestnut oak acorns. 

The white oak acorns initiate their germination in the fall so they don't stick around for long- whereas you'll see the red oak acorns hang around a while, not germinating until the spring. Deer (and people) prefer the white oak acorns as they are sweeter in flavor with less tannins than their red counterparts. But nature always has a plan as the red oak acorns contain 2-4x the fat content as the whites, which helps the animals of the forest get the sustenance they need to survive the chilly winter. 

To tell the difference between white oak acorns and red oak acorns, you need only look at the texture. Soft and smooth means white oak, fuzzy and scruffy means it's from a red oak tree. Red oak acorns also have more of a flat top and a rounder, fatter body than the white oaks. (white oak to the left, scarlet oak to the right) 

Kathryn and I saw a ton of chestnut oak and white oak acorns on our walk- both have smooth bodies and are therefore both from the white oak family. The chestnut acorns (to the left of top picture and both pics below it) have more of a wide top with a long stem while the white oak's cap is more snug and stylish. (top right)  

These shiny and colorful acorns are chestnut oak. They start off green, turn red, yellow, brown, then dark...I love finding them for that short amount of time when they're one of everything. So pretty. 

This wonderful black and white photograph of southern red oak acorns is one of Kathryn's. She took this shot in even light on a late afternoon. She particularly likes how this one turned out, "I like that it's highly designed and completely not designed at the same time." See more of Kathryn's incredible work here.  

Photos and Content: Sweet Peach 

Leaves and Trees: Greenbrier

Growing up, my favorite story my mom read to me was Brer Rabbit. She created a great voice for the rabbit that always made me laugh. Brer rabbit lived in the South and would tell Brer Bear when captured, "Please don't throw me in the briar patch." Using reverse psychology, Brer Rabbit knew the dense thickets of vines would allow him to escape harm. In sweet memory of Brer Rabbit, today's Leaves and Trees feature is all about one of the most prevalent vines of the South, the Greenbrier. 

Large thickets of prickly thorns make up this vine often found in wooded areas. Besides offering protection for wildlife, the whole greenbrier vine is quite tasty. Rabbits and white tailed deer rely heavily on the greenbrier for sustenance. The sprouts of greenbrier are edible to humans with a bright, full bodied flavor. I love to eat them on my hikes with Kathryn (just be sure what you're eating.) If you steam the new growth sprouts, they call it 'po' folks asparagus' down South. This hearty vine can be used to make soups or 'Greenbrier Salad.' (that would be so fun on a menu) The root powder can make a mild jelly or be diluted in water for a cold drink. In fact it used to be the ingredient that added the licorice flavor in Sarsaparilla.  

Kathryn took this really wonderful photo above. The leaves are generally heart shaped but can also be laurel or oval shaped. One thing Kathryn really loves about the waxy leaves is what they offer in the colder months of the year. In the late fall and early winter, greenbrier leaves turn a vibrant red, yellow and green and when backlit, they appear to glow. In the gray and bland winter forest, you can count on greenbrier to offer a little sunshine.   

Leaves and Trees: Tulip Poplar

For the past five years or so, my dear friend Kathryn Kolb has been teaching me about the trees of the South. We go on regular hikes together with our dogs and I've slowly gained a knowledge of some of the trees of Georgia- in which they are many. Georgia is home to approximately 250 species of trees.

Since nature is the ultimate designer, I'd like to introduce a regular feature I'm calling Leaves and Trees where I'll be sharing pictures and info of various plants and trees of the South. As Kathryn taught me, "We can only appreciate the trees once we know who they really are." The Tulip Poplar was one of the first trees I learned and actually remembered. Not a poplar at all but part of the Magnolia family, it's easy to identify by the distinctive shape of its leaf, which looks like a tulip. The above tulip poplar leaf is a brand new growth, so cute and perfect in its design.   

These next two pictures were taken by Kathryn. The first is of an old growth Tulip Poplar, which she captured at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina. This forest is actually home to the largest tulip trees which can reach a spectacular 150 feet high. These trees are generally the tallest tress found in the eastern US and they grow fast and straight up like a column. It's a beautiful shade or ornamental tree for anyone's yard, as long as you have the room for it and lots of sunshine.  

This next photograph Kathryn took in her front yard in Atlanta. She shoots with a Hasselblad 2 1/4 square format camera using no filters or effects. See more of her stunning work throughout the South here. And in case you're wondering, this impressive tree gets its name from its tulip shaped yellow flowers that bloom in May. Until they fall to the ground, these blooms are hard to see as they can only be found at the tippy top of the tree.  



Photos and Content: Sweet Peach, Kathryn Kolb