bur oak

World Tree Story by Julian Hight

We need more great books about trees, don’t we?  Here is your chance to help a fine author and passionate tree person to publish his next book, World Tree Story. Julian Hight is an author, designer, photographer and musician. His very fine book Britain’s Tree Story has a prominent place on my bookshelf. In that book, he […]

Showy flowers

Flowers, Pollen and Allergies

Is that tree causing your allergies?  That pretty tree with the white flowers?  That pine tree covering your car in green film?  Nope. It’s the trees you don’t see that are getting you. This is the height of allergy season. You can feel it in your sinuses and see it on your car windows. Huge […]

In Praise of Black Locust

All over Kentucky, there is an explosion of the amazing white flowers of black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia. This is a tree that is both loved and hated. While it is in flower, I thought we’d take a few moments to talk about the virtues and sins of black locust.   Here are the things we […]

Bees on male bur oak flowers

Bees on Bur Oak

For the last 10 days, I have watched an amazing phenomenon that I have never seen before. Oaks are wind pollinated. Occasionally we see insects visiting, but only casually. However, one bur oak that I keep an eye on has been abuzz with activity. Every day while the male flowers were open, there was a […]

Picture of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes, Dendrologist

The novels and stories about Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle are filled with keen observations of the world around him. I have read Sherlock Holmes repeatedly since I was a kid. Today, I find that Sherlock Holmes stories help me focus my own writing on details and precise observations.  Recently, in reading Holmes once again, […]

sugar maple flowers

More tree sex – sugar maple

Have you seen the sugar maples in flower?  In Kentucky, they are flowering right now, but you need to look closely to see them. The flowers are not very show, their pale green blending with the green riot that is spring.  These interesting flowers will reward the careful observer.  Sex in maples is complicated. Even […]

A fastidious disease kills oaks and olives

All over central Kentucky, ornamental pin oaks are in trouble. They are slowly declining and dying, and looking terrible in the process.  From street trees to horse farms, thousands of pin oaks need to be removed over the next few years.  The primary cause is an odd species of bacteria, Xylella fastidiosa, that lives in […]

Sycamore fruit in spring

Sycamore in Spring

American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) flowers in late spring and creates the well-known sycamore ball that kids are fond of throwing at each other (not quite as painful as sweetgum balls). The fruit is unusual because it stays on the tree all winter as a hard, dormant ball. The following spring, the ball begins to expand […]

Freshly cut grass

The smell of spring

On my walk yesterday, the world was filled with the smell of spring.  The smell of flowers and  barbecuing meat will be along soon enough, but early spring is dominated by the earthy fragrance after rain and the wonderful, evocative odor of new-mown grass.  Lawnmowers were whining away last weekend mixing the smells of new mown grass and […]

Death of a Venerable Tree

The Venerable Trees of the Kentucky Bluegrass are extraordinarily long-lived.  This past weekend, we lost one of the largest and oldest bur oaks in the region.  The tree, at the corner of Versailles Road and Man O’War Boulevard on a farm, fell to the south.  The death of this tree was most unusual. It was […]

The Sap Is Rising

“The sap is rising” is an often heard description of early spring. If you cut into the stem or branch of certain trees – sugar maple, birch, hickory, walnut, or sycamore – on a cool spring day, you may see sap dripping from the cut end, or an icicle of sap forming.  The sap is slightly […]

chinkapin oak

A visit to Oakland Farm

If you go to Lexington or Paris farmers’ markets, you may know Oakland Farm, “Home of the $10 Tree”  Tim Diachun, our business manager, and I spent a wonderful afternoon at the farm with the owners, Doug Witt and Laura Greenfield. Oakland Farm is not named for the trees they grow in their nursery, but […]

Hazardous street trees

Hazardous street trees can cause a huge amount of damage, including personal injury and property damage.  Here is an egregious example. This pin oak is at the intersection of Robin Road and Tates Creek Road. It is right next to the newly installed sidewalk and adjacent to a major power line. The tree has been […]

The Ingleside Oak

Finding Left-Behind Trees

Finding left-behind trees can be the start of an urban adventure.  As our woodland pastures were developed into urban areas, most of the trees of woodland pastures were cut down. A few remained, usually as single trees in a parking lot or front yard.  Here’s where the adventure comes in: when we find a single […]

Early Spring Trees

You may feel we are in the throes of winter, but for many trees, it is already early spring. How can that be? In the late summer, trees begin to enter a stage of deep sleep called dormancy. They don’t stop growing because it is cold, they stop growing because a combination of long nights […]

Veteran Oak – A Left Behind Tree

The Veteran Oak in Lexington is one of the most iconic trees in the city.  A magnificent bur oak, it lies along a popular walking path on the south side of town.  The Veteran Oak is a left-behind, the only ancient tree in a young riparian (stream-side) forest.  Most of the ancient left-behind trees are on […]

Blue ash tree

Left-behind Trees

A left-behind tree is our term for woodland pasture trees that are left behind as lone individuals when farmland is urbanized.  You can help us find them. Woodland pastures are part of the original presettlement vegetation of the Bluegrass.  As some areas, especially in Fayette County, were urbanized, most of the trees of the woodland pastures were […]

Why do trees hold on to their leaves?

Why do trees hold on to their leaves in winter?  We get asked this question quite often.  The short answer for the impatient reader is sex, or more specifically, puberty. In some years, cold weather comes on so suddenly that leaves are killed by frost.  Last year, a sudden cold snap came on the heels […]

What good are knees to a baldcypress?

What good are knees on a tree? Baldcypress famously has these odd structures that stick out above the water line. Botanist Francois André Michaux saw knees on baldcypress trees and, in 1819, said “No cause can be assigned for their existence.”  Nearly 200 years later, what do we know about the function of this strange structure? […]


Estonian firewood in Kentucky?

Have you noticed the  displays of packaged firewood at your local supermarket?  At Fresh Market, I was taken aback to see European white birch logs for sale, and even more surprised to see that the wood was imported from Estonia. It is hard for me to imagine that the cutting, drying and shipping birch to Kentucky […]

bur oak

Oak stories for 2014

Here is a New Year’s reading list for all our quercophile (oak-loving) friends.  These are articles at Venerable Trees published or revised in 2014. Stories and News: Riparian oak, a hybrid oak in the Bluegrass The Old Schoolhouse Oak in the news again The Old Schoolhouse Oak Has Babies Friday Tree – The Oak Conundrum […]

Oak barrels

Bourbon, Barrels and Climate

To celebrate the New Year, I have a new article at Planet Experts on the science of bourbon and barrels. The flavor of Kentucky’s most important libation is due to aging in new oak barrels. The article discusses the chemistry of bourbon flavor, the history of barrels, the sustainability of white oak forestry and the […]

Dead trees and what they can tell us

Dead trees are fascinating because they provide us with a permanent record of their lives. The annual rings that record the tree’s experience with drought, nutrients and temperature are familiar to most of us.  Somewhat less familiar, but easy to see, is the record of all the insults, accidents and stresses of life as a giant, […]

The plight of butternut

Butternut trees, Juglans cinerea, are beautiful relatives of the more common black walnut. They get the name ‘butternut’ from the rich, fatty nuts, which taste better than walnuts. Another name for the tree is ‘white walnut’ because the wood is lighter in color than black walnut wood.  You may already know butternut from eating its […]

Riparian oak, a hybrid oak in the Bluegrass

Update:  In response to some questions, we have added a description of differences between Northern red oak, Shumard oak and riparian oak at the end of this article. Near Ashland in Lexington, we found a beautiful, large riparian oak.  Riparian oak is a hybrid between Northern Red Oak, Quercus rubra, and Shumard oak, Quercus shumardii.  Its […]