Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Golden Days at the Arnold Arboretum

Golden Larches (not arches) are the perfect symbol of the season at the Arnold Arboretum, Boston's great museum of trees. It's autumn, and we can't get enough of our trees, their foliage, their annual insistence that while money may not grow on trees almost everything else of ultimate value does. (Ask Adam and Eve.) 
     To open and sensitive minds -- to me, the ultimate authority -- our world is filled with trees of both life and knowledge.
     The autumn seasonal peak has receded in northern and western New England, but it's just landed on eastern Massachusetts, given our milder coastal climate. The maple tree outside our house turned orange just last week (top photo).
     Located outside the central city in Jamaica Plain and Roslindale, the Arnold Arboretum is the jewel in the crown of Harvard University's Boston possessions. It was designed, as I learn by checking the website, by Frederick Law Olmsted. Why am I not surprised? The arboretum, a collaboration by man and nature on a design for paradise, is the second largest "link" in the so-called "Emerald Necklace," the linked series of green spaces set aside over a century ago to ring the city.
            Only in the arboretum would we walk through the gate (Bussey Street entrance) and be confronted by golden larches -- an "evergreen" tree whose needles turn a bronzey orange in autumn (second photo). The specimens are tall and the tree's full canopy of needles are not turning colors because the tree is sick or dying, they're just doing their regular autumn thing. According to an online references the golden larches are actually a special single-type genus of conifer in the family Pinaceae (meet the Pine family). The species's scientific name is Pseudolarix, and while it's not truly a larch, it is truly awesome.
            The Golden Larch is native to China. That puts it in a large class of exotic specimens from China, Japan, Korea and anywhere else in northern Asia found not only in arboretums but anywhere else on the North American continent where people love trees. These imports thrive here because the climate is so similar.
            Among these is the Ginkgo (third photo), an old friend I also found waiting for us in the Arnold Arboretum. They still look to me like trees planted in some fantasy novel because of their precise, almost formal symmetry of branches and the unique shape of their leaves. The leaves turn a uniform rich golden-yellow in autumn as if somebody had painted them. They look like charms hanging from the necklace of the gods.
           Despite appearances, they were not invented by JRR Tolkien. The Ginkgos are also native to china, where some grow over 150 feet tall. Even the youngest, newest specimens are distinctive.
            We also noted a good selection of tall sturdy trees that have puzzled me in the past because they look like oaks in their size and sturdiness and structure, but their leaves are not oak-shaped. I learned from the label on the arboretum's trees that these are called "chestnut oak."            
            Looking this up, I find this tree is in fact an oak of the white oak group. And sure enough its name comes from the appearance of leaves that resemble the leaves of the chestnut.
            The chestnut oak tree is a native to America, commonly found from Maine to Mississippi. You can literally see a world of trees in the Arnold Arboretum.
            And if you can't make it there, just look around.