This morning I plucked another two boxes worth of tangerines to ship off to friends in Springfield, Missouri and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While I was in the backyard, I realized that the leaves of one tree in particular are even richer in color than they were just a week ago when I wrote this post about them. The ground floor is completely covered in the leaves that have fallen from it. I’ve also suspected that this tree is the one responsible for depositing the round, spiky fruits that litter the yard near the fence line.
I have lived in this house for nearly ten years. Not once did I ever think to find out what kind of tree I was staring at and getting giddy with excitement over the actual change in colors each and every fall. So I decided to bring a leaf back inside with me and do a little research.
What I learned today was pretty much a refresher of what I learned on my 6th grade field trip into the woods of Upper Michigan. My teacher, Mr. Corkin, took my entire class on a walk through the forest on very well-marked trails and taught us, among many other things, the difference between coniferous and deciduous trees and constantly wowed us with his immense knowledge of leaf identification. He instilled in us, or at least in me, a deep appreciation for the natural world. Then he assigned us homework. This didn’t particularly bother me because I was a people-pleasing nerd back then, so much so that I decided to do my project on leaf identification simply to impress Mr. Corkin. I walked away with an A so it must have worked, but this teacher obviously had some kind of influence over me because here I am, 24 years later, remembering how much fun I had working on that homework assignment.
After doing some research today on Florida forestry sites and with the Arbor Day Foundation, looking up simple and compound leaves and opposite and alternate growth direction, I finally learned that we have a sweetgum tree. It’s pretty popular with hardwood floor enthusiasts and is favored in the furniture manufacturing business. Even pioneers from back in the day used to peel back the bark to scrape off a solid substance from underneath and use it to make chewing gum.
Seriously, I have fresh tangerines within reach and the ability to make chewing gum from a tree in my own backyard. Why leave the house?
Unfortunately, I believe I missed the incredible change of color that occurs in our red maple tree. I would make a horrible botanist, by the way, because I honestly can’t remember when that tree actually becomes a red maple. But living here in North Florida throws us off from the regularly scheduled gloriousness that is fall foliage. Our subtropical climate delays the impending death of leaves for months and then, when it finally does happen, it’s over so quickly that we hardly notice.
Rest assured (because I know you’re all concerned…yeah, probably not) that I am paying attention to the red maple tree now. If anything happens to it in the next few months, I’ll be sure to post photographs.
This is what it will look like:
This is what it looks like now – green and full of leaves but still beautiful: