To Ponder and Appreciate

In her book Seeing Trees (available in Kendal’s library), Nancy Hugo notes that “humans have been evolving for over 3 million years, trees for 397 million.”

The Rutaceae family of trees (family being a classification that is less inclusive than an order and more inclusive than a genus) includes citrus trees and other species that exude scent when brushed against or crushed.

Among them are trees of the genus Phellodendron, one of which is the Phellodendron lavallei (common name: Lavalle Corktree). Seeds of that species were found in North American rock structures formed over 25 million years ago, in the Oligocene epoch. If this is making you feel young again, skip down to parking lot #11 to get acquainted with our own Lavelle Corktrees: one stands on each side of the lot’s entrance.

Each June (this year, perhaps July?) yellowish-green flowers will appear, arranged in short panicles (branched flowerheads) on the Corktree’s foot-long compound leaves, each of which is composed of 5-11 leaflets. From 20 yards away, notice the reaching-arms and many-fingered-hands aspect of the tree’s structure. The clumpiness of the Corktree’s crown also distinguishes it from our other trees, even more so in mid-fall, after its bright and clear yellow leaves have dropped, exposing small blackish fruits to birds that come to feed well into the winter.

To enjoy a much older Lavelle Corktree, drive to the former location of the Barnes Museum in Merion, Pa, where a grand specimen—the Pennsylvanian Champion—stands within 100 yards of 18 other such champs.

Don’t expect to see cork being harvested. Bulletin boards are made of the much thicker bark of the Cork Oak, which belongs to another genus, Quercus, which is part of another family, Fagaceae.


Harry Hammond and Judy Czeiner,Photographer