One of the rewards of paying attention to trees around us is the thrill of discovering a tree previously unknown to you. This week I made such a “discovery” of four trees right in my own neighborhood. I have literally passed those trees thousands of times over the several years since they were planted, but never really paid much attention to them, except for being vaguely aware of them as trees in the landscaping in front of the Brooks School on High St.
Maybe it was because I happened to be walking toward the Brooks on a beautiful sunny morning that followed the unseasonably dreary, wet and cold days of earlier this week. In any case, before I was even within sight of the trees, a sweet fragrance wafted up the street in the warm June breeze. Then, there they were: four trees, dazzling in full flower against a bright blue sky, sparkling against the backdrop of the handsome brick façade of the Brooks School. Drawn to the trees like the bees happily buzzing around collecting nectar from the dangling flowers, I was mesmerized. But also mystified – what ARE these trees, and how could I have missed them?
With research of my numerous tree books, field guides, and on-line investigations, I was still at a loss for identifying the trees. Fortunately, I work with a great Forestry staff, and barged in on their lunch break with my books so we could figure out the mystery together. The mystery was solved by my friend and mentor, Earl Philbrook, long-time arborist and tree contractor for the City of Medford. “Yellowwood”, he said to me on the phone soon after. “Check your books but I’m pretty sure they are yellowwoods.” The thrill of discovery shared!
Yellowwood (‘Cladrastis kentukea’) is a tree native from North Carolina to Kentucky and Tennessee. It is rarely seen in the wild, but my research indicates yellowwoods are available in white and pink-flowering cultivars for planting in landscapes. Flowers hang in 10” clusters and are very fragrant. Leaves in summer are a light green, changing to yellow and gold in the fall. Yellowwoods don’t flower until they are 12 to 18’ tall, according to my books, and sometimes flower only every other year. So that was part of the mystery. But you can be sure I’ll be keeping an eye on the yellowwoods down the street from here on, and hope you do, too!
– Submitted by Aggie Tuden, Medford Tree Warden