Festival of the Trees 14: in katydid time

northern true katydid on black walnut

Hi everybody, and welcome to the 14th edition of the Festival of the Trees. I’m a northern true katydid, Pteryphylla camellifolia; you can call me Pterry for short. I’ll be your guide here today. And who better? Starting at the end of July here in central Pennsylvania, I gather with a few million of my closest friends to make music in the treetops every night. It’ll get louder and louder as the month wears on. We like trees so much, we’ve learned how to disguise our wings as leaves, and we make music the same way the trees do, by rubbing our leaf-wings against each other. It sounds like this. Human scientists have various theories about why we stridulate in unison, but the answer is simple: we got rhythm! It’s like, we’re all shaking in the same wind, man.

Pennsylvania blogger Jason Evans at The Clarity of Night had a poetic post about the midsummer forest back on July 7: a little before my time, of course, but I sure recognized the mood.

Given enough rain, trees grow like crazy in the summer heat — especially if they’re members of the species immortalized by the beloved children’s classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, as Brooklyn blogger Missy recently discovered. “If you’re not careful,” one of her commenters warned, “that tree will grow through your window, into your open mouth, past your nasal cavity, and right into your brain while you’re sleeping.”

On these hot summer days, it’s natural to long for a good hard thunderstorm to cool things down. But sometimes the trees don’t take it so well. Trees in a storm were the subject of a poem, Storm, at Beloved Dreamer, as well as a photo essay here at Via Negativa, Death of oak tree.

It’s also apparently the season when neighbors with central air conditioning take their chainsaws to beloved shade trees. Julie Dunlop at Pines Above Snow — a great new blog that takes a literary approach to conservation — draws lessons from a neighbor’s assault on an American holly in “The Tree No One Knew.”

What could I do to convince a neighbor not to chop down a healthy tree? How could I communicate with someone who holds such different values? I ask myself, should I even speak out when we live so closely packed and must get along? These are questions environmentalists face every day, in large and small scale dilemmas. I look at the holly stump with grief and regret, at the [neighbor’s] cherry with joy and fear.

In a pair of posts at the cassandra pages, Beth Adams contrasts the attitude of her rural Vermont neighbors with the residents of her adopted city, Montreal. In Vermont, “a white-painted tire planted with bright pink impatiens has been placed on the stump of the huge maple that used to tower over our street; those neighbors to the west have been singlehandedly responsible for cutting the two oldest, tallest, and loveliest trees in the neighborhood.” She takes some consolation in the weedy vigor of her own back lot. But among her Montreal neighbors, she finds evidence of a different attitude. After a neighborhood tree was struck by lightning in a recent storm and had to be cut down, Beth’s husband J. reports, “there was a woman standing there next to it, and when I went by I heard her saying a prayer in French for the tree.”

Of course, many trees are doomed by the building of human houses and housing developments in the first place, as Paulette (Becoming a Renaissance Woman) has been finding with the trees in her own subdivision. “We built our homes on the edge of a forest with a developer who didn’t take enough care with the trees,” she writes. At the poetry blogzine Bolts of Silk, Sue Turner dreads the coming of “a developer’s ax” to a stand of cedars. And Beau at Fox Haven Journal, in a brief tribute to an old leaning tree, quotes William Blake: “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”

The solution, of course, is to plant more trees. Artist Maureen Shaughnessy (Raven’s Nest) ticks off the benefits, such as, “In one year, an acre of trees can absorb as much carbon as is produced by a car driven up to 8700 miles,” though she also notes that “the average tree in a metropolitan area survives only about 8 years!” Maureen also sent along a link to her other blog, Land of Little Rain: five free desktop wallpaper images of trees that she’s created.

northern true katydid on black walnutTrees with character

I’ve been keeping my antennae out for cool tree-related items around the web. One of the better arboreal faces I’ve seen was a big hit on Flickr back in May. And the August issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine includes a piece on old growth in the East — what it is, where to find it and how to photograph it — by freelance writer/photographer/ecologist George Wuerthner.

Speaking of photographing old growth, Portuguese blogger Pedro Nuno Teixeira Santos of A sombra verde submitted the link to a photo post featuring olive trees — three very impressive individuals. I can spot faces in all three trunks! And from Ireland, Windywillow has some charming photos of old trees in a park in Dublin.

Old trees have a charisma that’s hard to resist; you can see how attached I’ve become to this big old black walnut. Lynn at Hasty Brook shared some photos of ancient, twisted cedars at Gooseberry Falls, on the shores of Lake Superior. The pronounced spiraling in the grain of one cedar trunk prompted a lot of comments from readers, so I thought I’d do a little online sleuthing. (Katydid antennae turn out to be better at broadband reception than most Verizon DSL modems!) I found an abstract for an article which appeared in the journal Trees – Structure and Function back in 1991: Function of Spiral Grain in Trees, by Hans Kubler, a forester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Through spiral grain, conduits for sap lead from each root to all branches. This uniform distribution of sap is indicated by the paths of vessels and tracheids, and has been proven experimentally by means of dyed sap injected into the base of stems or taken up by roots. Trees receiving water only from roots at one side of the root collar nevertheless stay green and continue growing. Spiral grain in bark distributes food from each branch to other flanks of the stem and to most roots. Experimental interruptions of the sap and food conduits caused the cambial zone to reorient new conduit cells in new directions, bypassing the interruption. In particular, spiral grooves cut into the stem surface caused spiral grain. The new cells reorient through division and growth. Although spiral grain is largely under genetic control, trees appear to have a spiral grain especially where needed for distribution of water when root spheres are dry at one side. Compared with straight-grained trees, spiral-grained stems and branches bend and twist more when exposed to strong wind, in this way offering less wind resistance and being less likely to break. Through the bending and twisting, snow slides down from branches rather than breaking them, but the main function of spiral grain is the uniform distribution of supplies from each root to all branches, and from each branch to many roots.

Pretty cool, huh? Also in the far-out factoids department this month, courtesy of Rurality: wooly pine scale, an insect that looks exactly like bird droppings. And did you know that there was such thing as bark lice? Check out “Tiny curiosities,” from the always-informative Burning Silo.

northern true katydid on black walnut

Trees as sources of inspiration

Unlike us katydids, your ancestors came down from the trees millions of years ago. But many humans apparently still feel a close kinship with trees. LaRonda Zupp (The Ear of My Heart) describes a particularly good example of this kinship in “My Mother and Her Trees.” Her mother years ago got into the habit of giving tree-nicknames to the grandchildren, and now other relatives clamor for tree-names, too. As for herself, she identifies with the eucalyptus: “Being a nurse all her life, she felt this tree represented her the best as it is known for its medicinal qualities. […] My mother also laughed at her own choice of tree names and said that the peeling bark of the Eucalyptus reminded her of her own thinning hair and cracking skin.” Human and arboreal aging are also compared in “Gnarly,” a poem by Joan Ryan at Riverside Rambles, which concludes, “each day as I age more I envy the tree.”

Trees are a perennial source of inspiration to artists. Karen at trees if you please recently featured the tree paintings of Elmore Leonard, which do interesting things with the spaces between branches.

At a blog called Original Faith, spiritual counselor and author Paul M. Martin writes about a white birch tree from his childhood as an example of a home-grown sacred symbol. “Even now,” he says, “this long dead tree still photosynthesizes sentences for me.” If that sounds a little far-fetched, check out Lucy’s luminous photos of birch bark at box elder.

Kasturi at not native fruit quotes a poem about spiritual love from Hadewijch of Antwerp, who compares herself to

the hazel trees,
Which blossom early in the season of darkness,
And bear fruit slowly.

Trees can make you imagine all sorts of interesting things. Artist Steve Emery (Color Sweet Tooth) makes a good case for the proposition that all trees are hollow: “What any tree climbing child discovers is that the hearts of trees are wonderfully open, and I recall as a child feeling like I was climbing up into the globe of a hot air balloon when I pulled myself up the sugar maple where our bird feeder hung.” A recent post here at Via Negativa also turned on a childhood memory of climbing into a maple. And writer Lorianne DiSabato of Hoarded Ordinaries submitted a wide-ranging essay, “Listening to Trees,” which included this story:

The neighborhood where I grew up had few children for me to play with, so I spent a lot of time engaged in quiet, self-entertaining pursuits such as reading. The maple tree that stood in the courtyard between my family’s and our neighbor’s house — the same tree that is inextricably connected with my first memory of death — was my childhood companion and confidante, sheltering my childish thoughts as I lay dreaming below.

What is it about maples, I wonder? We katydids aren’t particular, though I’m personally rather fond of black walnuts, as you can tell. So I was delighted to see a series on insect inhabitants of black walnut trees at Pocahontas County Fare this month: spittlebugs; membracids; an assassin bug (yikes!); and a glimpse of the black walnut canopy. Which is where I’m headed now, I think.

J. L. Blackwater at Arboreality is right, the light through the trees at sunrise is stunning, but I’m feeling mighty exposed here on this trunk. After all, I’m not a sphinx moth, with wings evolved to look like bark; I belong with the leaves. Besides, I think it’s high time I gave photosynthesis another shot.

northern true katydid on black walnut

Next month, the festival will move to a Raven’s Nest. Please send links to maureenshaughnessy (at) gmail (dot) com no later than August 30.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

23 Comments


  1. Beautifully narrated, thanks Pterry! Great photos too, I’ve never seen a katydid before. I’ll enjoy following all the links!

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  2. I like the green post host.
    Just this morning I was revulsed by a 3 inch waterbug, which left me trying to think positive, contemplating which insects, if any, I enjoy having crawl on me.
    In order I would say:
    1 — Katydid
    2 — Ladybug
    3 — Daddylonglegs
    4–Earthworm.

    So hooray for Ms. Katydid

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  3. Beautifully done! I am proud to be one of the many fascinating posts profiled here. Thank you for the information about spiral growth on those Lake Superior cedars. I’m looking foreward to reading the other posts.

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  4. Thanks for an insightfully presented carnival, Pterry. I just started reading The World Without Us, a new book by Alan Weisman speculating on what the Earth would be like if humans suddenly vanished. Your poetic sensibilities make me hope that katydids will still sing in the resurgent forests, even without humans around to appreciate them.

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  5. Dave (via Pterry) … best Festival ever!! You set a high standard — it’s going to be hard to come right after this festival. (gulp!)

    I love the way you have so seamlessly stitched together all the diverse links and material submitted for this month’s festival. Especially love Pterry’s commentary… and the podcast of katydids talking to each other. That really set the tone of this festival: a cacaphony of different bloggers, artists, scientists, naturalists, photographers, writers, poets … and just plain old “tree-lovers” (as if that were really “plain!) … this cacaphony given sense by the expert eye and sensitivity of Pterry&Dave (written that way to emphasize that they are really one and the same being) ;-D

    There is so much food for thought in Festival #14 that — for me, at least — it will feed my curiosity and interest in trees for the whole month of August. Thanks for a great post.

    And now I wander off to explore the forest of links….

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  6. loved seeing the bark lice… grateful for the link

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  7. Thanks for a great Festival, Dave! I was delighted to be included and really loved the katydid host.

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  8. Wow! You did an amazing job. I can’t believe you did all this while dealing with dial up. I loved reading every inch of it and checking out all the sites. Thank you for including me in this wonderful festival.

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  9. On behalf of Pterry, thanks so much for all the comments and links! Just a couple of responses:

    Two Dishes – It’s “Mr.,” actually. The sexual organs are quite obvious and distinct; the female’s looks like a long spear. And only the males stridulate.

    Julie – The latest issue of Audubon included an excerpt from that book. Sobering stuff! Very much the sort of thing I like to ponder myself. (I tried to leave a comment at your blog to that effect, but then noticed you had comments restricted to Blogger users.)

    We have DSL back this morning. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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  10. Pretty Pterrific Festival, Pterry!

    I am continually amazed at how you and your pal Dave somehow manage not only to pull this all together but to top yourselves each time in creative presentation.

    Thanks for including my humble tree verse in the mix and I was so amazed by the Gnarly trees in “A Sombra Verdeâ€? that I included a link back to it in comments under my tree. Infinitely loopy perhaps but then, that’s me.

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  11. Many thanks for including my post. I am already on the trail of 6 or 7 of these links and will be back through for more. Pterry is a gorgeous green – loved seeing him and hearing his comments.

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  12. This is one fascinating festival Pterry (Dave). The way you have seamlessly woven words with photographs and subtly placed links… Beautiful. Just goes to show that harmony is not the copyright of Nature but can also be one indulged by humans.There is a different passion for Trees and the natural life that is glimpsed so vividly in your blog. The Katydid sings with remarkable clarity.

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