Tree Following in January: Big Dudes

The American Sycamore,  Planatus occidentalis, has big dude leaves.


It has a few little dude leaves too.



My Sycamore still hosts some leaves, both big and small, though most of its leaves are now on the ground.RICOH IMAGING

Shed has shed.



There are leaves over, under, and around shrubs, yuccas and all manner of plant material, as well.






Some have sacrificed their all for the life cycle of the deciduous tree.


In December’s Tree Following post, the Sycamore’s foliage had begun its autumnal color turn, courtesy of the slow down chlorophyll production and the visual uptick of carotenoid manufacture, but now that turn is essentially complete and leaf function for the tree is concluded for the year.  In botany, the process of leaf drop is called abscission.  Leaf drop typically occurs in late fall and winter, mostly in response to the lessening of light, but also in response to colder temperatures. Abscission also happens during tree stress and, despite its native tree status, the American Sycamore stresses during the hot and dry Texas summer months, some years more than others.  Many of these leaves dropped during July and August when our temperatures soared and the rain ceased.



Except where I find them annoying (clustered ahead of the front and back doors, ready to hitch a ride on the dog’s fluffy tail or to get blown in with the slightest puffy breeze as the door opens), I allow leaves to stay on the ground to become leaf mold and to decay.  That’s especially true in the wildscape part of my urban property which doubles as a work area.


Leaf litter, as part of a wildlife habitat philosophy, is a good thing.  Somehow in the past decades, American society was sold on the idea that leaves on the ground are bad and ugly and must be aggressively removed.  With great fanaticism, we crank up the gas-guzzling blowers and mowers, add massive noise levels to all of our towns and cities, and spew fossil fuel exhaust into our world to rid ourselves of the offending masses of leaves.  Whatever happened to using a rake?

Yes, dropped  leaves are a little messy to the human eye,



…but leaf litter serves as mulch, as protection for insects during winter, and a part of the system of biological breakdown–all good for those who make nature their home.


Within reason, I let leaves lay where they fall. Giving in to my neat-freak tendencies and urban neighborhood standards,  I vacuum up large leaves (Sycamore and Oak) with an electric (though still noisy) shredder and place that shredded stuff in spots of my gardens,





…and compost bin.

As for the last of the leaves, especially the larger of the Sycamore beasties, I rake them up along with other garden detritus for yard waste pick up.  No worries  about garden “waste” being buried in a municipal landfill, the ex-garden stuff will be combined with treated sewage sludge and sold as a soil amendment.


My American Sycamore is nearly barren of foliage now. Leaves have blown away, are blanketing gardens and pathways, or are mingling with other rotting material in the compost. Abscission is when the cells connecting the leaf petiole to the stem are sufficiently weakened and the leaf breaks from the branch. This process naturally occurs over the course of the growing season and when the cells are done-for,


…so are the leaves on the tree. Though most are down, some of my Sycamore leaves hang tough.


I expect the hangers-on to drop soon–today, tomorrow, this week–soon. Then all that will be left will be those dangly, decorative seed balls. Shall we count them?

Perhaps that’s better left until next month.

Many thanks to  Pat at The Squirrelbasket for hosting Tree Following.  Please pop over to her blog and learn what her tree and many others are up to for January’s Tree Following.

Foliage Day, December 2014

I’ve profiled foliage from my garden in the past, but I’m going to hang out with the Europeans today by joining with Christina and her beautiful blog,  Creating my own garden of the Hesperides, as she hostesses Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day for December 2014.

Folks who’ve relocated to Austin, Texas have complained to me (usually in  whiny voices), there’s no fall color here.  That gets my “Texan” up a bit, because we do enjoy autumn color in Central Texas, at home and all around. Lovely fall foliage.

IMGP2940.newThe color evolution happens later than in other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, closer to the actual start date for winter.  Additionally, the turn of foliage is gradual, beginning in November, peaking in late November/early December, and typically finishing by New Year’s Day.  It’s not a dramatic foliage show, loud and boisterous like you’d think something in Texas would be.  Instead, the change is gradual, subtle, and gentle.

In my gardens, the two Shumard OakQuercus shumardii, trees extend their color change over many weeks.

There are several species of oak trees in Texas that are commonly referred to as “Red” oak.  I’m guilty of misnaming the two major arboreal specimens in my back garden as “Red” oaks.  In fact, both are Shumard  Oaks.

Gorgeous trees, I appreciate their many attributes: the shade they cast in summer, the cover and food provided for the many birds and other wildlife who visit or make these trees home, and the fall foliage mosaic (albeit in December) that these two trees provide.

Another tree residing in my realm, though probably not one I would have planted on my own, is the American Sycamore, Plantanus

I don’t hate this tree, but it’s a bit water thirsty for Central Texas–it’s naturally found along stream banks and bottomlands which hold moisture from floods, and that’s not where my home resides.  The tree was established when I bought my home and I wouldn’t remove a mature tree, so it’s remained as a major shade source for my gardens. Aside from its struggles during dry periods (drought-stress causes defoliation), the leaves are thick and big. Really big.

Awkward and especially messy in the garden, the leaves don’t break down in any reasonable amount of time. Here you can see a small sampling of Sycamore leaf litter. There are points during late December when all that is visible in certain parts of my gardens are those dinner plate-sized leaves. A garden is not so nice when those huge leaves obscure everything in it!  Sycamore leaves are too large and thick to leave in the garden (for this OCD gardener), or to place, as is, into the compost.  They mat together, forming a barrier against moisture, thus slowing the composting process.

But in the tree, especially during the seasonal change,  Sycamore foliage is quite lovely.

Fluttering in the breeze, in an array of colors,…the leaves are resplendent against the blue sky.

Once the leaves drop and I’ve vacuumed and shredded them, dumped them directly into my compost bin and/or onto the gardens as mulch, the spherical seed pods decorate the tree throughout winter.  In spring, the seed balls explode, releasing feathery seeds aloft in the wind.

On the ground, foliage also makes its presence known.  Floating in the bird baths,


…accompanying the bee hives,

…and blanketing the gardens and pathways.  Here, the brown oak leaves combine with the stalks of the RetamaParkinsonia aculeata.

A bit upwards from the ground sit perennials which also sport fabulous foliage this GBFD. The colorful foliage of the Ruby Red Runner, Alternanthera hybrid, which is part of the biological filtering system of my pond, is

Tiny floral gomphrena puffs accompany the plum leaves. Ruby Red Runner provides foliage interest nearly year round; a hard freeze will render this plant dormant.

The Butterfly VineMascagnia macroptera, showcases lush green foliage and fascinating chartreuse seed pods which resemble butterflies, thus the common name for this native plant to Mexico and southwards.

Currently, none of the seed pods are the rusty-brown they eventually become, but it’s quite a picture when there are differently pigmented “butterflies” resting on the vine.

Firebush, Hamelia patens. speckles after frost damage to its foliage,

…but  I like it.  No blooms remain on this heat-loving, native-to-Florida.  Once we have a killing freeze, it will be dormant until late spring.

Lastly, the Chile Pequin, Capsicum annuum (var. glabriusculum) adds major hotness to the garden.

Pepper hotness, that is.  A beautiful, shade-tolerant and deciduous (in most winters) shrub, many birds (and my husband) favor these chile peppers, the only truly native chile pepper in Texas.  Here, it’s  accompanied by Yarrow, Achillea millefolium.

Such a lovely plant for this time of year.  Who says we don’t have seasonal foliage color in Texas??

For foliage celebrations from around the world, visit Creating my own garden of the Hesperides for GBFD!