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Buds and Catkins – Our Spring Nature Study

Bud Study - Spring 2012
We still have plenty of tree buds to use in our nature study this week as part of the More Nature Study Book 3 study of Buds, Catkins, and Blossoms assignment. We went out after dinner last night to observe and gather some specimens for our study. Can I just say that we were intrigued with the variety we have right in our own backyard?

Mr. B and I both sketched buds into our nature journal. There has to be no better way to really see what a bud looks like than to try to sketch it in detail. Picking the correct color and seeing the different ways that buds are shaped lead to really truly *seeing* the subject.

Bud Drawing - Nature study
Advanced Study Notebook Page from More Nature Study Book 3

Mr. B used the advanced notebook page from the ebook to try his hand at sketching an enlarged bud using the grid paper. He thought this was hard…..I think he just needs a little practice.

Sweet Gum Bud
Sweet Gum Tree Bud

What a glorious bud he chose to sketch! This is the sweet gum tree bud…it looks like it is ready to burst open at any moment. We placed it in a glass of water to see if we could get it to open up in our window sill.

Birch in the Sunset
The vertical twig hanging down has our string on it…still no leaves.

We also observed the birch catkins we have on our backyard tree. This was the same tree we used in our twig study and we found the branch with the string marker. Not much of a change yet so we will continue to watch our twig as the season progresses.

Birch Catkins and Leaves
New leaves on this twig of the birch tree and some catkins too.

Currently there are no tree blossoms in our yard. The plum is done and the pear and apple are not yet blossoming. We found a few more interesting things to gather and bring inside for our bud study.

Walnut Tree Twig with Buds
Walnut Tree Twig with Buds

The most interesting thing from our study is the walnut tree twig with its unusual buds…both color and shape. We had never taken the time to really examine the walnut tree bud before so it was a surprise. It was a fun exercise to try to get the sketch right in my journal. It helps to know a little bit about twig anatomy so you notice all the important parts like the leaf scars and the lenticels.

Maple Tree Keys
Silver Maple Buds and Key

The maple tree buds are all burst open and you can see the keys in the image above. If you are interested in doing your own Spring Maple Tree Study, you can look back to a previous study we had here on this blog. You may wish to use the free printable: Spring Maple Tree Notebook Page

Birch Catkins
Birch Tree Catkin – April 2012

So this was another wonderful study with my teen. He did a little grumbling at first about doing the study this week since he thought there wasn’t much to learn but as you see above once we got started there were many things to be interested in. If all that he gleaned from this study was that all tree buds are unique and we can identify trees from twigs and buds, then I am a happy mama.

More Nature Study Book 3 Button

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Our Spring Tree Has Leaves: White Birch Limbs and Leaves

This post is part of our on-going series of Year-Long Tree Studies, Spring Challenge. You can see our previous studies here: Autumn and Winter.  If you haven’t started your own family’s Year-Long Tree Study, I encourage you to jump in now and start with a spring observation. I guarantee you will learn a lot!

“A person who has not had an intimate, friendly acquaintance with some special tree has missed something from life.”
Anna Botsford Comstock, A Study of a Tree

It has been with eagerness that we watched our white birch tree for signs of new leaves. This past week they seemed to appear overnight, gracefully blowing in the breezes that have come in the afternoon hours. Here is a video (you may need to click over to the blog to view it) that shows how the limbs are so fluid and dance in the wind. It isn’t very long…about half a minute.

We decided to focus on the limbs of the tree and see how they make that movement in the wind. It might have something to do with the shape and arrangement of the limbs. The limbs bend down towards the ground and are not stiff like the oak tree growing just a few feet away.

4 18 11 Birch tree limbs

They sort of spiral up the trunk….isn’t it pretty?

4 18 11 Birch Leaves and catkins

It could have something to do with the leaves as well so we took a look at the arrangement and shape as part of our spring study. The leaves point down and the petiole is long and slender. The leaves catch the slightest breeze just like the sail on a sailboat. They shake and sway and remind me of Robert Frost’s poem, Birches. We decided to include a part of the poem in our nature journal.

I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.


4 5 11 Birch Catkins

“Catkins form on the trees in summer, remaining tight, smooth, and closed throughout the winter. They begin to expand in early spring, with most flowering before the leaves appear, or at least before the leaves get too large. As catkins rely on wind to spread their pollen, this arrangement prevents the leaves from interfering with fertilization. After the female flowers are fertilized, the male catkins wither and drop.”
Read more at Suite101: Catkins in Spring.

Birch Nature Journal
So another season is beginning for our tree and we will look forward to observing it closely as the days tick by. There is always something new to learn and think about in this great nature study project.

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Our Winter Tree Study: Nothing Short of a Miracle

1 17 11 birch study (3)

We started our birch tree year-long study back in October. (You can read it HERE.) I remember saying to one of the boys that soon the leaves would all be gone and we would be able to see the shape of the tree’s trunk and branches better. Well, time has flown by and here we are standing in the backyard looking at just those very things.

Words that are going in our nature journals: bare, thin, flexible, drooping, catkins, white.

1 17 11 birch study (5)
This tree is so different in shape than our other year-long tree studies done with the silver maple and the tulip poplar. The bark on the trunk is different and the seeds are totally different. I anticipate that we are going to learn quite a bit about trees just taking a few minutes each season to observe this tree.

Birch catkins 2
We wanted to take a closer look at the catkins from the tree so we brought a few inside to the table. I bumped one of the catkins and the seeds went everywhere. You can see the partial catkin in the photo above and how the seeds are attached to make it look somewhat like a little dangling cone but it is not really like a cone at all. It is a well organized bunch of winged seeds that are in the shape of a cone. We have seen finches land on the catkins and hang upside down as they nibble their treat.

Close up Birch seed
After much manipulation of lights and magnifying lenses, my son and I were able to capture the seed in an image for you. Truly amazing!

Birch Seed Journal Entry
Mr. B sketched the seed for me in my journal and I added color and the captions after we did the research. So much to learn about seeds and how they are part of the life cycle of a tree. I know in my head what seeds are but when you stop to think about the miracle of a complete tree growing from this one small hard to see with the naked eye structure…well, it causes me to sit and be amazed at our wonderful Creator. It is nothing short of a miracle.

It actually reminds me of this quote that I ran across and wrote down to save.

“Nature is an infinite sphere of which the center is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere.”
Blaise Pascal

My Encouragement to You
If you haven’t had a chance to start, begin now during the winter. Charlotte Mason in her writings suggests choosing trees in winter to observe and compare. She says to wait until spring to identify the trees when the leaves and blossoms appear.

“Children should be made early intimate with the trees, too; should pick out half a dozen trees, oak, elm, ash, beech, in their winter nakedness, and take these to be their year-long friends. In the winter, they will observe the light tresses of the birch, the knotted arms of the oak, the sturdy growth of the sycamore. They may wait to learn the names of the trees until the leaves come.”

There are some simple ideas outlined in Winter Series Challenge #2 or you can just pick a tree and observe, perhaps taking a photo or making a simple journal entry. Don’t hesitate to jump in now!

See this entry for a description. Sample HERE.

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Seasonal Tree Study and Leaf Comparisons

I don’t usually enjoy the fall season…it is a melancholy time for me. I love the barefoot days of summer and the hot afternoons working in the garden or swimming in the pool.  I would much rather be hiking in the green, green hills with wildflowers blooming at my side in the springtime. The promise of spring and the activity of summer are much more likely to gain my vote for “favorite season”. Winter is the enduring time, the time for preparing for spring and summer.

Autumn days are soon filled with colored leaves, falling leaves, and raking leaves. It seems to creep up slowly but then you wake up one morning to find that the leaves are starting to turn colors…..oranges, reds, yellows, golds, purples.

Leaves on maple 10 10
Observing autumn trees and looking close though, you will see spring’s leaves preparing for the winter.

So here we are in the middle of our autumn challenges and making the best of what the season has to offer. We gathered a few leaves to compare and my son reminded me that we did an in-depth study of leaves and their parts as part of our biology study.

Botany notebook page 1
I went to the shelf and pulled out his biology notebook and his nature journal and we thumbed through to find our completed study.

So now what could we do to learn more about leaves?

Tree Study Leaves on copier
First of all, I shared with my son the idea that I gleaned from Amy at The Teachable Heart and her family’s study of autumn leaves. She actually color copied the leaves for their nature journals and they looked wonderful. I thought maybe we could do the same for our tree and other fall leaves that we were comparing just for a change in our journals.

We had already decided to choose another tree to study for a year-long tree study, the birch tree in our backyard. We gathered a few leaves and took a closer look at the tree while we were out there.

Tree Study Birch 10 10
Welcome to our new tree for the year! We are excited to see what we can learn by looking at and comparing this tree to our previous tree study subjects.

Tree Study Birch 10 10 leaves
These catkins are such interesting things to look at and we looked up some more information in our tree guide after our outdoor time.

Leaves with loupe
We brought some inside to look at with our loupes and to draw in detail in our nature journals.

Dandelion leaves 10 10
While we were out we looked at several other kinds of leaves….the dandelion growing in my pot is such an interesting shape in comparison to our tree leaves.

Broccoli leaves 10 10
How about these leaves on the broccoli? Amazing gray-green color.

Leaves on coleus 10 10
Our coleus is still giving us blazing amounts of color in the container garden on the deck. It makes me happy just to look at these leaves.

It had to go in my nature journal.

Coleus leaf in My Nature Journal
Watercolor pencils are fun to work with in your nature journals and we always have a set sitting on or near our work area table. It is easy to sketch quickly and then come back later to add water and details.

I will end my entry here since this journal is getting quite long. We are enjoying the connections between our biology study and our nature study using the Outdoor Hour Challenges.