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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.

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More Nature Study Book 3 -Spring Buds, Catkins, and Blossoms

maple bud  
More Nature Study Book #3
Spring Tree Study – Buds, Catkins, and Blossoms

This challenge is aimed at getting you outdoors and looking at trees early in the spring. What should you be looking for? Try looking for buds, catkins, or blossoms. The challenge is not specifically about willow trees but the willow is covered in-depth in the Handbook of Nature Study and contains information you can apply to other trees. Since everyone has varying conditions, adapt this study to your local trees and their current stage of growth.

In the winter we looked at twigs. If you have a twig you have been watching, make sure to wrap up your study this week with a journal entry and final drawing.

Inside Preparation Work:

  • Read pages 651-654 of the Handbook of Nature Study (Lesson 179 on the Willow) and pages 648-650 (Lesson 178 on the Horse Chestnut). Read for information about the twigs, buds, and pussies.
  • View this page on catkins and note what to look for during your outdoor time. Explain that the “tassels” of the oak and “pussies” of the pussy willow are really flowers. Catkins appear before the leaves. There can be male and female catkins. Ebook users: Use the illustrations in the ebook to learn about the different ways buds can look and be arranged on the twig.
  • Interest arousing YouTube videos: Horse-Chestnut Bud and Birch Buds. Fascinating.

Outdoor Hour Time:

  • Go outside and look at the buds, catkins, or blossoms on trees in your yard or neighborhood. Ebook Users: See chart in the ebook for blooming times for common trees.
  •  Gather some twigs with buds, catkins, and/or blossoms to bring inside for observation. Place each twig in a jar with water and label with the tree name if possible. Note: Catkins and blossoms contain pollen.
  • Advanced Study: Watercolor a spring blossom if you have one to observe in person.
  • View this video on YouTube which shows birds feeding on willows.

Follow-Up Activity:

  • Use your senses to observe your buds, catkins, and/or blossoms. (touch, sight, smell). Make a record in your nature journal including a sketch. Make sure to record the length of your bud and as many details as possible including color. Ebook Users: Optional coloring pages: Horse Chestnut and Pussy Willow.
  • Watch your buds over time and see what happens. Record how long it takes for the buds to open. Place a piece of white paper under the jars with catkins and observe what happens over the next few days. Record your observations in your nature journal or on a notebook page.
  • Examine your bud to determine what type it is using a hand lens.

Advanced study:

  • Extend your study to include information about the tree your bud came from using a field guide or the internet.
  •  If you haven’t dissected a bud yet, use a bud you collected as part of this challenge. Each bud is different so take your time to remove the scales and layers as you go. View this image to see how you can record your work in your nature journal.
  • Sketch your catkin and research how the catkin functions as part of tree reproduction. Use this link to learn more about classifying buds: Buds. This one is an excellent visual guide: okPlantid.
  • You may be interested in previous spring tree studies: Year-Long Tree and Spring Tree.

Elizabeth shared this link with me and it is a perfect citizen science project to go along with this challenge. Project Budburst. Free printable journal pages you could use with this challenge too!

You can read about our Spring Buds, Catkins, and Blossoms study:
Buds and Catkins – Our Spring Nature Study

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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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Music While We Walked, Catkins to Look At, and a Squirrel Entertainer


Click this photo! Gorgeous!

We had a unique experience the other day out on a walk in an area where at this time of year there are very few other people. It was a quiet, bird watching sort of day as we hiked along until one section of the trail where I swore I heard music. We all stopped and listened and sure enough, far in the distance we could hear music playing….I thought banjo music. We had no idea where the music was coming from. We were pretty far from the parking area, we had only seen one other person the whole afternoon, and I was fairly sure it was someone actually playing the music since it sort of started and stopped and wasn’t like it was a CD or something like that.

music while we walked

We rounded one bend in the trail and we had our answer. You can listen for yourself here in this very short video. (I felt really weird taking a video but I was sure we would want to remind ourselves of this in the future…it made us smile.)

We did eventually catch up to these two walking along and they were just out enjoying the spring weather, making some music. I have no idea what kind of instrument he was playing. It looked to be homemade. It sort of looked like a guitar/banjo/cigar box stringed instrument.

Sometimes I feel like playing music when I am out on a hike too. No, I won’t be doing it anytime soon.

Here is a little friend that entertained us on this afternoon as well.
ground squirrel
California ground squirrel….he was posing for us for a very long time.

We also had a chance to observe up close the catkins of the Quaking aspens. This is something new and interesting that I want to do some more research about…..the boys were not impressed with this subject but I will do research on my own. 🙂
Catkin 1
The photo at the top of the page is a bunch of catkins hanging on the tree. Aren’t they pretty?

Something I learned about the Quaking aspen is that is the preferred food of the beaver. It makes total sense to me since this is where we saw the beaver’s dam and there is an abundance of aspens. I love making connections.

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