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Autumn Season: Cottonwood Tree

Tree study brings such a greater understanding of the cycles of life in our own backyards as we watch the changes, growth, and means of reproducing in each tree we focus on. We learn more about the animals and other creatures that live in the tree, on the tree, and use the tree for shelter or food. It gives us a way to measure time and to anticipate the coming changes.

Learning one tree at a time is an easy way to ease into nature study if you haven’t done so yet. Let your child pick a tree in your yard or neighborhood. Even if you live in a big city you can find a tree that you walk past on a regular basis, perhaps at the library, post office, or grocery store. You can make it a casual study or more in-depth and even just finding out the name of a tree can be enough to get you started.

Here are the trees we have done a formal study of since starting this project:
Oak Tree 2007-2008
Sweet Gum 2008-2009
Tulip Tree 2010-2011
Birch Tree 2011-2012

Now we are continuing our study of the Cottonwood tree that we started back in July 2012: For the Love of Trees.  We do not have a cottonwood in our yard but there are a few around town that we have noticed. We picked a particular tree back in July and we decided to revisit it now that the season has changed.

Autumn 2012 – Cottonwood

Our cottonwood has just begun to change color and drop its leaves. I drive past this tree every week or so and I think it will be fun for us to watch and see when it looses all its leaves as the season marches on.

Here are a few of the leaves and their color. As a sidenote, now that I know what a cottonwood tree looks like and the shape of the leaves, I am seeing more and more of them as we go about our travels in our area. I can also tell by the way the leaves blow and shimmer on the trees.

We didn’t see any birds or other animals in our tree. There wasn’t any “cotton” around this time to observe. I did collect a few leaves to press and a few to add to our nature table which is getting quite crowded. I think I need to sort through and see if I can take off a few things.

Now we will be anxious to complete our study for the winter season and see what changes there are in our cottonwood. You are always welcome to join in with a year-long tree study of your own: See this entry for some ideas on how to get started: For the Love of Trees or this Four Seasons Tree Photo Project.

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Summer Tree Study – Following Up on Cottonwoods

This week we were determined to complete our Cottonwood Tree Study as part of the Outdoor Hour Challenge. It is hard to get motivated when it is really hot outside but we persevered….most of our study was indoors anyway so we had no real excuse. Once we started it was very enjoyable, gleaning much from our reading in the Handbook of Nature Study and then direct observation.

Our neighbor had a cottonwood tree in their front yard until a few years ago when they cut it down to make room for some other landscaping. I remember there were certain times of years I did enjoy having that tree next door. It was MESSY. The “cotton” would cover our deck and yard as it blew over in our direction.

So without a specimen nearby, we had to travel across town to view another cottonwood tree that I noticed along the edge of a big field. It really is a very pretty tree with a nice shape and growing sort of tall. The trunk is easy to recognize once you know what to look for.

We had the chance to observe a cottonwood tree when we visited Anna Comstock’s cabin in New York last May. I gathered a bit of cotton to include in my nature journal. I wrapped it up in a paper towel and folded into the front of my journal for safe keeping. We took the opportunity with this challenge to examine the cotton closely.

cottonwood june 2012 (1)
We examined the seeds with our magnifying lens and it was truly amazing to see the structure of this catkin with its seeds.

“The little pointed pods open into two or more valves and set free the seeds, which are provided with a fluff of pappus to sail them off on the breeze; so many of the seeds develop that every object in the neighborhood is covered with their fuzz…” Handbook of Nature Study, page 656

Pappus was a new word to us so we looked it up. A pappus is the flower-like structure on the top of the akene. (Remember your dandelion study?) You can see a variety of kinds of pappus on this website: Who’s Your Pappus? I also found information at the bottom of this page on Backyard Nature. I need to add the word to my journal entry so I don’t forget it.
Cottonwood nature journal

So here is my journal after I finished with it. I found an envelope (glassine envelopes for scrapbooks) for the cottonwood seed fluff sample and the pressed flower that I had collected from the woods. I watercolored around the edges to give it some color and used my metallic gel pens to make a title. I printed a photo of the cottonwood cotton since it is a part of the memory of that early morning walk that I will treasure for a long time to come.

We are going to go back to our local cottonwood tree and take photos for the Summer Photo Challenge and as a guide for our watercolor project for the week.  Mr. B is working on his notebook page from the More Nature Study Book 4 challenge using his field guide for the cottonwood tree. We think ours is a Black Cottonwood so he is doing the research on that species for his challenge.

Another great tree challenge to add to our nature journals…hope to see some of your trees in the upcoming Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival. Remember that every entry into the June Newsletter carnival is an entry to win the Your Backyard Monarch Butterfly DVD and Study Guide. Last day to submit your entries is June 29, 2012.
OHC Blog Carnival
Don’t forget the Great American Backyard Campout!
And my Camping With Kids link-up from yesterday.