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Our Spring Tree – Officially Starting a New Study

We have completed several year-long tree studies in the past, observing a particular tree in each season for a whole year. We haven’t had a tree for some time. I looked back and we started a study of the neighborhood cottonwood tree but never finished. Oops.

Oak Tree 2007-2008
Sweet Gum 2008-2009
Tulip Tree 2010-2011
Birch Tree 2011-2012
Cottonwood Tree – 2012-incomplete

Time for a fresh start and a new tree. We looked around our yard and realized that we have studied quite a few of those trees already. Hunting around, we found a new tree. We know the tree as the “birdfeeder tree” because it has always had our birdfeeder hanging from its branches. We don’t know what the name of the tree is officially so it is going to be a mystery tree until we complete the study.

You can see the Outdoor Hour Challenge Spring Tree entry to get started on your own tree study.

This is our tree looking from our back deck and between our house and the neighbor’s house.  It is an awkward place to take a photo but you get the idea of the shape of the tree. You can see the Pittosporum plant on the right of the tree.


Here is a look at the branches from underneath. In the summer this tree shades the end of our deck where I have some chairs and a table. We spend many an afternoon and evening enjoying the shade given by our “birdfeeder tree”.

This is what is on the branches on this first day of spring. Wow! Look at all those tree parts. A few days ago, when the sun was shining on the tree, I could see it actually giving off little puffs of pollen into the breeze. I am sure this is the tree that is making pollen on the deck.

Here is another view of the flowers (fruits?) of this mystery tree. If anyone has any idea what this tree is from looking at the images in this entry, please leave me a comment or send me an email. I freely admit I don’t know all there is to know, or even a fraction of what there is to know, about trees even in my own backyard.

I added a photo and some notes to my page that I had prepared using the new Nature Journal Topper from the newsletter. Hopefully this will remind me to complete a summer study of our tree and perhaps be able to identify it when it has leaves.

Have you picked a tree to study for a year?



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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Spring Tree Observations


Outdoor Hour Challenge:
Apple Trees in Spring –See some of the ideas below or click over to the original Outdoor Hour Challenge for more in-depth ideas for a study of an apple tree.

Suggested Observations for the Handbook of Nature Study, page 664 and 666
How tall is your tree?
How thick is its trunk?
What color is the bark?
Does the trunk divide into large branches or does it extend up through the center of the head?
Study the bud of the apple blossom.
Sketch an open apple blossom. How many petals? What is the shape of the flower?

Spring (Spring 2010 Ebook)  You can use the ideas in this challenge to start or continue a year-long tree study of your choice.

You may also like to read this entry for additional simple ideas to get you started:
For the Love of Trees

Special Activity:

Four Seasons Tree Photo Project:
To accompany this challenge, print these notebook page for your nature journal and attach a photo of your tree in each season.

Four Seasons Tree Photo Project Notebook Page: One page for each season’s observations and a photo or sketch.

Getting Started Suggestion:
If you already own the Getting Started ebook, complete Outdoor Hour Challenge #10. I hope everyone is starting to see some signs of spring this week. Perhaps a simple picnic during the day during your tree study time might be nice. Use the accompanying notebook page to record your picnic time observations. 

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Year-Long Nature Study Reminders – Spring

Seasonal Topics – Spring Reminders

Here are some ideas from year-long nature study topics we have done in the past:

You may wish to start a new year-long study this spring using some of the ideas above. If you have a continuing year-long nature study project, don’t forget to put it on your calendar or you may forget to make your spring observations.

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Year-Long Nature Study Reminders – Winter

Seasonal Topics Reminders – Winter

Here are some ideas from year-long nature study topics we have done in the past:

Make sure to add your year-long study to your January or February nature study plans so you don’t forget!!!

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Autumn Tree Nature Study Hour Challenge
Autumn Tree Nature Study

Use any of the Outdoor Hour Challenges below to complete an Autumn Tree Nature Study. Feel free to pick and choose any of the suggested activities that you think will fit your area and interests. Spend some time outdoors looking at trees with your children…see the beauty in this time of year!

Color Hunt Printable Cards

Use these color word cards to stimulate a fun nature study related activity. Challenge your child to find something of each color during your Outdoor Hour Challenge time. This can be part of your Autumn Tree Study or any other study you complete throughout the year.

TIPS: These cards can be printed on cardstock or cut and pasted to index cards. If you only have a black and white printer, have your children color the words or the border with markers before going outside.

Printable Color Word Cards

Tree Poetry Printable from the Archives

Tree Poetry ideas with free printable activity (October 2012)

Getting Started Suggestion:
If you already own the Getting Started ebook, complete Outdoor Hour Challenge #7-Your Own Field Guide. Use the ideas in this challenge to start your own field guide pages using the trees in your yard or neighborhood. Add to your tree field guide from time to time and as the years go by you will have built a record of many trees right in your own yard! Use the accompanying notebook page to get started or a blank nature journal page for each tree. 
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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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Outdoor Hour Challenge- Four Seasons Tree Study Photo Project

Outdoor Hour Challenge:
The benefits of a year long tree study cannot be measured. Getting to know a tree season by season allows your family to take nature study to a new level by observing a tree in its complete annual cycle of growing. Use the links below to complete your tree study. Mark your calendar to remind you to complete a tree study in each season for the next year. After that, pick another tree and start all over again. Think of all the trees you will know by the time your children are grown up and on their own. This would be a wonderful gift to give your children.

Autumn (Autumn 2010 Ebook)
Winter (Winter 2010 Ebook)
Spring (Spring 2010 Ebook)
Summer (Summer 2010 Ebook)

You may also like to read this entry for additional simple ideas to get you started:
For the Love of Trees

Four Seasons Tree Photo Project:
To accompany this challenge, print these notebook page for your nature journal and attach a photo of your tree in each season.
>Four Seasons Tree Photo Project Notebook Page: One page for each season’s observations and a photo or sketch.

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Getting Started Suggestion:
You can complete Challenge #3 Now is the Time to Draw along with this Four Seasons Tree Study. Pick something from your tree to draw in your nature journal.

If you need an explanation of how the Outdoor Hour Challenge is going to work from this day forward, please read this entry:
Nature Study Using the Outdoor Hour Challenge – How to Steps and Explanation.

Our family loves this beautiful picture book that combines gorgeous paintings of a tree in all seasons along with questions to help you really see how a tree looks differently throughout the year. I highly recommend this book from my personal library.

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Our Tree Study – Sitka Spruce in Oregon

Jedediah Smith Redwoods hiking
Jedediah Smith Redwoods – Boy Scout Tree Trail June 2011

Our camping trip to the Oregon Coast was glorious. The weather was perfect without even a sprinkle or a cold day! We enjoyed sunshine, sand, and trees all up and down the southern coast of Oregon. Although I could fill a complete post with our adventures, I want to focus on our tree study that was completed right in our campsite.

We were prepared with some notebook pages and a field guide so this was not only an easy study, it was informative and interesting. The campground had a brochure that discussed the common plants and trees to be found so it was our starting point. We read through the brochure and decided to focus our tree study on the Sitka Spruce. Turns out our campsite was surrounded by them!

We looked up the identifying marks of the spruce as well as looked at the images of the needles, the cone, and the trunk. We discovered that the Sitka Spruce is found along the fog belt of the coast of North America.

Coast Redwoods

They are not quite as tall as the Coast Redwoods we experienced most of the week but they are still very tall trees. The photo above is my husband showing how large the base of this Coast Redwood is on one of our hikes. These trees make you feel small and insignificant. We would hike along and one of these ancient ones would come into view and it would make you stop dead in your tracks. Breathtaking.

Even though the Sitka Spruce is not in the HNS, we looked up the information for the Norway Spruce and used the suggestions in Lesson 186 to learn more about spruces in general. We observed the needles, the cones, the bark, the shape of the tree, the roots like buttresses, and the way the limbs droop.

Sitka Spruce notebook page – Nature Study Set. I like to embellish mine a bit with colored pencils.

Somehow I misplaced the photos I took for our study so now I am glad that we did the sketches on the notebook pages for our journals. We enjoyed our simple vacation nature study….one of many we did on this trip.

Here are some other things we observed and read about: harbor seals, trillium, fuchsia, gumboot chiton (sea creature in the tidepools), Winter wrens, huckleberries, and owls. There is a story to every nature study we did and if I had time I would relate them all but for this entry I will stick to our tree study.

Campsite and trees
Here is the best shot I have of the Sitka Spruces around our campsite. We could have spent our week focusing on the many plants, birds, and trees of this place and not run out of interesting things to think about. Eating and sleeping under the spruces made our study even more meaningful.

Okay, do you love my new tent? It is 6 1/2 feet tall and even my really tall husband and boys can stand up inside it without rubbing their heads on the ceiling. I love the hinged door too! This was our first outing with it and I think it is going to serve us for a long time.

6 14 11 sunset and moon
Just a pretty shot I took one night while we were out for a sunset walk…the moon was incredible the whole time we were camping, a natural nightlight.

So there you go…our vacation tree study. Wish every tree study could be this up close and personal.

Day six Jedediah Smith (8)
Well maybe not that up close….my boys have decided Planking is rather a fun activity.

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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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2011 Spring Series – Spring Tree Observations

Here’s the challenge for this week:  
Spring Tree Observations.
(click over to read the specifics)
This is the post from last year and in it you will find the pages in the Handbook of Nature Study to read in preparation and then some ideas for learning more about your tree that you picked to observe last autumn or winter.

We have been watching our tree get its leaves over the last few weeks. What a transformation! I hope you are able to revisit your family’s tree and get to see its spring beauty.  If you are new to the Outdoor Hour Challenge, please feel free to jump in with this season’s observations and get started on your own Year-Long Tree Study!

Here are the suggestions for a general tree study:

1. Pick a tree in your yard or on your street and look for its new leaves and blossoms if appropriate.
2. Is it just beginning to show leaves? Can you tell if your tree has all of its leaves yet?
3. Can you see any insects or birds in your tree?
4. Collect a few leaves to use for leaf rubbings in your nature journal. You could also make a leaf bouquet.
5. Compare two leaves from the same tree. Are they exactly alike?
6. Use your nature journal to record a sketch of the leaf and any blossoms.
7. How has the tree changed since autumn? Winter?

You may also be interested in my Spring Nature Study Ebooks!

Spring Series Cover