Tuesday, November 8, 2011

University of Illinois Gardens and Arboretum - Part Two

We had our hunger for color satisfied by the gardens at the University of Illinois, and we made our way back to the arboretum. There's nothing I love more than to walk through the woods. Maybe it's because we live in the land of big, wide farm fields and woods are dotted here and there, with none so large (nearby) to taken any more than 10-15 minutes to walk from one side to the other.

On the way to the arboretum, we got a lovely view of the university president's home...

...and  then we walked up and down a large hill that we were told is a popular sledding spot in winter. Chris and Mindy's son decided to roll down the hill. I would have joined him, but didn't want to spend the rest of the day itching from the grass.

Fall had definitely taken hold, as evidenced by leaf color, whether it be deep red...

...or dead brown and skeletonized by an unknown insect.

There was a nut grove, which included pecans, much to my delight. I gathered a few for a snack on the way home. Walnuts were plentiful too, but none of those were collected. I'll pass up walnuts for pecans every day of the week.

An enormous bald cypress shaded our walk with its feathery branches.

Other trees made playful jigsaw patterns with their leaves on the paved section of our journey...

And now we come to my favorites - the trees that spoke to my artistic side. When our younger daughter was doing a leaf collection in high school, we visited many woods in the gathering of the necessary specimens. This led to my desire to have certain trees in our own yard - sweet gum, ginkgo, and tulip poplar.

We have them, or should I say, had them. The sweet gum and ginkgo remain, but four times trying to grow a tulip poplar resulted in failure every time. It's a mystery as to why, since it is native to our area, but some things defy explanation. We simply enjoy them wherever and whenever we see them.

Here, the bark of the persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) caught my eye.  I had no idea we could grow this fruiting tree in our area.

The quirky hedge apple/Osage orange/Bois d'Arc (Maclura pomifera) has always fascinated me whenever I encountered it in our past woodsy walks. One grows in a woods near us, but the land is too swampy to get close to it. I've seen the fruit hanging from its branches. It is said to be an insect deterrent, although I've never used it in this way. It makes a great decorative item with a few placed in a bowl.  If I get the chance to acquire one of these trees, I will.

The fruit of the hedge apple is 4-5 inches in diameter. You'll want to steer
clear of these trees when the fruit is fully ripe!

The one tree that I fell in love with was the Castor Aralia (Kalopanax septemlobus). While many may not understand the attraction, the thorny bark was absolutely gorgeous in my opinion. Add to that, its giant leaves look similar to those of the sweetgum and castor bean.  As soon as I got home, I searched online for a tree to plant here at Our Little Acre.

It has the distinction of being the only species in its genus. That alone makes it pretty special. Luckily, I found one at Arrowhead Alpines and it's now planted where one day years from now, it will shade the chicken coop.

The thorny bark of the Kalopanax septemlobus is silhouetted against its
large leaves that resemble those of the castor bean and sweetgum.

I love allées. I spotted this one, consisting of poplars (Populus sp.), and set off to grab some images. The path to anywhere, the repetition of the rows of one species, the light play as the sun shines through them - all are magical in a way that I find hard to describe. It may have something to do with the creation of order and neatness that is seldom found in nature in such a dramatic way. In its order, there is disorder. Something like that.

Time was marching on and we needed to get on the road for home. But not without one last parting shot...

Thank you, once again, Chris and Mindy, for a wonderful weekend showing us your neck of the woods.


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