Category: Horticulture Highlight

Horticulture Highlight: Heather

Horticulture Highlight: Heather
August 4, 2023

Oh the summertime is coming

And the trees are sweetly blooming

And the wild mountain thyme

Grows around the blooming heather

            -Francis McPeake

Occasionally while viewing some plants, our minds may recall songs about that plant. A few examples include “Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles, “Redbud Tree” by Mark Knopfler; “Willow Weep for Me” sung by Sarah Vaughan and scores of others. We began above with another song, “Will Ye Go Lassie Go” also recorded by numerous different artists. Herein we sing the praises of Heather, Calluna vulgaris, a native to western and northern Europe, south to Turkey.


Horticulture Highlight: Honeylocust

Horticulture Highlight: Honeylocust
May 30, 2023

Horticulture Highlight: Honeylocust, Gleditsia triacanthos


such forms as can extend the flawed earth

and embody us, intact, unaltering, among

the soft surprising trees of childhood,

mimosa, honey locust, willow

            -Ellen Bryant Voigt

During a week-end long Arbor Day celebration, tours throughout our landscape visited our Massachusetts “Champion Trees”. There exist lists designating what are the biggest individuals by tree species, in the nation, state, county/city or perhaps even neighborhood. With a standardized point system, three measurements of tree height, trunk circumference and tree canopy help to determine what is a biggest individual. Near our entrance is the Massachusetts champion Honeylocust, Gleditsia triacanthos, planted in 1939 and measured at a height of 74.5-feet and 105-inches in trunk circumference.

Honeylocust, Gleditsia triacanthos is a large, tough, fast-growing, deciduous tree, with a wide spreading canopy. The Latin name honors Johann Gottlieb Gleditsch (1714-1786), German physician, botanist and director of the Berlin Botanic Garden. This small genus of a dozen different species is within the FABACEAE, the pea family, the third largest terrestrial family (after ORCHIDACEAE and ASTERACEAE) comprising 670 genera and 20,000 species. We reviewed botanical cousins within this family including redbud, yellowwood, wisteria and silktree. This family also includes soybean, common bean, lima bean, chick pea, peanut and carob to mention some of agricultural importance.

In forest virginity, this is a midwestern tree ranging from Pennsylvania to southern Minnesota and South Dakota south to Nebraska, Texas and Alabama. Extensively planted it has become widely naturalized outside of its original range. Its alternate leaves are 6 to 15” long, pinnate or bipinnately compound, with its many fine textured leaflets casting a dappled shade.

If you were a painter, you’d paint the wind

green. It would shake the boughs of the honey locust trees.

It would chase the leaves across the continent…

            -David Lehman

In late spring they produce inconspicuous, greenish-yellow, mostly unisexual male and female flowers on different trees, although some trees may also contain flowers of the opposite gender (polygamo-dioecious). If successfully fertilized, the fruit maturing in early autumn, is a 7 to 18” -long pod, containing numerous oval, hard, shiny dark brown seeds. These pods contain a sugar-rich pulp that has been eaten, even used as a sugar substitute, hence the common name honeylocust. Often these pods become irregularly twisted.

seed pods on red background

what else but to linger in the slight shade of those sapling branches

yearning for that vernal beau. for don’t birds covet the seeds of the

            honey locust

            -D. A. Powell

The species name triacanthos, alludes to bunches of thorns growing on the trunk and larger branches of wild populations. These remarkable triple-branched thorns arise from the tree’s wood and cannot be easily removed. Fortunately, thornless forms have been found. Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis (unarmed) are the source of most of our and commercially available honeylocust trees.

On a future visit to Mount Auburn look for some of our score of Honeylocust, Gleditsia triacanthos at our main entrance, Gerardia Path, Spruce Avenue, Cedar Avenue, Spelman Road, Field Road, Willow Pond Path, Begonia Path, Dogwood Path, Sorrel Path and Petunia Path among other locations.

a factory of blue jays

in honey locust leaves

            -Yusef Komunyakaa

Horticulture Highlight: Columbine

Horticulture Highlight: Columbine
May 2, 2023

…A woodland walk,
A quest of river grapes, a mocking thrush,
A wild rose or a rock-loving columbine
Salve my wounds…

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Referred by some as an old-fashioned favorite, Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis provides a curious and beautiful ornamental interest. The genus Aquilegia comprises 60-70 species found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Aquilegia is within the RANUNCULACEAE, the buttercup family, which also includes the genera Anemone, Helleborus, and Xanthorhiza which we have discussed previously.


Juniperus virginiana, Eastern redcedar

Juniperus virginiana, Eastern redcedar
January 25, 2023

If my decomposing carcass helps

nourish the roots of a juniper tree…

-that is immortality enough for me.

                -Edward Abbey

In many an old country graveyard, even those with few trees, one may still come across Juniperus virginiana, Eastern redcedar, its evergreen leaves perhaps once providing a metaphor for eternal life. Native from southern Maine to the Badlands of South Dakota, and south to eastern Texas, and back up through the higher Appalachians, this is a small to medium sized tree, forty to fifty-feet tall at a maximum, but often half that size. Despite its common name this is yet another tree that is not a true cedar, or Cedrus, but rather a juniper.