One of the things I hope to do at Laurelville is to acquaint myself with the local plants and animals – especially the trees, birds, and mammals. This may lead to a suitable replacement for my ‘This week in the garden’ series.

Yesterday, Middle Daughter and I were assessing the status of one of Laurelville’s trails (part of my job description!), and we chose two trees to identify.

Witch hazel

Witch hazel (photo by Derek Ramsey)

At first, I didn’t know what to make of this tree. The leaves that I saw were lobed deeply enough that I almost thought it could be an oak. But that didn’t feel quite right.

Two features assisted with the identification. First, the leaf is uneven at the base. You can see this in the image above. Second, the twigs zigzag and have rust-colored hairs.

Witch hazel is often found as a shrub, but also may be a small tree growing up to 25′ or so. (We found a tree.) The leaves are darker green above and turn yellow in the fall. It has yellow flowers in fall or winter.

Eastern hemlock

Eastern hemlock and woolly adelgid

(Photo from the NPS)

It wasn’t until Middle Daughter and I returned home from our walk that we learned that we had also picked a sample of Pennsylvania’s state tree to identify. The eastern hemlock is found in each of Pennsylvania’s counties. We had found a tree that wasn’t much more than three feet tall, but hemlocks can grow to over 60′.

For us, the key to identification was the two narrow white bands running parallel to each other along the length of the needle (seen in the picture above).

If I had been paying more attention to my father over the years, I’d probably know more about hemlock woolly adelgid, a bug that is threatening hemlocks throughout eastern North America. In the picture, it’s the white balls at the base of the needles. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for this pest.