Seeing the Less Seen

When taking a hike in a leafless forest, rarely seen elements become more apparent.Despite an extremely early end to Old Man Winter, a stretch of cool temperatures kept much of the Bouncing Baby Spring at bay in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of north Georgia in early April 2016.

Catching my eye almost immediately was this arching, suppressed tree.


Suppressed Black cherry?

I do not exactly remember what species I thought it was, though my recent affinity for black walnut was hoping for just that. Hopping off trail, a closer look at the bark and upper crown revealed very little. Luckily, basal sprouts had lenticels. Scratching the bark on one of the sprouts revealed a bitter burnt-almond scent – “Prunus!” Given its size, I suspect this is Prunus serotina, black cherry. Not positive. Either way, I do not recall seeing such a stunted, but persistent cherry tree.

While searching the forest floor, I found more evidence that life in the understory can be savage. When spotting the scene below, I couldn’t help but imagine the scene in the movie Alien where the alien pup sprouted from that poor person’s chest.


Savagery of understory life and competition

Just up trail, about 50 feet off trail, this arching, brown-barked tree popped into view. Sourwood, I believe. I’ve not lived in Oxydendron arboretum land for a while, so my search pattern could be off. Lovely and rugged, no matter what the species.


Leaning sourwood


As much as I love to spy the struggling, twisting, weathered trees in a forest, I could not help to admire this young, ramrod-straight Liriodendron tulipifera.



SuperStraight Liriodendron


I likely would have spotted this American holly, Ilex opaca, but it was a standout against the leafless background. I didn’t expect it at elevation in north Georgia.


Trailside American holly


I do love finding those crooked trees, though.


Crooked Oak


This crooked white oak, however, was like no other.


Crooked, portly white oak [Quercus alba]

On the leafless hikes in the early spring, signs of hope are everywhere. Below, an eastern hemlock is still alive when, in theory, it should not be.


I’m not dead yet!” Eastern hemlock [Tsuga canadensis]

Hiking in the growing season does not offer the opportunity to study the architecture of a lone shortleaf pine [Pinus echinata] in a broadleaf-dominated canopy.


Profile, shortleaf pine


Spying this pine from the opposite direction revealed more on how a singleton pine survives in a broadleaf forest.




Life in a broadleaf-dominated canopy isn’t just hard for conifers. Oak canopies get pushed, too.



A leafless canopy also allows unusually large trees to stand out. Centered here, a large mockernut hickory [Carya tomentosa]. I imagine its root system to be a mirror of the canopy, though flattened a good bit more than the canopy.


Unusually large mockernut hickory

A stunning white ash [Fraxinus americana] popped up down the trail.


Massive white ash


Had it been peak growing season, I’m not positive I would have seen this oozing orange leaking out of a sweet birch [Betula lenta].



No matter what the season, I’m pretty sure I would have seen the pepperbush [Clethra alnifolia? Clethra acuminata?] picutre below. This genus has been high on my mind lately. When mature, its bark would stand out in your yard, no doubt.



There were many signs of spring, actually, and much fun light to play with. It seemed endless.


Blued Dogwood



Red maple ([Acer rubrum]


Blued, Bursting Hickory Leaves


Bending Spring



Bloodroot [Sanguinaria canadensis]


Bloodroot Flower


Trillium cuneatum



Transparent Liriodendron