Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Dancing Tree


My dancing tree kicking up her heels
There is a lovely tree in my yard that grows in a awkward spot on the edge of the driveway, my neighbors yard and a small wildflower garden.

It is a naturally occurring understory tree in dry woodlands like Clay and Limestone. The Eastern Hophornbeam or Ostrya virginiana is often called ironwood and frequently mistaken for a Carpinus caroliniana!

It planted itself among the oaks, Hackberry and Eastern Red Cedar pioneers!



Ostrya is one of several under appreciated native trees that would be lovely in our gardens. If only we knew about them!

They will never be seen in a big box store and it's unlikely they'll to be found in most nurseries. More often then not, we have to go to specialty nurseries or growers to find these under-appreciated gems.

Hophornbeam is a native of the eastern half of the US and Canada; including most of the midwestern states and Texas. It's a small tree, rarely growing taller then 30 feet or so. An easy tree that thrives in the dry mesic soil of my garden. It doesn't mind rocky slopes or ridges. It's very shade tolerate, which makes it a perfect small tree to thrive under larger oaks or pines. I can see it as a specimen along walks, in parks and of course, in a naturalized or woodland garden.

The crown is broad or vase shape. As it ages the branches become irregular....and have a beautiful layered grace to them. The attractive shape and form looks lovely on the edge of the wildflower garden and my neighbor's lawn. But, one large branch dipped onto the driveway and had to be severely pruned to accommodate cars. But now you can see the dancer in the tree! Look carefully, she's kicking her leg up, while reaching for the sky. (This is a right brain activity!)

O virginiana (Betulaceae family) has serrated leaves that resemble an elm. The stems are very slender, giving the tree a fine textured appearance during the winter season.
The fall foliage turns a most becoming yellow....and when the wind blows they flutter and
bounce a golden light around the garden.

Sometimes the coppery brown leaves stay the entire winter...accenting the textured bark and twisted and knobby trunk.
twisted and knobby trunk

It's quite striking in a winter garden.


It has both male and female flowers (monoecious)...so it needs no pollinators, just the wind.

The male flowers are little catkins

that persist all winter...

The female flowers

have little papery sacks to hold the seeds...

I like this tree~~~it would be a nice choice, if you wanted to add a few natives to your woodlands or wilder areas! It plays nicely with other...like Redbuds, Japanese Maples and oaks. It's not a picky grower and will tolerate dry shade and even high winds. It isn't bothered by most insects or fungal diseases. It's a gem of a tree!

At Clay and Limestone, is oversees the witch hazels, hypericum and dogwoods. At the ground level are native wildflowers like Dutchmen's Britches, Wild Ginger, Spring Beauties, Toothwort, False Rue Anemone and Iris Cristata...
Spring planting under Ostrya virginiana


In the forests and woodlands, the buds and catkins of Eastern Hophornbeam are important winter food for ruffed grouse. It's a preferred food for sharp-tailed grouse and wild turkey and is eaten to a lesser extent by bobwhite, red and gray squirrels, cottontails, white-tailed deer and ring-necked pheasant.

Suburban dwellers, like me, will appreciate that it provides food for purple finch, rose-breasted grosbeak and downy woodpeckers. It also is a host plant for the larva of several winter moths.

What do you think? Is Hophornbeam worth the effort to seek it out? I believe so... it's an appreciated gem in my garden~~what gems are hiding in yours?

Gail

Go here for a list of nurseries selling native trees and possibly Ostrya. The photos in this post are from earlier this fall.


77 comments:

  1. I like this tree too, and decided to see if I could sell them where I work. I got five in and shortly thereafter heard Rick Darke speak and show his photos of Ironwood. He gushed on and on about this tree, and I felt that my decision was vindicated. Unfortunately, I have not sold one, but have big hopes for them this spring.

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  2. Hi Gail, thanks for the ID on this tree. I have seen several in our area too, or at least I think they are this one, with elm looking leaves that are yellow and still hanging on after the surrounding trees have lost theirs. I am on a search for it and agree, well worth hunting for, whether in the yard or at a nursery! Great sales pitch, you're hired!
    Frances

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  3. Les,

    I am glad to hear that you fell for this tree...I might be tempted to buy a few if I lived in the Tidewater area!
    There aren't flashy like the sugar maples but I like their all season looks. Good luck selling them!

    I bet you have other little gems for sale!

    Gail

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  4. Looks like a great native to have in a woodland garden Gail!

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  5. FRances,

    It is a cutie pie tree! Follow my link and go to the Florida nursery...you might have better luck getting one from them! It would lovely near your pine forest!

    Yes, I am a tree advocate/hugger/pitchwoman! "Step right up and see the remarkable little gems Clay and Limestone has for you!" Sounds fun!

    Gail

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  6. Racquel,

    Good morning! It is and more! I would have this little dancing tree in a side garden in a more formal setting...the bark is cool.

    Gail

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  7. Hi Gail,

    I've never heard of this tree. Thanks for highlighting it. I love the common name, Dancing Tree. I like it that a tree which dances.~~Dee

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  8. Good morning sweet Gail, This tree looks to be a perfect fit for your woodland gardens. I am always attracted (when I'm further north visiting)to the trees that sport the darker trunk and limbs while showing off their autumn yellows and oranges.

    I just love the way nature knows how to seed and grow where it does it best... your garden has made a lovely home for this tree.

    You have displayed its dance perfectly for all of us to enjoy it as well. It looks like you are still enjoying blue skies and many colors still on the tress in your garden.
    Happy day today.
    Meems

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  9. You certainly have a way with selling trees and plants. Lovely tree. Everytime I read one of your descriptions I feel I need to continue the research....were you a teacher?

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  10. Always good to learn about a new (to me) understory tree that does well in the shade and apparently is good to Zone 3 - in fact I read the hardwood was used for sleigh runners in New Brunswick - so you know it's got to be tough. And, I also found they are selling seed at Gardens North outside of Ottawa. Perhaps one more addition to my seed list?!

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  11. Barbarapc,

    Comments are always the ice cream with the pie! This one added a slice of cheese! How fantastic that you continued the research and located seeds! I do hope you give it a try...it is very slow growing so she/he might live in a container for a bit of time!

    Gail

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  12. I'm going to have to walk the property now in search of this tree - we must have one!... Thanks for your thorough description and sales pitch - I'm always on the hunt for good diminutive native trees for my own tree-needy garden.

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  13. Dee,

    Hi there...hope you're having a good day! I call her the dancing tree but believe the name should be used more often! Could you see her up there in the tree?

    Gail

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  14. Kris,

    They are naturally present all over the eastern US...I am sorry I didn't include a photo of the bark...Musclewood (Carpinus) looks like smooth muscle; Ostrya has a flaky bark! Their leaves and flowers are similar. I hope you find one or two! The love to hang out in the forested edges.

    gail

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  15. It looks like a great little tree! I wonder if there are any floating around down here. A stand of small trees like that would look nice alongside one edge of the property.

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  16. Meems,

    We have some color my friend but the photos are from a few weeks ago. I did add a statement to that effect, so folks would know we are knee deep in brown leaves not beautiful fall color!

    Nature is very remarkable...and it was a good day when I stopped fighting this garden and began working with what it brought naturally to the experience!

    I do believe that you could grow this little gem!

    Gail

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  17. Dave,

    Indeed they would and I wouldn't be at all surprised that they are on your property or your Inlaws! There are a few good sites that show small saplings, leaf axils and buds for id! Good luck. I will check for seedlings, here.

    Gail

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  18. Darla,


    Just a therapist! But if you get enthusiastic and check them out I am thrilled! My hope is that my genuine feelings about these special trees comes through...thank you Darla for giving me such positive feedback! More pie, ice cream and a slice a cheese!

    Gail

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  19. Gail,

    Thoroughly researched, documented and delivered!

    I'll have to drag my forester into the woods in search of this Ironwood. He will act like he already knows the tree and doesn't confuse it with the other carpinus. (wink)

    Cameron

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  20. Definitely worth the effort. I learn so much from you when you post on these cool natives. This is a very pretty tree with even prettier iris and iberis below it!

    I was noticing on my birch tree those papery sacks and had no idea what they were (Okay, I admit it, I thought the tree was diseased). Thanks for the info and I guess my tree is ok too:)

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  21. I'd love to have property with lots of trees. Some people love the beach and find it relaxing, but I love the woods. You have quite the variety of trees on your beautiful property.

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  22. It is indeed a lovely tree, and were I able to grow it here, I would certainly want one!

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  23. Gail,
    the leaves remind me of a Birch a little. Are they a type of Birch tree? -Randy

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  24. Randy,

    They are in the same family. Aren't they lovely! I like the serrated leaves and the yellow fall color.

    Gail

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  25. Cindy,

    You would love this little tree and its graceful form would look splendid in your garden.

    Gail

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  26. Cameron,

    You are lucky to have your very own forester! When I was researching the Dancing Tree I did discover that she grows naturally in forests all over the southeast, so I plan to look around when we walk the woods and trails for Ostrya.

    Have fun in the woodlands!

    Gail

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  27. Robin,

    I hear you...I do like the beach but the woods are especially wonderful to me. Many years ago I attended a workshop on spirituality and personality types. People with my particular typology feel the most spiritually connected in woodlands and gardening. Maybe that is true for you. Have a good day!

    gail

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  28. tina,

    Hey there! I love sharing the gifts this yard has given me with everyone...Wasn't I lucky to stumble upon so many sweet native trees and plants? Do you grow the Iris cristata? The best little native iris going.

    Gail

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  29. Who wouldn't love to have a Dancing Tree in their garden! I most certaionly would!
    Katarina

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  30. Just this year on the cristata. I bought 'Tennessee White' at the Don Shadow nursery, and a friend here in town who has a wildflower garden gave me some of the blue. She says it spreads alot and I am so looking forward to it. I never knew irises had so many types and prior to this year only grew the bearded ones, next spring will see some different ones. I am very excited to see them myself and that is why your picture excited me. The iberis is perfect next to it and I will remember that when siting the cuttings of iberis this spring. Did you purposely set out to grow cristata? I only learn by a wing and a prayer, thus the late start with mine.

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  31. I see the kicking leg on the tree but then I love right brained activity! It appears your Ostrya is full grown?? or no?? I am not familiar with it but then you have lots of these native gems you are teaching us about. Your posts are always so detailed & informative, it would take me forever to put one together like it?? Thank you for being such a resource Gail. ps With the beautiful woodland you have around you, it does not appear you are a suburban dweller.

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  32. Tina,

    I don't know where I got the cristata...It is happy here and I have moved it about here and there. It may be a passalong from a dear older friend. I do have the Tennessee White, it is lovely but I haven't seen it take hold like the purple has.

    The short answer is yes...I set about to plant Iris cristata and other natives. Here's the long answer~~ One of my garden mentors was Paul Moore..he owned Moore and Moore nursery and he introduced me to natives. I read everything I could on TN natives and then, everything written about cedar glade natives, once I figured out exactly my growing conditions. I do have exotics but I prefer to stick to what is naturally happy here at C&L. The 5 dozen or so trees make it impossible to do lots of raised beds...you can't smother the tree roots...so I work with what I have. Paul sold the business and I now seek out Mike Berkley from Growild for help, guidance and education. I still read all I can about natives. They make sense for me....here....if I had deep, loamy, clay soil...I might have an entirely different garden;-)

    Was that too much info?

    Gail

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  33. Kathleen,

    Hi...I love the right brain activities...have you taken the right brain quiz? So much fun.

    My suburbs is old! Built in the late fifties in what was a wooded area...many of the older trees were left in little wooded pockets on the properties. Over the last 50 years many have seeded themselves about. So we have mature shagbark Hickories, white and red oaks, hackberries... A friend's grandfather was the developer and she told me that she asked him if he were drinking when he planned the neighborhood! The streets wander all over the place and there are no perpendicular lines. I suspect he drove around the woods and limestone formations!

    Boy am I talky today!

    gail

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  34. katarina,

    It would love to dance around your roses!

    gail

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  35. She could be a 'Rockette'! I probably would not have noticed it on my own, so thanks for pointing it out. I love your enthusiasm when it comes to native plants and trees. it does seem like a tree to plant for those who have the space and want to provide more for natures's creatures. Thanks for the lesson.

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  36. Beckie,

    I love the natives and wish the big box stores sold them instead of the same old same old...It would warm my heart to see some new old genetic material at Lowes and HD!

    Please do let me know if I am too pedantic!

    gail

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  37. Tina,

    Ah fellow learner! Thanks!

    Gail

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  38. A beautiful tree Gail.......I love its dancing limbs....so delicate looking.....and native is always best......most certainly best for wildlife.....It thrills me to read your posts, your enthusiasm abounds and that is how it should be......

    My gem is my old apple tree....it is a blenheim orange and is over eighty years old. The rest of the orchard was blown down in the great storm of 1987. Parts of her are dying but by doing so she gives life to others. Many birds have nested in her arms and insects flock to her bark. Her trunk is hollow.....still she fruits and her bounty is generous. She is my sacred tree........

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  39. Cheryl,

    She sounds wonderful...and you speak so reverently of her! I can tell she is a spiritual touchstone for you.

    I don't have a sacred tree in the garden, but I have a sense of spirituality, sustenance and healing when I am working there...

    Gail

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  40. How lucky to have this tree appear as a volunteer! I wish it would show up in my garden. I'd love to cut down the stupid Boxelders & replace them with Ostrya. It is a very charming tree.

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  41. MMD,

    I wish I could gift you a few of these lovelies...they would look good in your woodlands. Is the boxelder aggressive in your yard?

    gail

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  42. What a persuasive sales pitch---and a sweet love letter to this lovely tree. (I do see the dancer!) I looked up its native range online, and it doesn't naturally occur in central Texas, alas. I wondered why I'd never heard of it. But of course it might grow here anyway if planted.

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  43. Hophornbeam sound and looks like a winner to me Gail. I would love to have one if I had room for it. I would love to find some evergreens that liked shade. Almost impossible.

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  44. Pam,

    I was really hoping it would grow in Central TX...it is listed as a street tree in Houston and I thought your growing conditions might be okay!

    It's a sweet tree.

    Gail

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  45. Lisa,

    I wish I could find them, too! There are yews and hollies and the acid loving rhodos. They don't like it here! We must put our heads together on this one!

    Gail

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  46. I have not taken the right brain quiz Gail ~ would that be good?? Interesting story about the development of your suburb. At least it's not the little rectangles, back to back like most are ~ yours looks very private and secluded. Nice.

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  47. After reading this post I feel like I've learned something I would never (most likely) have otherwise known. I love how you've personified this tree. Also, it was very interesting to view your photos of the male/female flowers. How fascinating!

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  48. What a gem of a tree and I do see the dancer in her :)
    Have a great day, Gail!

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  49. Gail: A lovely dancer indeed! I can't believe you still have leaves! The birch is nice also and I loved seeing pictures of catkins and flowers. Ruffled grouse, huh? I want to see the ruffled grouse! Love your deer picture. I sent her down to you. Told her it was warmer down there. I hope she is obeying the warnings.

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  50. I think our native trees are much underused. Too bad since many have none of the pests and disease the more popular ones have.

    I see the dancer--took me a minute. She's kind of skinny;)
    Marnie

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  51. Marnie,

    Very skinny...this tree rarely gets larger in diameter then this one! There are so many delightful native trees and people still plant Bradford Pears! That's my bias showing!

    gail

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  52. layanee,

    I like this little native..she is probably in your woods someplace. Ostrya is a member of the birch family, like elms and they all have very similar leaves and nice fall color!

    I've given the deer a ticket back east; so look for her this winter!

    Gail

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  53. Cindy,

    I love when people can see her dancing...she is a gem and I know you have a gem in your sweet daughter!

    gail

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  54. TF2D,

    I hope you always leave this blog with some little bit of something! Just don't let me get on a soapbox or bore you~~ you have to let me know!!

    I can't help but personify trees and plants! Have you met the Susans over here?!

    Gail

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  55. Kathleen,

    Google right brain quiz and take one...interesting. I know I am right brain dominated but some folks are completely surprised.

    gail

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  56. This tree danced into my middle son's heart when he saw it in Southern IL years ago. Because I remember his excitement over ID-ing it as Hophornbeam, just reading the name makes me smile now, Gail.

    May your Hophornbeam bring you many a rose-breasted grosbeak and downy woodpecker.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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  57. Annie,

    What a lovely memory, thank you for sharing it....you gave me a smile, too.

    I marvel at how trees or even the tiniest flowers can captures our hearts~~ I hope your son has a Hophornbeam in his garden that is visited by birds that give him smiles.

    Gail

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  58. She is a lovely tree indeed--and so graceful! I've never heard of her before, but I think this post may have quite a few gardeners seeking her out in the nurseries soon. Thanks for sharing this ballerina with us:)

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  59. Rose,

    What a sweet surprise! Are you having a good time in the sunshine? I hope so~~

    I love my Dancing Tree....and you know me, I am always hoping to get gardeners excited about native trees and perennials! She would work in your beautiful yard, too..maybe plant a few wildflowers at her feet, even some PPPP!

    Have fun with your daughter, be safe and tale lots of photos!

    Gail

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  60. Gail .......................... I'm always the last one ... LOL
    Thanks for all the information you have on all these different plants and trees .. if I had room .. I would have this "Dancer" tree too !

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  61. Joy,

    I believe you would...she would dance beautifully over your garden! I was just this minute at your site commenting on blue skies!

    Gail

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  62. I LOVE those irregular branches. Makes it so whimsical.
    Brenda

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  63. Brenda,

    Hi...the Dancing Tree's branches get more irregular as she ages! I think it's very graceful. Glad you like her looks!

    Gail

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  64. How lucky are you to have a dancing tree? :) I think it's beautiful, and I'd seek out more, if you can fine them.

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  65. I love this post.

    I first got intrigued by this tree after seeing a picture of it in Gardening with Native Plants of the South. It's a beautiful little tree.

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  66. Sweetbay,

    I love that book! She does include it...I am going to pull it off the shelf and see what she says~~she likes it, too! Do you have it in your garden? From what I've seen, she would loook lovely there...especially with all your asters when she's golden and they are all purples!

    I am glad you like the post!

    Gail

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  67. Nancy,

    This place has gifted me with lovely trees and flowers...I hope you and your garden are together soon!

    Gail

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  68. Hi Gail,
    This is odd ... I tried to post a comment last night, but they appeared to be down so I couldn't! Anyway, I really like this tree, especially those female flowers that indeed look like hops! I don't suppose they have the same properties as the real thing, but if they did, that would be great! We've always wanted to grow hops here but just haven't tried yet (and yes, they will grow here). I used to brew all my own beer back in the day and having a fresh supply of them might just get me back into that again. But for now, all my equipment sits gathering dust in the basement. *sigh*

    Great post, as always!

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  69. IVG,

    If we all collected our old hobby equipment in one spot would it fill a stadium or something bigger? According to Mr I, my mosaic supplies should be added to the mix...but he is biased and wants my studio for his own uses!

    It is a favorite tree of mine...and the hop flowers are mighty fine...maybe you ought to dust off the old beer hobby and take it up this winter. it looks like it's going to be a long siege.

    Gail

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  70. Hi, Gail--I am typically behind in my reading. We have ironwood in our woods--it grows naturally here. I have to say it deserves its name--some were uprooted during Hurricane Isabel, and taking care of them nearly destroyed Salix's chainsaw--yours must be tough to trim! But I agree they're beautiful--great posting.

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  71. Hmm I need to study our hornbeams... I think we have this one. I know I've seen the "hops" part, anyway.

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  72. You know what? I think I've seen several of these in the nearby woods that we walk around in a lot. I'll have to look the next time we're out and about. I'd love to have a few of these on the edge of our property at Our Little Acre!

    Thanks for bringing our attention to this!

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  73. Yes, this sounds like an awesome little tree! I would love to have one! Thank you for telling us about it.

    Marie

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  74. Oh, that's the little tree in my yard! Thanks!

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.


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