Outdoors Magazine

Goodbye Sabalites ... Hello Boxelder?

Posted on the 10 October 2017 by Hollis
Goodbye Sabalites ... Hello Boxelder?If I had an extra $85,000 (64,000 £), I could have Sabalites right here in my own home! Then I wouldn’t need to travel (5-foot slab, Denver rock show; photo courtesy Mike N).
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For the second time, bad weather foiled my plan to travel to southwest Wyoming to visit what was once the home of Sabalites—a fossil palm I was following. Just like in mid June, a surprise spell of rain, snow and cold arrived. But this time I knew it would get colder, not warmer, so I'm moving on—choosing another tree to follow for the year to come.After four years of tree-following, I now have realistic criteria for choosing a tree. Actually, there are only two: easily accessible and dynamic. It needs to be somewhere that I can get to on short notice if necessary, and in whatever weather. And it needs to do things! or be where things happen. There are some impressive conifers not far away, but from our perspective, they hardly change through the year. So I’m considering deciduous trees in or very close to town.

Goodbye Sabalites ... Hello Boxelder?

The cottonwood on the Laramie River that I followed in 2014 (photo taken yesterday).

A leading candidate is a boxelder (aka ashleaf maple, 3-leaf maple, Acer negundo) just five minutes from my house. It’s a tough little “street-tree” that manages to survive in the light-industrial / riparian ecotone on the edge of town (ecotone = biological transition zone). This area is vegetated mostly with herbaceous species—Canada thistles, dandelions, tumbleweeds, knotweeds, and such. Most people call them weeds, but really they’re pioneering species able to colonize disturbed sites (like yards). I think they’re under appreciated, which is another reason I’m interested in following this tree.
Goodbye Sabalites ... Hello Boxelder?
Being deciduous, the boxelder will reveal a lot more about its life than a conifer would—buds, flowers, leaves, changes in color, and surely things I can't predict. The next photos show it at the height of the growing season in 2015. [Recently, the old palettes and trash that accumulated in this nook were hauled off. Hopefully no one will decide to remove the boxelder in the interest of urban renewal!]

Goodbye Sabalites ... Hello Boxelder?
Goodbye Sabalites ... Hello Boxelder?

Now, most of the leaves are dead, killed by frost. Interestingly, the few that catch late afternoon sunlight still show signs of life.

Goodbye Sabalites ... Hello Boxelder?
Goodbye Sabalites ... Hello Boxelder?

Living where it does, human activity will contribute drama to the boxelder's life—delivery trucks, trash that comes and goes, and, for the next year, road construction.

Goodbye Sabalites ... Hello Boxelder?

Boxelder in corner by parked car.

Goodbye Sabalites ... Hello Boxelder?

Road construction in foreground, Murdoch's warehouse in mid-ground, riparian habitat in distance. 

Goodbye Sabalites ... Hello Boxelder?

The big cranes on the skyline are installing a new bridge across the railroad tracks.

Goodbye Sabalites ... Hello Boxelder?
Monthly gatherings of tree-followers are kindly hosted by The Squirrelbasket. Consider joining us; it’s easy and always interesting! More information here.

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