There is a little bit of good in the worst of us,
and a little bit of bad in the best of us,
so it ill behooves any of us
to say anything bad about the rest of us.
That little ditty has been passed around for at least 150 years and is attributed to more than one author. At any rate, there is a little bit of right in most wrong citations.
You’ve heard enough here (or maybe you haven’t) about my wretched sycamore tree, which weed sullies up our lot 14 months of the year with outsized leaves, shards of bark, fallen limbs and endless seed balls. It is undoubtedly one of the trashiest trees going.
And yet, and yet … let me tell you about the little bit of good in the wretched thing. Site a sycamore way away (way away) from habitation, say, your house, where the constant litter won’t be a problem. Then regale in winter months on the chalk white bark that is evident when the leaves are off.
And, when it gets three feet in diameter, pieces of trunk make good chopping blocks. There are other trashy trees that have some redeeming virtue, maybe enough to justify planting one. I think of the mimosa. Years ago, not too long after Kentucky Lake was formed, a prominent Parisian, Christine Reynolds, who was the first woman cabinet member as commissioner of public welfare in Tennessee history during the Frank Clement governorship, led a move to plant an avenue of mimosa trees on both sides of Highway 79 from Paris northeast to the lake. They were beautiful for several years, but most were destroyed when the highway was converted from two to four lanes.
Seedlings descended from those trees are still seen here and there in the vicinity of the highway.
Mimosas are trashy trees, harboring worms and dropping considerable detritus during the year, but not to the extent of the sycamore. Their biggest problem is a propensity to multiply via incessant seeding. You got one mimosa and soon you got a hundred. Only constant mowing will keep the seedlings at bay. On the other hand, few trees outside the tropics have such a furry pink flower on a wide spreading tree. The bloom lasts a long time.
A mimosa is a pretty tree, no doubt about it … along a highway or in somebody else’s yard. Incidentally, one of the nicest ones in town is just across from Morningside Assisted Living, and spreading out over the street from the Trull residence.
Our state tree, the yellow poplar, which is not yellow nor a poplar, has some few good points if the tree is sited correctly. The botanical name is Liriodendron tulipifera, the specific epithet noting the resemblance of its flower to a tulip, thus it is sometimes referred to as tulip tree. It is more closely related to magnolias than poplars.
As with the sycamore, siting is all important. A tulip poplar has somewhat brittle wood, and is easily damaged in windstorms. So the stipulation to plant well away from dwellings is important.
It is one of the tallest trees in its native habitat in the eastern United States, easily reaching 100 feet in nature.
The finest examples in our fair city are the gigantic specimens on the grounds of the Gov. Porter home on Dunlap Street, now the home of the John VanDycks.
In addition to having brittle wood, the yellow poplar flowers face upward and only appear on older trees.
Thus, unless one is overhead in a helicopter, they are virtually useless as ornamental adjuncts. Too, the petals fall incessantly for a month or more.
All this adds up to a caveat against planting one on a small home grounds, though on extensive areas they can be pretty indeed and grow very fast, producing from a sapling a 30-foot tree in half that many years.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Trash belongs a long way from home.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.