Science Bloggers for Students DonorsChoose Challenge

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Urban Wildlife Watch: Mimosa trees (Travelog Europe)

While in Europe for the professional science conference and holiday, I came across many plant, animal, and invertebrate species that I was familiar with in the States. Some of these species came from Europe and were brought to North America, some were taken from North America to Europe, and some were species from other parts of the world that were taken to both Europe and North America. Throughout the month of September I will showcase my pictures of these animals and botanicals and provide a little narrative comparing and contrasting the biodiversity of Europe and North America.

This is my first introduction - the Mimosa tree.

The Mimosa tree comes from the Mimosaceae family of trees and the Genus Albizia.

As I was taking a leisurely stroll on the off day of the IEC conference, I was so pleasantly surprised to see a Mimosa tree. I felt like I had bumped into an old friend in a strange place. I photographed the trees and the following dialogue played through my mind.
"My, fancy seeing you here. You're here on holiday in France, too."
To which the trees replied, "No, we live here. You must be mistaking us for our cousins who live everywhere".

You see, I know this tree, sometimes called the silk tree, because my paternal grandmother had a pink Mimosa tree in her backyard. I guess it still is there. I haven't stepped foot in that wondrous, awesome backyard - teeming with urban wildlife in a very, very long time. *Sigh* I digress. I remember this tree as magical. Shorter than the other trees in the yard, but much, much taller than me, this tree always provided a cool, shady spot in the backyard. Its pink, fluffy flowers just seemed to lie atop the bi-pinnately compound leaves in the canopy. As the flowers and seed pods died they gently fell to the ground as discarded husks and silk on the ground, clinging to nearby bushes and shrubs.

As a child (before I learned the details of tree and leaf anatomy) I noted that the leaves of this tree was different than the other trees in her backyard which included pecan trees, oak trees, and a mature apple tree. The leaves were sensitive to touch and would fold down. Plus, the leaf stem had additional, smaller stems attached on each side. The tender little leaflets, all in a row on each side of a thin stem could easily be rubbed off with a single swipe of a closed hand - which I often did. It didn't escape my attention that the naked stem was an ideal switch for my grandmother, so I often discarded the stems. But that is what a pinnately compound leaf is. It has several small leaflets lined up on a single stem. There are many different tree species that have these types of leaves. If you look closely, some of leaflets sprout out from the stem together in pairs, called opposite arrangement, and some of the leaflets are alternately arranged.

Leaf (and stem) arrangement is the first step in identifying trees, assuming you do not know the name of the tree in front of you. Using a field guide and dichotomous key, plus a keen sense of observation, you could identify most any tree you come across. But I will admit to you, I usually depend on my personal knowledge of one or two key features of the tree. As a result, I can only accurately identify a few species of trees. I know a Mimosa tree because of its pretty pink flowers and bi-pinnately compound leaves. However, I cannot identify this tree in the winter or early spring when these obvious characteristics are absent. Which brings me to my point. It's okay if you only know a few trees or animals by sight. As you see more and more of the plant (or animal), you'll begin notice seasonal changes and learn more about how to identify it from fewer characteristics.

Though I have seen the Mimosa tree in the United States and now in France, the tree species originally comes from Asia and the Middle East. It has been introduced to many different places all over the world with agreeable climates - warm weather and rainfall. It is regarded as an ornamental tree - one that has been cultivated and grown because it is beautiful and attractive. Yes, it still can do important jobs like provide food and shelter for animals and insects, but we plant it because it is pretty and provides shade to people. So, that may explain why I saw this tree at a park in Rennes, France - the War Veterans Memorial - and in my grandmother's backyard.
This particular tree has a support joint underneath.

Now, it's your turn. Share your Urban Science Adventure Urban Wildlife Watch Story.

Have you ever seen this type of tree before?
Where had you become acquainted with this tree - a backyard, a park, during a vacation or visit somewhere?
What name was it called?
Do you know if someone planted the tree or was it always 'just there'?
What activities do you enjoy doing near or with this tree? relaxing in the shade, climbing, watching bees?
Write me and tell me all about your Urban Science Adventures! ©. Share pictures, too.


Villager said...

Remarkable post on a tree that I never would have noticed.

I grew up with a fig tree in the backyard. I never liked figs ... and it bummed me out when they fell out of the tree because they made a mess on the ground. My Dad enjoyed going out and eating figs from his tree.

We had palm trees up & down the street in front of the house. They were remarkable ... like giraffes ... tall and out of reach.

That's about it for my tree memories (smile)!

peace, Villager

DNLee said...

aah, that fruit story is a great prelude to an upcoming Europe tree post. I ain't fallen fruit all while in Europe. It was delicious.

Anonymous said...

It was extremely interesting for me to read the blog. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read more soon.

Anonymous said...

By the way, buy GSM blocker to block all secret transmitters in your home or at work.

Elizabeth said...

What fun to find trees that take you back to childhood while traveling. I'm pretty sure I've seen these in Nepal - such a lovely tree, and good reason, I suppose, to live in a warmer climate than I do (though I love our Oregon trees too).

Suzi Smith said...

I enjoyed that read!

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