Is That a Palm Tree? Sep. 2001

Is there a Palm Tree growing in Bird Park?

I recently received a call from a park walker asking me to identify the palm tree growing at the beginning of the path off Beadling Road. I wondered, what Palm Tree? I met her at the entrance, and it did look tropical at first glance. Since 1784, this tree has become a significant part of the United States urban landscape. In the 1750s, it was brought from China to England and from there to the United States. Frederick Law Olmsted used this tree in New York’s Central Park because he liked the tree’s tropical appearance. The tree is called the Ailanthus altissima which means “Tallest Of the Trees Of Heaven.” The common name, Tree Of Heaven, appears to be attributed to the fast growth and heights this tree can eventually reach. The average height is 60 to 90 feet. Many people refer to this tree as “… the tree that grows in Brooklyn.” This may be explained by the fact the tree was the “symbol of life and survival” as referred to in Betty Smith’s 1943 novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

The Tree of Heaven is the last tree to sprout its leaves in spring. The leaves are pinnately compound and reach from one to three feet in length. These trees are dioecious; that is the male and female reproductive organs are born on different plants. The male tree grows foul-smelling, stamen-bearing flowers, while the female tree sprouts greenish pistil bearing flowers. The seeds are similar to that of the Ash and Maple.

In fall the large clusters of seeds dry and blow to most unlikely places. These trees sprout up in cities like weeds, but what differentiates them is they don’t die back each year; in fact, they are next to impossible to kill. The more you cut them back, the better they seem to like it. While most plant species put a large portion of their effort into the part of the plant that extends above the ground, Ailanthus invests its resources in its roots. By the time you cut the tree down, it has so much energy stored underground that it will have no problem sprouting up again and again.

Is the Daddy Long Legs a spider?
Probably the best known spider is the Daddy Long Legs. It looks like a spider with elongated, stilt like, spindly legs. Some of these are true spiders in the Pholcidae family, while others are Harvestmen, and members of the Phalangidae family. Both Harvestmen and Daddy Long Legs have small, rounded compact bodies surrounded by the extremely long, thin legs. Don’t worry if you have trouble distinguishing between these lookalikes. Few people can tell them apart.

So is the Daddy Long Legs and Harvestmen found in the family of Arachnid? Yes they are. I hope you enjoy watching them work diligently in our neighborhoods.

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