The Mystery Tree

When i bought my property the sellers had pointed to a tree visible through my kitchen window. They had said that it was a spanish oak so its leaves would be turning fire-engine red every autumn. They told me to baby it and really make sure it stayed healthy, to trim any dead branches off of it so the termites and beetles didn’t have an opportunity to settle in. I intended to take their advice. It had big pointy, jagged leaves, so clearly it was not a live oak. Growing up in austin, all i saw as a child were live oaks. I was fascinated and enchanted by other types of oak trees with their big circular acorns with hefty caps as compared to the live oaks oval shaped acorns with tiny caps. I was thrilled to have a spanish oak on the property and watched it carefully for signs of ill health all year. The tree was actually 6 little trees clustered together. They all had separate trunks but i supposed, if given enough time, they could become one at some point in the future. It probably wouldn’t be during my life time but it would likely happen if they remained healthy and were allowed to continue growing. The trees remained in good health throughout historic rain during spring and then regular drought in the summer.

When autumn arrived the trees on my back neighbor’s property began to change color. He had different types of oaks scattered here and there, but he did have a couple spanish oaks that the sun rose between in early spring when everything was still cold. They had turned a deep maroon and were very impressive and visible in contrast to my mystery oak which remained solid green at the time this was happening.

It wasn’t until the leaves on my mystery tree began to change color that i realized i did not likely have a spanish oak on my hands. But if it was not a spanish oak, then what was it? At first the leaves appeared to turn brown. I thought, “well that was rather uneventful.” I was somewhat disappointed. All my neighbors had one or two of these beautiful maroon trees and i had one that went from green to brown. After doing some research i decided it might be an english oak, as they were said to turn from green to brown in the autumn. I pouted silently in my little mood as i went through my work days. Then one afternoon i returned home to find dull brown had given way to vibrant orange!

Thrilled as i was to have a bright orange tree in my yard; how exciting, i still had no clue what kind of tree i was looking at. Pictured above is a beautiful example of one of those pretty maroon spanish oaks which was very visibly a different color from my mystery tree.

One of the neighbors with a historic farm house and proper crop fields had a good many trees that were changing color. He had browns, maroons, and oranges. I wondered if i knocked on his door if he would know what the orange ones were…

So there i was trying to figure out what in the heck i had in my yard when a thought popped into my head. Why on earth was i using the leaves to identify an oak tree? There was such a quicker and more accurate way!

It was the acorn that cracked the code. As soon as i picked it up in my hand i knew i had the answer. The tell-tale stripes down the side of the little acorn sang the song of a pin oak. I had 6 young pin oaks clustered together to make one tree. As i googled it; sure enough, pin oaks were known to turn orange in the autumn.

What luck, i thought! Though a Spanish oak would have been beautiful to look at, the pin oak’s acorns could be collected, baked, sealed, and sold on etsy for use in table-scapes around thanksgiving each year. Yet another tree that would provide me with something i could collect each year. Next to it lay the spot i had picked out for an additional tiny house when my mother or grandmother needed a carer. We would have to be sure to put in a window facing the pin oaks so the inhabitant could watch the leaves turn orange in the fall.

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