It’s April 14th and I’m looking out the window of our home office on a VERY dreary, 38 degree, late winter (where is spring?) day. Cold rain has been fairly steady most of the day, and it has made only moderate progress melting the snow cover in the woods.
The landscape I’m looking at would be REALLY BLEAK except for two things. Songbirds of the hundreds are visiting our feeders today, and Ironwood trees are adding a nice counterpoint to grey and white as they display the leaves they have retained all winter long. After hanging on the trees for almost seven months since going dormant in early October, the ironwood leaves still add a rich color pallet to my view across the woods and to the Cannon River Valley beyond.
Some leaves are a light parchment, others tan, and yet others a rich and delicate brown. The varied hues form lovely layered horizontal bands of subtle, but lively color that dance and sway with every breeze. The ironwoods are quite hard to beat for all the extra richness and depth they add to my winter woodland landscape.
Ironwood are versatile native trees. I often see them pioneering in disturbed areas, abandoned pastures and vacant farmsteads, and along forest edges. This might lead one to believe that Ironwood are a sunny area tree, but in fact they are better known for their shade tolerance, and ability to provide an extra dimension in the Oak/Maple/Birchwood forest ecosystems that are remnants of what is sometimes termed “Minnesota’s Big Woods.”
As its name indicates the wood of Ironwood trees is extremely hard when cut and dried, and was used by pioneers for many different uses such as fence posts.. Foresters who are focused on timber production sometimes target Ironwoods for removal from the hardwood forest because they compete for water and nutrients with Sugar Maples, Oaks and other hardwoods that are harvested for saw logs and veneer.
Ironwood is lovely in other seasons besides winter. In spring fresh green leaves emerge, and as they mature achieve a deep veining that give each leaf a really striking appearance. By mid-summer Ironwoods produce a somewhat nondescript flower that matures into a delightful looking seed structure that has a passing resemblance to hops forming on the vine.
Ironwood also makes excellent firewood with lots of BTU’s stored in the dense and hard wood. Dry two years split and stacked in a sunny, windy area to have firewood that burns beautifully instead of smoking.
Knecht’s Nurseries and Landscaping stocks container grown, Ironwood trees for your enjoyment.