Goodbye tree friends

April 29, 2011 by Melissa McMasters

After five years of having the privilege of documenting Pittsburgh's parks and sharing stories about them with all of you, this is my last blog post for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. I moved back home to Memphis last week (to borrow the politicians' phrase) to be closer to my family. Saying goodbye was tough, especially since I was surrounded by such a warm and wonderful community of people who have taught me so much. But it wasn't just the people. I think when you've spent so much time in the parks, especially slowing down to really get to know them, you realize you're going to miss the trees too. And so it was that I found myself, over the last few weeks, visiting some favorite trees to say a final farewell. (At least until my next visit...)

Not all these special trees were blooming or leafing out yet (you picked a nice year to delay spring, Pittsburgh!), but there were plenty that were eager to show off. In a lot of cases, I photographed a tree one day and then came back about a week later to watch it progress from flower to fruit to leaf (not necessarily in that order). And in a switch this spring, I shot exclusively with a 100mm macro lens to get as much detail as possible. This stymied Phil when I came back to the office and asked him for ID help; "I'm a silhouette guy!" he would exclaim. "Come back when you photograph the whole tree." So these IDs are good guesses--thanks very much to both Phil and Erin for sharing their expertise.

So enjoy the final batch of tree photos. I will miss these trees--and interacting with all of you--more than I can say. Take good care of them for me.

I spent a good deal of time over by Westinghouse Pond, which has a nice assortment of trees that flower and leaf out early. Here's a sweetgum whose leaves look like tiny stars.

Sweetgum tree

Redbuds near the Frick Environmental Center.


One of the earliest bloomers of spring, the Cornelian cherry dogwood, at Mellon Park.

Cornelian cherry dogwood

This one's pretty but unfortunate: a honeysuckle vine that's twisted itself around a spicebush in Frick Park.

Spicebush and honeysuckle

Now we start with the trees-in-progress shots. Here is a horsechestnut tree in Highland Park that's just started to leaf out.


And here's a horsechestnut the following week. These were beginning to flower--probably right now the flowers will be standing up in white and pale pink stalks if you pass one of these trees.


Back at Westinghouse Pond, everything was pink. Here's a saucer magnolia and some cherry blossoms that haven't opened yet.

Magnolia and cherry

And now a magnolia that's in full bloom...

Magnolia blossom

...and a cherry blossom. Some on the tree had petals, others (like this one) didn't. I don't know whether that was because of all the recent wind, or if that just happens sometimes. Either way, I thought it made for an unusual photo.

Cherry blossom

Another beautiful kind of magnolia tree grows right around the basin of Westinghouse Pond--the sweetbay magnolia. Here it is before the flowers have opened.

Sweetbay magnolia

And a week later, delicate white flowers.

Sweetbay magnolia

The hawthorn tree is lovely, but you probably shouldn't play tag anywhere near it.


Here it is beginning to flower (they'll be pretty and white--check this one out over by the Bartlett Meadow, where the daffodils are blooming):


And now we come to the maples. Last year, my fascination was with redbuds; this year, it's been maples. I was a little disheartened that it seemed like so many of the trees I was asking Erin and Phil about turned out to be invasive Norway maples...but I have to give it up, they are pretty fascinating in the spring. The trees that look like they're covered in neon green popcorn balls are Norway maples--probably the first trees you saw flowering this year. The photo on the left is a native sugar maple, and the one on the right is a Norway maple for comparison.

Sugar and Norway maple

This one is also a Norway maple, although it sure looks different. Popcorn of a different variety?

Norway maple

And here's another Norway maple that's begun to produce leaves.

Norway maple

This one in the Westinghouse woods in Schenley Park appears to be a sycamore maple--another tree considered by some to be invasive, although it's not nearly as prevalent as the Norway maple in Pittsburgh's forests. (Thanks Burlton for the ID!)

Mystery tree

Finally, we come to four different red maple trees. I think these are such beautiful harbingers of spring, especially the big trees that just light up with red flowers. So I decided I'd track one red maple tree every couple of days for a month to watch its progression. While it is a pretty tree, I happened to pick one that wasn't producing seeds, and I had to leave town before the leaf was fully formed. But here's the tree (at the corner of Bartlett St. and Panther Hollow Road) on March 22...

Red maple flowers

...and on April 23.

Red maple leaf bud

Since that tree wound up not being particularly showy, I supplemented with some other red maples. This one was across the street, near the drive up to the Schenley Oval. It was my original choice to document, but all the branches were too high to get close to.

Red maple and spider

This one (and many others like it) was putting on quite a show lining the Bob O'Connor Golf Course in Schenley Park. You can see the winged seeds starting to take shape.

Red maple seeds

And finally, a closer look at the seeds of another maple along Bartlett Street.

Red maple seeds

Thanks again for reading and commenting, and for generally sharing the park love over the last few years. If you want to keep in touch, you can still find me online at, where you can bet you'll see some of the superstar trees of Zone 6.

Trees and Forestry, Photography, Flowers and Gardens