Southern Magnolia

The Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is the state flower of Louisiana. In Mississippi this tree species serves as both the state tree and state flower. The leaves of this tree are "leathery" (ie fairly thick and somewhat wavy) and measure about seven to nine inches long. This tree is an evergreen but the previous years leafs fold back, turn brown and then fall off after the new leaves grow out in the spring.
The creamy white flowers of the Southern Magnolia have a tulip like shape that grows upright or at a slight angle. As the large round petals fold back they reveal the "fruit" that will grow into a pear sized seed pod.
Eventually as the soft white petals turn a sort of tan color and fall off leaving only the newly forming "fruit" in the place of the flower.
It is not uncommon for this seed pod to be confused for some sort of exotic edible fruit by those who are not familiar with this tree species. From this picture below you can see how the seed pod of the Southern Magnolia could be mistakenly identified as a tropical fruit.
This tropical fruit looking seed pod then undergoes a radical transformation as a number are bright red seeds begin to emerge from within as if they were being squeezed out and expelled. At the same time the pod begins to turn brown and dry up. Eventually a good number of the seeds will fall out and then the entire pod will snap off and fall to the ground although this may happen months later.

Empress Tree - Paulownia tomentosa

The Empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) is a fast growing deciduous tree species native to China but widely used in parks and gardens in many countries. Its soft blue bell shaped flowers form in a cluster (panicle) prior to the new leaves in Spring. the leaves are heart shaped and quite large measuring sometimes up to 30-40 cm across.
The seed pods of this tree species are about the size of a golf ball and pointy on one end. When mature they crack open and release numerous small seeds that are disbursed by the wind.
The shape of the opened seed pods reminds me quite a bit of a nest of young birds with their beaks wide open as they await their next meal soon to be delivered by their mother.
Some years back when I lived in Portland Oregon I was charged with the task of removing what was thought to be a fast growing weed that was growing too close to the side of a building. We later discovered that it was in fact an Empress tree that did not at all want to be removed! Within a few weeks of having chopped it off at the base it had regained its original height. I removed it again and this time dug up the main bulk of the stump. A few months later it was growing back again having recovered from some of the roots that I had left. We gave up the fight for that year and let it grow. By the next year it was more than 15 feet tall growing right up against a large window. We were finally able to remove it completely and keep it from growing back, but not before gaining a very healthy respect for this tree species tenacity and obstinate persistence. No wonder it has become invasive in some parts of the US.
For a tree with similar flowers check out the Blue Jacaranda.
For a tree with similar leaves try the Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa).
For a tree with big extravagant leaves and interesting flowers try the Snowflake Aralia.

Silk Floss - Ceiba Speciosa

The Silk Floss tree (Ceiba speciosa or Chorisia speciosa) is very unique tree species from the subtropical regions of South America. The flowers of this tree range in color from creamy white to dark pink and white. It is sometimes confused with the "White Silk Floss tree".
It has taken me a full year of watching this tree species as it passed through the seasons to get this series of pictures. Yesterday I was finally able to get some good pictures of the puffy "silk" balls and the seeds. The pods in the picture above are about 5-6 inches long and are packed with a bunch of silky cotton-ball like puffs that each contain a seed. The way that this tree spreads its seeds is by the seed pod bursting open and letting the wind carry away the little silky puffs.
In the image above you can see one of the seed pods just after it has burst open and before any of the cotton-like wads have blown away. In the image below you can see another wad of silky puffs that is slowly letting the seeds drift away one at a time. You can see one black seed in this image.
The next image is of one of the individual seeds still attached to a small puff of the silky fibers that I picked up off the ground under the tree. There were several hundred of these in the grass under the tree. I hard a hard time getting a picture of this seed as there was a bit of a breeze which kept floating the little silky puff right out of my hand as it was a small down feather. They look like little cotton balls but they are a lot lighter. The seed itself is about 3 mm in diameter.
Another interesting feature of this tree are its thorns. To give an idea of their size and shape I took a picture with a Euro coin (slightly larger than a quarter). These are fairly representative of the thorn size although I have seen some that are at least twice this size.

Council tree - Ficus Altissima

The Council tree (Ficus Altissima) is a large leaf "fig" that is sometimes used as an indoor potted tree species. It is not nearly as common however as its close relatives the Rubber tree, the Fiddle Leaf Fig, the Ficus Benjamina, the Sacred Fig or the Edible Fig. The leaves of the Council tree are quite large measuring about 10-12 inches in length and 5-6 inches in width. They have a simple elliptical shape and pronounced pinnate veins that have about an eighth inch relief on the reverse side and are alternate.
The "Fig" of the council tree is almost as large as a normal edible fig but with a more rounded, oblong shape. The fruit color ranges from yellow to orange to almost red and they present a series of "spots" as you can see in the image below. These figs measure about 1-1.3 inches in length. I cut one of the figs open to get a picture of the inner detail. It was quite a bit harder and more difficult to cut than an edible fig but the smell was similar. I do not know whether these figs are edible or not and while tempted I refrained from giving one a bite.
The light grey bark was similar to some other "Banyan trees" but I did not see any evidence of "prop-roots" although the tree here photographed may have been too young still to have this feature. These trees have been planted in several parks and avenues in Malaga, Spain but are not common. The tallest ones that I have seen are about 35 feet tall.

Walnut - Juglans regia

The English Walnut (Juglans regia) is the most common and widely distributed walnut tree species in Europe. In Spanish the Walnut tree is called "Nogal" and the Walnut fruit is called "Nuez". This tree is highly valued both for its popular nuts and for its high quality wood although the most sought after Walnut wood comes from the "Juglans nigra L." (Black Walnut) which is a close relative.

Looking at these pictures of the Walnut fruit it is hard to imagine that on the inside it contains the wrinkled, light brown, Walnut that we are used to seeing in the grocery store or market. I visited this tree a few years ago when the ripe Walnuts were falling. The round green ball that you see above turns brown and shrivels up a bit before it falls. To get the nut you collect the fallen fruit and remove the outer husk which comes off pretty easily. At that point what you have is the hard shell that we are familiar with which needs to be open with a nutcracker.
The images above and below are of the male flower of the English Walnut tree.

The Common Walnut (sometimes called Persian or English Walnut as well) has oblong leaflets that are about six inches in length and are arranged odd-pinnately compound on the stem. The venation is also pinnate and the leaf has entire margins.

One distinctive of the Walnut tree is its deeply furrowed bark.

Ponytail Palm - Nolina recurvata

The Pony Tail Palm (Nolina recurvata) is not really a palm tree species at all. It is one of several "palm-like" plants that have been given names that include the term palm because they have an appearance that is similar to that of a palm. Other pseudo palms include the Madagascar palm, the Giant Bird of Paradise, Fern Palm and the Cycas Revoluta.

The Pony Tail palm is commonly used as a potted plant for both indoor and outdoor settings.
One of the more striking features of the Pony Tail palm is its large, round, bulb-like base that can reach a diameter of more than five feet at its widest point. Notice that even this relatively small one in the picture above has bulged so much at the base that it has broken the concrete container that it was planted in.

The leaves of the Ponytail palm grow at the terminal ends of the "branches". They are long and tapered to a point and arranged in a rosette type cluster the can resemble a head of hair or a cluster of feathers like some chickens have. If you find my descriptions confusing just go by the pictures and make your own call on what they look like.

I tried to capture a picture of the flower of this species but I think that the plant below was just past the prime floral stage. Not only that, my picture did not turn out very clear. I´ll have to keep an eye out for another one in flower.

The image below, taken in the University of Malaga botanical garden, shows what this plant looks like when it reaches full maturity with multiple branches and a more proportionate distribution between the base and the trunk.

How many tree species in the world?

I have often wondered how many tree species there are in the world. You would think that in this modern age of technological advances and super computers it would not be too difficult to have an accurate count of how many kinds of trees exist at the present time. I say present time because many tree species have in fact gone into extinction already.

From what I can tell nobody knows for sure how many there are. This is partly due to the fact that there is not a universally accepted definition of what a "tree" is exactly. I tend to think of trees as big plants with roots, trunks and leaves but I guess this is too loose of a definition.

Some big plants that are NOT generally accepted as trees are Banana "trees" and Giant Bamboo.

We generally think of trees having just one main trunk. As a matter of fact this is usually a part of the definition of what a tree is. Well, how about the Banyan "trees" in India that have hundreds or even thousands of trunks? Did you know that there is a Banyan tree in Calcutta that has 2880 "trunks"! Actually they are "prop-roots" but in the case of this tree the main trunk was removed in 1925 but the tree lives on and now spreads out over an area that is 420 meters in diameter! It has almost three thousand trunks but no main trunk so is it a tree?

Anyway, back to the question of how many tree species there are in the world. I have read estimates that go all the way up to 100,000 but the number that looks most believable to me is 10,000. I got this number in a article by James E. Reeb entitled "Scientific Classification of Trees: An Introduction for Wood Workers".

Another estimate that sounded interesting was to take the total number of known plant species and then make an estimate of what percentage of these are trees based on smaller sample areas. Using this method one person that I read had estimated that there are 25,000 tree species (10% of the 250,000 plant species).

The number of tree species in North America is estimated at around 1,000 (also from the article by James E. Reeb). Europe is one of the continents with the least number of tree species.

Portuguese Oak - Quercus faginea

The Portuguese Oak (Quercus faginea) is one of a handful of oak tree species that are native to the Iberian peninsula. It can often be found in close proximity to other Oak species such as the Holm Oak (Quercus ilex), the Cork Oak (Quercus suber), the Pyrenean Oak (Quercus pyrenaica) or the English Oak (Quercus robur). The leaves of the Portuguese Oak are somewhat similar to those of the English Oak, measuring about 4 inches on length with dentate margins and a dark green color when mature. Their shape tends to be slightly spatulate and they have a pinnate venation.
The bark of this oak is quite a bit different from either the Cork or or the Holm oak which have very distinct barks. The image below gives a pretty good idea of what the bark looks like on a fairly young tree.
It is quite common to see "galls" on this species of oak tree (below). This is not a natural part of the tree but is the result of the tree´s defensive mechanism against foreign objects. In this case they are called "galls" because they are produced when the Gall wasp lays its eggs in the soft bark of a new branch inserting them into a small hole that it makes. The tree senses that a foreign object is present and activates it´s defense mechanism that creates a ball that is about an inch and a quarter in diameter with a hard exterior but a sponge like interior. The Gall wasp larvae grows inside the gall finding nourishment in the sponge/cork like interior until it is ready to bore its way out. This is why almost all galls have a small termite like hole in them.

I got a tip from Gus at who tells me that the "wasp" responsible for this particular gall is the "Andricus quercustozae". I found the image of this wasp on a French website. It is a tiny little wasp about the size of a match head. Check this link for more images of these galls.

Edible Fig - Ficus Carica

The Edible Fig tree (Ficus Carica) is, as it´s name quite obviously suggests, the source of edible figs. This is not to say that it is the only member of the Ficus genus with edible fruit, there are several others. Rather it is the fruit of this tree that is widely commercialized as "figs" and used to make fig cookies, fig bread, fig liqueur, dried figs etc. There are several varieties of this tree widely cultivated in Southern Europe. One produces dark purple colored figs and the other green figs. Both of these taste pretty much the same in my opinion.

In the picture above you can appreciate how the figs grow on the branches at the base of new leaf stems. Not all of these reach maturity as some will get knocked off or be eaten birds or other hungry critters. When the figs are detached from the branch there is a white milky liquid that "bleeds" from the spot where the fruit was connected.

Unlike most "figs" (members of the ficus genus) the Ficus Carica is a deciduous tree (leaves turn color in autumn and fall off leaving the tree bare all winter). The images above and below show the typical leaf shape in summer and in fall. These are fairly large leaves that measure 8-10 inches (24cm) across. The leaf presents rather pronounced lobes with a palmate venation (3-5 main veins).
The image below is of a typical fig tree in the courtyard of an Andalusian "finca" located not far from the city of Antequera. This tree can be climbed to harvest the fruit but with great care as the branches break easily producing damage to the tree and possible harm to the person who could fall while reaching for the ripe fruit.

The picture below is of the biggest Ficus Carica that I have seen yet. It is located on the outskirts of the town of Yunquera in Southern Spain in an area that has multiple fresh water springs. My own estimates are that this tree is about 4-5 feet in diameter at the base, about 60-70 feet tall and probably 400-500 years old.

African Tulip Tree - Spathodea campanulata

The African Tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata) is a large evergreen tree native to central Africa. It is also known by the names Fountain Tree and Flame of the Forest. It is one of a handful of trees that are referred to as "flame" trees.

This tree species is widely planted (where the climate permits) as an ornamental tree for ornate bell shaped flowers that are a combination of red, orange and yellow. Seeing as most of the flowers were pretty high up in the tree I tried to get as good a picture as possible of one that I found laying on the ground.

This particular tree is the only one that I have seen of this species and is located in a park in central Malaga that the locals refer to as the "paseo del parque". While this park is not known as a botanical garden it has just as many species and very good specimens of a great variety of plants, palms and trees.
The African Tulip tree is the only species in its genus and is a distant relative of some other well known ornamental trees such as the Jacarandas and the Catalpas (in the Bignoniaceae family).

This tree is known to have become invasive in some areas such as Maui.

Pomegranate - Punica granatum L.

The Pomegranate tree (Punica granatum L) is a fruit tree native to the near East (from Iran to North India). It is a small tree that often grows more like a large bush than a tree. It is valued not only as a fruit tree but also for its beautiful flowers that can range in color from red to white or a blend of the two.

The fruit of the Pomegranate is round and about the size of a softball. It is green and red when mature and if left on the tree too long it will split open (if you look closely at the last image above you will see that it is split open along one side).

Beneath about a 1/4 inch this outer husk the Pomegranate is filled with seeds (about a hundred) that are all encased in a pinkish colored, semi translucent material. These seeds are edible and for those who don´t mind ingesting the sesame seed size seeds in the middle they can b eaten right out of the fruit with a spoon or knocked loose and eaten. I prefer however to suck the outer pinkish "meat" off the seeds and then spit the seeds out. It is a bit more work but to each his own.

The Pomegranate is an ancient fruit that is mentioned in the Bible quite a few time.