October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came,—
The Ashes, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The sunshine spread a carpet,
And every thing was grand;
Miss Weather led the dancing;
Professor Wind, the band....
The sight was like a rainbow
New-fallen from the sky....
~George Cooper, "October’s Party"
In Professor Z’s recent assignment, she asked us to interpret the George Cooper “October’s Party” stanza. I have loved trees since I was little and since in Virginia it is much too early to discuss *fallen* leaves, I figure that I may as well discuss the trees where the leaves currently live.
On Saturday I was planning to take the Hollywood Cemetery: A Rural Garden on a Grand Scale Walking Tour” and that this would be an excellent opportunity to interpret the poem. After all, Hollywood contains some of the finest examples of native trees in the Commonwealth. There are over 2,000 trees in the cemetery today; some predate the cemetery. The tour description reads, “Discover the park like setting and the natural tranquility of this rural-style cemetery and see why some call it ‘A garden of people, their loves, their faith, their dreams’. This tour will explore the cemetery from a historical and horticultural perspective with an emphasis on the beauty of Nature and the impact the Romantic Movement had on 19th century culture.” The weather was gorgeous and in the low 80’s. Even with 100 SPF, I still got some sun.
Welcome to the trees of Hollywood Cemetery. When you first enter the cemetery, you meet four large Bald Cypress trees that were planted by architect John Notman, who had developed a strong reputation for his romantic landscape designs. Notman wanted to take advantage of the natural landscape which was quite different from early cemeteries which were tightly gridded spaces. One of the interesting things about the layout of Hollywood is that essentially you have short vistas terminated by hills and other trees so you’re actually experiencing hundreds of small spaces. Rather than going into a gridded cemetery where in one view you can kind of take in the whole cemetery, at Hollywood you have to move through it to experience it. There’s no one point where you can look down and see the entire cemetery.
Bald cypress trees are deciduous conifers that shed their needle-like leaves in the fall. Their name comes from the fact that they drop their leaves so early in the season. Their fall colors are tan, cinnamon, and fiery orange. The feature that bald cypresses are really known for is their “knees.” These aren’t knees like ours, but rather they are a special kind of root. The technical term for the knees is “pneumatophore,” which means “air bearing.” Pneumatophores grow from horizontal roots just below the surface and protrude upward from the ground or water. Since bald cypresses often grow in swampy conditions, it’s thought that the pneumatophores function to transport air to drowned roots underground. They also help to anchor the tree. In one of these trees, a red-tailed hawk is nesting.
One of the next trees that I found interesting was the Southern Red Oak near Mrs. Bayly’s marker. Mrs. Bayly marker is a tree stump tombstones; generally carved from limestone, these were a part of the rustic movement of the mid-nineteenth century which was characterized by designs that were made to look like they were from the country. The gravestones are purposefully designed to look like trees that had been cut and left in the cemetery which was part of the movement to build cemeteries to look like parks. In funerary art, the tree-stump tombstones were varied—the stonecutters displayed a wide variety of carving that often reflected individual tastes and interests of the persons memorialized. The tree-stump gravestones themselves were saturated with symbolism. The short tree stump usually marks the grave of a person who died young—a life that had been “cut” short. The tree-stump tombstones were most popular for a twenty year-period from about 1885 until about 1905. I have been looking at this marker for months but the guide pointed out how the Bayly marker looks almost exactly like the Southern Red Oak.
The next picture is another family plot of tree stump tombstones. This is that of the Lloyd family.
One of my favorite trees in the cemetery is that of the Sycamore. They are often found along stream banks and are distinguished by their striking appearance in the winter. Sycamores are known for their height and grandeur. Especially interesting is the gray and white exfoliating bark which is most notable in the winter. The terms under which the New York Stock Exchange was formed are called the "Buttonwood Agreement", because it was signed under a buttonwood (sycamore) tree at 68 Wall Street, New York City, in 1792.
Lastly, I’ve included a picture from October 25, 2009 which shows the James River and fall foliage. It is much too early in Virginia for our leaves to be turning. Those that I found that were yellowing were doing so more from drought-like conditions than a temperature drop.