NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Gardener and author Nancy Ross Hugo and photographer Bob Llewellyn traveled more than 20,000 miles over four years, looking at Virginia’s finest trees for their 2008 book “Remarkable Trees of Virginia."
During those treks, they noticed little things about trees — characteristics commonly considered unremarkable to the everyday eye.
Details like bracts and buds and catkins, small intimate parts of trees that are often overlooked when you walk or drive by them.
Hence, they collaborated to do a different kind of book, “Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees," which is an up-close observation of backyard and neighborhood trees.
“I want trees to move from the background to the foreground of people’s consciousness because they are just so interesting and important," says Hugo, who lives in Howardsville, Va., where she and her husband operate an outdoor education center called Flower Camp.
“It’s crazy to overlook them, or to think the only time to pay close attention to them is for two weeks in the fall."
The book is written for everyone, not just people who are already tree lovers, Hugo says, so she avoids jargon and explains details in understandable terms.
“For example, I suggest people look down as well as up, because there is lots of ‘tree information’ in the cones, leaves, catkins, fruits and other things you find on the ground beneath them," she says.
“And, using binoculars can help you see things in the crown of a tall tree that would otherwise be invisible to you."
Her personal favorite trees include white oak for its longevity — as long as 600 years; black gum for its flowers that bees love and incredible bark on old specimens; and American beech for its horizontal branching pattern and its foliage that hangs on through winter and looks like parchment before it falls.
Tiny tulip poplar leaves impress her because the ¼-inch newbies are the same as their grownup counterparts. And, she likes the way they’re folded — like valentines, down the midrib — as they emerge from the buds.
“The longer you look, the more you see, it’s that simple," says Hugo.
“You don’t have to know the names of the botanical features you’re seeing to appreciate their beauty and the genius of their engineering."