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Identifying Unknown Plants/Why do trees look scary at night?


Dear Susan,

My six-year-old son is going through a rather inquisitive phase: some of his latest questions include 'How much water does an ant need to take a bath?' and 'Why do flies fly?'

The other day he asked me why trees look more scary at night-time than they do in the day. I'd love to give him an answer but this one has left me stumped (no pun intended).

Can you help?

scary tree
scary tree  
Hi Ben,
I can sure try!  I decided at age 6 to become a horticulturist because of a scary tree I saw in a movie, so the subject of trees being scary is one close to my heart.  
Ok, the scientist in me says that I should say it's because we don't see well in the dark, and things that are familiar in the daytime seem altered in their appearance at night.  Our eyes may even play tricks on us and objects can seem larger or appear to move.  But the tree hasn't changed.  Just our perception of it.  

Lots of trees are losing their leaves at this time of year, or the color is changing.  Bare trees certainly do look uglier/scarier than one in the bloom of spring.

Age, too, can cause trees to get creepy.  Also disease and decay.  Trees are a lot like people, in that respect.  

Certain kinds of trees can be scarier than others - at night or in the day.  The Manchineel tree has a sap so corrosive just to stand under it could permanently blind you.  Some like black locust have 6 inch thorns all around the trunk.  Rattle Box sounds just like a rattlesnake when you happen to brush against it.  That'll give you a nasty turn!  Some trees, like some people, just feel they have to have a way to defend themselves.  Black walnuts secret a substance called thujone into the soil so that no other plant can grow around it and steal it's water, food, and sunlight.

I hope my answer will keep your son interested in learning.  May he never stop asking "Why".

Identifying Unknown Plants

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Susan Tabor


I can identify most weeds, ornamentals,and wild plants by description or photo. If it is completely unknown to me, I can usually type info into a botanical search engine and find it. I am familiar with unusual plants from all over the world.


Thirty-five years of research and experience in horticulture.

You already have that information. I'm just listing myself in a new catagory.

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