Holiday Hill  by Edith M. Patch

The Vase and the Plume

T WO trees stood well up on one side of Holiday Hill. Because of their shapes, they were called the Vase and the Plume. They were both the kind of tree that is known as the American Elm.

Other kinds of elm trees grow in America, too; but the name "American" has been given to the largest and most beautiful species we have in this country.

Years ago these trees were favorites with the people who came from England to settle in New England. Perhaps the newcomers brought with them an affection for elms because of the lovely elms of a different sort that they had left behind them across the sea.

So, to-day the branches of American elms meet in shady arches over the streets in some of our oldest cities. And their tall, straight trunks stand like stately columns before many of the oldest homes that white men built in our land.


The Vase

Old city streets and old dooryards are likely places to find such elm trees because they have been put there by the hands of men. But for countless centuries before men planted them, elm trees grew in rich soil near rivers. They grew, too, on hillsides, as they still do, in places where the ground is moistened by spring water. The wind scattered their seeds for them.


Elm seeds take fluttery journeys by air

An elm seed has a flat thin circular wrapper and a slender stem. The wrapper is green with a white fuzzy fringe around the edge. It is notched at one end.

Besides the brisk voyages which the breezes give the seeds, there are other ways in which the wind is helpful to elm trees. It even carries pollen for them.

As you know, pollen is needed by flowering plants. Their seeds cannot live without it. It forms on parts of the flowers that are called anthers. It is the duty of the dusty pollen to leave the anthers of one flower and find the sticky stigma in another flower. When a pollen grain reaches a ripe stigma, it grows like a tiny root and joins the seed to make it live.

Many kinds of plants have flowers with fragrance that insects can smell, colors that insects can see, and nectar that insects can drink. Such plants do not need wind to carry their pollen for them. Small messengers with wings attend to that ceremony.

Some kinds of plants, however, depend on wind at pollen times. Elms hang their anthers, like fringes, from their clustered blossoms. They swing in the air, and the breezes take the pollen and carry it away. Some of it is blown to other blossoming elm trees where the stigmas catch and use the grains of living dust.

Each spring the elm trees give their flowers the first right of way. The sap of growth rises and runs to the tip of every twig. But the leaves must all wait until the flowers have had their chance. If the leaves grew first, they would block the pollen traffic. Then the pollen grains would bump against the leaves and have accidents that would divert them from the direct air route from Station Anther to Station Stigma.

The trees cannot turn on red signal lights as warnings to the leaves that they must stop and wait before they cross the stage from brown buds to broad green bowers. But they have a strong law of nature that the leaves obey.

So it happened that the flowers on the Vase and the Plume had the branches and the breezes to themselves for a while. They were green and red and purple and they grew in pretty clusters. They gave the Vase the look of an enormous fountain with the branches and twigs for streams and sprays, and the flowers for mist. And they made the Plume seem very feathery indeed.


Flower clusters of an elm tree

The days of the blossoms passed; and the flat-rimmed seeds had their turn with the wind; and at last the leaves unfolded.

Among the spring guests of the Vase and the Plume, were certain insects that selected their house lots there.

When one of these tapped the growing leaf with its beak, mysterious changes took place. On the flat green leafy door-yard, a marvelous little castle appeared.

If you should ask a scientist about such a structure, he would tell you, "That is a gall caused by an aphid." But a poet has said, "There is never a leaf nor a blade too mean to be some happy creature's palace!"


An elm-leaf palace

One day in May a gorgeous bird came to the Vase. His colors were black and flaming orange with some white and yellow. His early morning song sounded like a loud clear musical call.

It may, indeed, have been a call. He had arrived in the North ahead of his mate. Perhaps she heard his voice as soon as she flew near Holiday Hill.

This much is certain—a pair of orioles had their nest fastened to a bough of the Vase that summer, and the wind rocked the baby birds while they were in their cradle.


The oriole's cradle

Of all the guests that came to the Vase or the Plume, none was lovelier than Violet Tip. Who she was and what she did are related in another chapter. There is not really room in this one to tell even the names of all the visitors who used these trees for their summer camps. Nor were their boughs deserted during the winter.

In the fall the ripe leaves turned yellow and fluttered away—near or far, according to the strength of the gusty winds that scattered them. But hundreds of thousands of infant leaf buds remained—all bundled in shiny brown scales that they wore for winter suits. And near the spots where the stems of the old yellow leaves had let go their hold on the twigs, were the buds of next spring's flowers tucked close and snug in similar brown scales.

At last the Vase and the Plume were ready for their long winter rest. No butterfly floated near. No aphids dwelt in leafy palaces. But here and there, in one or another sheltering crevice, an insect slept—as egg or pupa or hibernating larva.

The orioles, old and young, were far away in some warm southern place. But hardier birds visited the elms. Woodpeckers tapped hopefully against the bark. On many a frosty morning, too, a little black-capped bird came to hunt for insect eggs for breakfast. He tilted this way and that among the twigs, like a performing acrobat. And the Chick‑a‑dee Song of this small bird was the cheeriest sound that could be heard on Holiday Hill in winter.