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Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

Light grayish green lichens known as Old Man’s Beard hang from the trees in the forests.  Sometimes blown onto the ground on windy days, to the touch, these lichens are usually soft but sometimes stiff in dry weather.   A few are streaked with brown.

Old Man’s Beard is frequently found in clean, moist environments such as boggy woods.  Though it prefers to cling to coniferous trees in old growth forests, it also hangs from the younger birches in my backyard.  Sensitive to air pollution, it’s often found with other types of lichens, such as the foliose lichens shown below.

  

Canada’s native people harvested Old Man’s Beard long ago and added it to their diet.  It can be steamed or dried and pummeled into a powder.   A strong antibiotic, it was also used to prevent infection and gangrene from setting into external wounds.   A thousand years ago, Old Man’s Beard was already being used as a medicine to treat lung cancer.  It’s still used today as a treatment for tuberculosis in China as it contains usnic acid.

La barbe de nain illustration by Elisabeth Ivanovsky

The antibiotic properties of Old Man’s Beard make it an effective treatment for fish infections in ponds and aquariums.  Yellow warblers seek forests where the Beard is present as they consider it an indispensable construction material in building their nests. 

A french fairy tale, LA BARBE DE NAIN by Marcelle Vérité, explains that the beards once belonged to elves.  Long ago, it was customary for these kind, cheerful creatures to arrange bundles of deadwood on the forest floor as a gift for mankind.   But when men greedily began to cut down live trees, the elves hastily fled to remote mountain peaks, snagging their beards on branches in the process.  The lost beards can be found in forests to this day.

Considering the wonderful medicinal properties of these beards, their elvish origins are no surprise to me.

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maple buds in spring

Canadian maple buds.  Check. 

coltsfoot in bloom

Coltsfoot.  Check.

junco attacking car mirror

Mating-crazed junco obsessed with its reflection in my car’s mirror.  Check.

chickadee and mourning dove calling from treetops

Chickadee and mourning dove calling from the treetops.  Check.  Check.

crawly creatures under rocks

Creepy crawlies under the garden stones:  Millipede, earthworm, beetle, salamander.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.

Nova Scotia slug

Slug.  Check.

red squirrel defending its territory

Red squirrel defending its territory.  Check.

snowshoe hare in april

Snowshoe hare on the lawn.  Check.

periwinkle or myrtle

The first periwinkle of the season.  Check.

Hope rekindled.  Check.

 

 

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Every day, trees in the forest compete with one another for the light needed to make their food.   What can they teach us about surviving in a competitive world?

Find a mentor.  Longer-living evergreens are often given an advantage in their younger years by shorter-lived deciduous nurse trees.  In my yard, birches frequently shelter small spruce and firs from winds, snows and grazing mammals. 

Make the most of the storms of life.  When Hurricane Juan blew down mature trees in 2003, the forest suddenly was opened to a light it hadn’t seen in decades.  Balsam firs and mountain ash took advantage of the increased light, experiencing exponential growth.

Know your competition and be ready to act.  Scientists at the University of Buenos Aires recently discovered that plants are able to anticipate future competition from other plants in their environment by discerning a variance in the color of light that’s reflected off neighboring plants.  If potential competition is sensed, they react by shooting up towards the light more quickly than normal.

Agility means that you are faster than your competition. Agile time frames are measured in weeks and months, not years.
~ Michael Hugos

Often, trees in the open will grow at a slower rate than those growing competitively in stands.  If shallow-rooted, the former are also more likely to be toppled over during a windstorm.

I’m in competition with myself and I’m losing.
~ Roger Waters 

Losers in the competition for light

And while the law of competition may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.
~ Andrew Carnegie

Winners will go on to litter the forest floor with the next generation of trees for years to come.

This post is in response to Assignment 15:  Competition over at Scott’s Views Infinitum.

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The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.
~ William Blake

It may be the way of  humans to want development to cease once their home is built on the edge of the wilderness  but I still shudder every time I see tracts of land cleared.  I realize that before my home was built on this spot, many wild creatures made this acreage their home. Trees once stood where my driveway now covers the ground with gravel.

Yesterday I went looking for amphibian eggs in a spot where I had seen them in a waterway near the bog years before. Chainsaws tore through trees in the vicinity throughout the afternoon.

I also looked for Boreal Felt Lichen, an endangered species that seems like it would thrive in this neck of the woods. Though none was found yesterday, I did find a cluster of foliate lichen that I had seen earlier this year. Unfortunately, this time, the tree was on the ground, freshly sawed into pieces, a casualty of the surveyor’s line.

These lands are likely slated to be developed soon.  yet, fresh evidence of porcupine, hare and deer activity was everywhere to be found.  It’s a shame that so many animals will be displaced and that all these lichen-covered trees will eventually be covered with weedless green lawns and paved driveways.

Bogs are often considered wastelands by developers who want to fill them up.  That saddens me just as much as the demise of the trees.  New trees can be planted on cleared land but a bog can’t resurface once it’s been filled with rubble.

Throughout  the walk, my friend Sybil who accompanied me kept repeating lines from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi…

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone.

Her singing was barely audible over the roar of the chainsaws.

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Old trees can easily conjure up memories of times past.  Covered with lichens, mosses and fungi, they are witnesses to history, quiet observers of human events and animal activities.  Their silent demeanor makes them privilege to secrets told beneath their branches.  Perhaps it’s because we expect trees to know so much that they spark our imaginations.


A favorite book from my childhood was The Faraway Tree Adventure by Enid Blyton. (My copy was the french translation: DEUX ENFANTS DANS UN SAPIN).  The story involved the magical encounters experienced by two children who follow an elf up a tree.  My imagination was sparked by the idea of a tree so wonder-full that it could act as an enchanted gateway to other lands and fairy folk.  

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.
~ John Muir

Two spruce trees I recently saw standing side by side in the forest reminded me of that magical tree I had read about years ago. They were wrapped up in mist and entwined in each other’s branches, still erect while others of their size were overturned by strong winds. 

Their older lower branches were bare of needles but looked strong enough for climbing.  As a child, I’d always been unable to reach the lower branches of the trees I believed held magical worlds in their canopies. At what age do we stop trying to climb up trees?

The magic that eluded us as children because we didn’t have arms long enough to reach the next branch, eludes us once again in adulthood as we become more and more attached to safe ground.  The trees must find us odd indeed, but in their wisdom, say nothing.

What tiny creature do you suppose lives in that hole among the roots?

In the tradition of  She Said, She Said, Sybil of Eastern Passage Passage has also written a post about these same trees.  You can find her post here along with marvelous close-ups of the wonderful worlds she captured with her lens.

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For every beauty, there is an eye somewhere to see it.
For every truth, there is an ear somewhere to hear it.
For every love, there is a heart somewhere to receive it.
~ Ivan Panin

Messy woods that consist of a tangle of fallen trees are seldom considered worthwhile exploring. Yet there are wonders waiting to be revealed in the most unlikely places…

Though it’s now barely noticeable underfoot, millions of years ago, the creeping club moss shown above grew much larger.  The swamps that were filled with these club moss trees during the Carboniferous period were eventually transformed into the coal that’s mined today. 

Did a flicker make this hole? Standing dead trees (snags) in old growth forests offer places for wild creatures to nest. If flickers nest here this year, they’ll be looking for tasty ants, their favorite food, to feed upon in the neighborhood this summer.

Who treads the delicate stairs of this stair-step moss?   Utilized in the past as a covering for dirt floors and a gap filler between the logs of log cabins, it’s now being studied for its anti-bacterial properties.

The porcupine teeth marks on this tree reveal a delicate pattern.  Could we be missing a woodland delicacy by not including inner bark in our diet? It might be worthwhile trying in a survival situation.

Could this delicate creeping vine be partridge berry? Its rich red hue will turn to green later this spring when it will blend in more with the mosses surrounding it.

The forest is reflected in a woodland pool that will sustain a diversity of life before it dries later this summer. Do the faeries sit on this log at the end of day to relax and chat about the day’s adventures?

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
~ Roald Dahl

These photos were taken on a most enjoyable walk in the woods yesterday with my friend Sybil of Eastern Passage Passage who posted a very different version of our adventure on her blog 🙂 You can read her post here.

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