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Posts Tagged ‘Balsam Fir’

Witches have been leaving their brooms in my yard for some time now, but it’s only recently that I’ve been able to recognize them for what they are. 

Witches’ brooms are not uncommon in coniferous forests across North America.  Here in Nova Scotia, they’re often found among the balsam firs.  A forest novelty, they look like mutant branches on otherwise normal-looking trees.

From a distance, they appear as a ball mass of twigs.  In winter, they’re bare of needles and look especially gnarly.  On large trees, they can measure several feet in diameter.

In spring, witches’ brooms grow nutritious shoots that are eaten by grouse and porcupines.  The new needles are a pale yellowish green and grow in a spiral pattern around the twigs in a manner that’s different from the tree’s other branches.  These needles dry up and die in the fall.

The broom is actually a fungus (Melampsorella caryophyllacearum Schröter) that depends on infection of alternate hosts for survival.  In my yard, the spores grow on the needles of the fir tree  in the spring and are picked up by chickweed that also grows nearby.  Later, the fungus on the chickweed passes its spores back to the firs.

Witches’ brooms aren’t  welcome on Christmas tree farms where they disfigure trees and weaken them for other diseases to take hold.  

In the wild, large witches’ brooms are sometimes used as a foundation for dreys (squirrels’ nests).  Northern flying squirrels and red squirrels are both known to make use of them for this purpose.  High above the ground in the canopy of the forest, they’re sometimes also used as a base for the nests of  birds of prey.

It’s funny how what man sees as messy and an eyesore in nature, wildlife employs for both food and habitat.  Perhaps we should get our vision checked. 

This past December, a friend was delighted to find a small witch’s broom in the Christmas tree she purchased on a tree lot.  Though the seller was eager to cut it off for her, she believed it added something magical to the tree. 

For more information on the Yellow Witches’ Broom in Nova Scotia, see here.

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The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit watch the roots.
~ William Blake

Challenged by Lake Superior Spirit to find six new and interesting views of things you have noticed or photographed before, I decided to get to the root of the matter.  Under the root to be more exact.  Since I’m so accustomed to photographing the part of trees that grows above ground, or looking at upturned trees from the outside, I thought I’d crouch under a very large Balsam Fir root and see what a small mammal might see if it was hiding there.

The first thing I noticed was how dark and quiet it was under the root.    

Balsam Firs tend to be shallow rooted and so are easily blown over during high winds. 

After falling to the ground, the roots of large trees remain intact, with some strands dangling to the ground.  Many provide hut-like enclosures that offer shelter for small animals.

Often, new trees start growing in the dirt left clinging to the upturned roots.  Over time, these roots eventually form mounds in the forest which help to speed up the rate of new growth.

Water often gathers under overturned roots.  Though presently frozen, these vernal pools provide places for amphibians to lay eggs or small mammals and birds to get a drink of water during warmer months.  The variety of life found around the roots of these overturned trees contributes greatly to the biodiversity of the forest.

For more information and photos of overturned trees taken from a vantage point out from under the roots see Pits and Mounds.

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marchhare

 

The time!  The time!  Who’s got the time?

          ~ The March Hare from Alice in Wonderland

Who’s got the time?  Well, it appears that this hare does.  It seemed to have all the time in the world yesterday as it nibbled quietly on the grass.  Barely discernible on the landscape, it still had some of its hairs tipped with white from its winter coat. 

The grass has been covered with snow for most of the winter.  It’s only in the last few days that it’s become visible again.  Hares have been mostly dining in the back woods this winter, eating the green needles of  small fir trees.   It’s been a long winter.  Hares and rabbits are always a good sign that Spring is here to stay.

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porcupinebark1

High vet bills for quill extraction were a huge incentive for me to learn how to spot porcupines before my dog did.  On walks in the woods, my eyes became extra keen at finding baby porcupines on the ground.  Their tiny quills are especially difficult to remove from a dog’s mouth.

porcupinetreeAs I no longer have a dog, I’m not on the lookout for porcupines as much as I used to be while walking in the woods.  However, it’s pretty hard to miss this fresh evidence of their activity just behind my home:  fresh bark chips on the ground  below a girdled trunk.  Unfortunately, the Balsam Fir at left will die because its bark has been nibbled all around the circumference.

Porcupines breed in autumn and give birth to one baby in the spring.  Within a week this little pincushion is already chewing on the inner bark of trees.  Favorites are softwood trees and the twigs on birch.  Tamarack trees are considered especially tasty. 

Porcupines are also attracted to the salt left on wooden tools that are handled by humans with sweaty hands.  The salt on roads also attracts them to highways, making them a frequent item on the roadkill menu.  They are slow movers and consequently an easy target on the ground.

The last time I saw a porcupine was last fall along the Salt Marsh Trail.  It was mid morning and three of them were dozing, each on separate limbs up in an apple tree, right next to the trail.  Mostly nocturnal creatures, they had probably snacked on apples the night before.

Porcupine and Birchbark Quill Box

Porcupine and Birchbark Quill Box

Before Europeans settled here in the 1700s, the Cow Bay area was considered a prime summer hunting and fishing spot for the Mi’kmaq tribe.  Considering the number of porcupines in this neck of the woods, it’s no surprise that the Mi’kmaq are a people known for their artistry with quills.

 

 

 

 

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snowspires

A heavy snowfall last night sculptured the landscape yet again with its exaggerated contours and coverlets.  This morning, the spires of young Balsam Fir trees in the back woods were still wrapped in white.  

Nature is the art of God. 

~Dante Alighieri

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