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Posts Tagged ‘forests’

Boreal Felt Lichen

If there was the slightest chance that a rare organism existed in your neck of the woods, would you try to find it? 

The Boreal Felt Lichen  (BFL) is considered a critically endangered species globally.   Acid rain and forest disturbances have threatened its existence on both sides of the Atlantic.  Once found in Sweden, Norway and New Brunswick, it is now believed to only exist in  Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. 

The BFL possesses the remarkable ability to convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into a form that can benefit forest plants and animals.  Like many of the earth’s rare organisms, it finds its home in forests that have not been disturbed by man and simply left in their primeval state. 

The color of the BFL varies from brownish-grey to bluish-green depending on its age and how moist or dry it is.  Velvety above, dried fronds curl to reveal a whitish edge.  Brownish-red berry-like nodules may be found on mature specimens.  BFL are usually found on balsam firs in the presence of the liverwort Frullania tamarisci.

Certain qualities are common to the woodland environments in which the Boreal Felt Lichen is already known to live:

  • The forest is within 25 km of the Atlantic coast.
  • Mature balsam fir trees grow in the area.
  • There is a North facing slope.
  • Sphagnum moss is found in the nearby wetland.
  • Ferns (cinnamon ferns esp.) are found among the grasses.
  • Red maples and black spruce trees are also found growing in the area.

Balsam fir needles and sphagnum moss

Although I’ve noticed all of the above qualities in the boggy woods behind my home, I’ve yet to find any BFL.  But I’ll keep looking.  You might like to look for them in your neck of the woods too.   Looking for rare lichens might not seem very exciting at first, but it’s an excellent way to spend an afternoon with a friend or a child in the woods.  Once you try it, you’ll never look at a lichen-covered tree or branch the same way again.

If you would like to learn more about the Boreal Felt Lichen, please visit the Newfoundland Lichen Education & Research Group’s Erioderma website.  It features the most excellent images of the BFL presently available online.  Many thanks to Eugene Conway of the NLERG for granting permission to use the two images of the Boreal felt lichen shown at the top of this post.

For further related reading, see The Benefits of Lichens on Trees  and  Don’t Clear Your Woodlands.

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A clever way for thieves to steal from a store is to switch price tags on items, putting low prices on items of higher value.  The thieves then purchase the  items.   This technique works best in stores where cashiers are oblivious to the true value of the merchandise and too busy to take notice of obvious discrepancies. 

Like the pre-occupied cashiers, we don’t know the value of our natural resources and are too busy to notice that they are grossly undervalued.  We might be tired and overworked, or so distracted that we don’t clue in.   Developers keen to turn a quick profit are the ones who stand to gain.

This happens in third-world countries where rainforests brimming with biodiversity are razed to make way for single crops that strip the soil of its nutrients and contribute to erosion.  It also happens in wealthier nations where scrub lands with shorter trees are filled with concrete by residential and business park developers focused on turning a quick profit. 

In resource-rich Canada, we take for granted the cleanliness of our seemingly endless supply of clean air and water, not fully realizing the role trees play in their presence.  In one year, a large tree can supply enough clean air for a family of four to breathe and a single medium-sized tree can filter over 2000 gallons of water.  We cut down old growth forests and pat ourselves on the back when we fill the bare spaces with tiny seedlings that will take several lifetimes to mature.  We fail to appreciate how much trees buffer noise, create windbreaks, intercept rainfall, hold and create soil, absorb carbon dioxide and provide a habitat for wildlife.  Even their beauty is uplifting.  But because we have so many trees here in Canada, we take them for granted. 

The law of supply and demand dictates that our trees will increase in value as they become less abundant.  But why do we have to wait until then to appreciate them?  The United Nations has declared 2011 to be the International Year of Forests in an effort to heighten awareness of their value to mankind.

If a 24K bar of gold weighing 28 lbs is worth approximately half a million dollars, what is the value of a single tree? 

For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.

~  Martin Luther

Gold bar photo credit:  Sybil Nunn

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Over the weekend, I discovered a number of previously unseen life forms with my grandson.  The biodiversity present in our boggy woods never fails to impress, but this is especially so when you have a child along to point out the weird and wonderful.  

After weeks of heavy precipitation, the woods were full of unusual fungi. 

Once considered plants, it’s now believed that fungi share more characteristics with life forms in the animal kingdom.  While the cell walls of plants consist of cellulose, theirs contain chitin, which is also found in the shells of crustaceans, insects and some molluscs.  Unlike plants, which can make their own food through the process of photosynthesis, fungi survive by consuming dead matter.

Despite having a good field guide, I still find it difficult to identify the types of fungi I find in the woods.  There seems to be such a variation in color and shape as they age, which complicates the identification process even more.

However, from my grandson’s perspective,  it wasn’t necessary to know the names of these fungi in order to marvel at their remarkable appearance.  Perhaps Nature is most awesome to those who carry child-like wonder in their pockets instead of field guides.

To attain knowledge, add things every day.  To attain wisdom, remove things every day.

~ Lao Tsu

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Spruce trees are silhouetted against the rising sun at Rainbow Haven beach.  Over the years, these trees have endured, despite the salt spray and hurricane force winds.  Like many other trees on the Eastern seaboard, evergreens have shown accelerated growth in recent years.

The lighter, brighter green of this year’s growth is especially remarkable.  Scientists attribute increased growth to the following three factors:

  • Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
  • Warmer temperatures
  • An extended growing season

All of the above factors point to climate change as the underlying cause.

Though older trees on the landscape are a sign of strength and endurance, new ones are representative of hope.  While the strange and severe weather often attributed to climate change is a concern, accelerated tree growth is welcomed.

The forest is alive with new life in its many forms.  Below, a witch’s broom growing on a balsam fir, is light yellow-green.

The tree is more than first a seed, then a stem, then a living trunk, and then dead timber.  The tree is a slow, enduring force straining to win the sky.
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

For more information on Witches’ Brooms, see Witches’ Brooms in Winter.

For more information on accelerated tree growth see Science Daily.

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Red-backed salamanders are always a joy to find lying under rocks and beneath the dead leaves in the woods.  They are most frequently seen on moist days in spring and fall.

These woodland salamanders are amphibians but do not lay their eggs or have a larval stage in water.  Adults are lungless and breathe through their skin.  Consequently, moist surroundings are crucial to their survival and they are very sensitive to slight changes in their environment.  As the weather warms or cools, salamanders bury themselves deeper in the ground or under logs.

Years ago, salamanders became associated with fire, probably because they’d seemingly come to life when logs, to which they were clinging, were flung into the fire.  Considered by some to be magical creatures, they’ve been known to exist since the Jurassic period.

These small creatures eat tiny arthropods found in leaf litter.  Their numbers can be quite numerous in eastern American woodlands.  Although they keep a very low profile, salamanders contribute to the biodiversity of their habitat and play an important role in the natural recycling process of the forest. 

Their gentle nature endears salamanders to many.  Scientists see them as bioindicators,  and employ their numbers to indicate the health of woodlands.  Threatened by clear-cutting and extremely vulnerable to fungi and disease, their absence from an ecosystem is cause for concern.  Perhaps because of their fragility and silent presence in the woods, these red-backed salamanders are my favorite amphibians.

Humans are amphibians – half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.
~ C.S. Lewis

For more information about the mythology surrounding salamanders, see Dragonorama.

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The ants are already active in the yard after such a mild winter.  So, I’m glad to see that a couple of Northern flickers have made a nest nearby.  They are the ants’ worst enemy.

Flickers may not be easy to spot in the morning mist, but their calls to one another are strong and lively.  They’ve been working on their nest in an old tree for the past week.  I’ve also spotted them looking for ants in the lawn. 

These migrating members of the woodpecker family have an unusually long and raspy tongue, not unlike that of an anteater. After digging holes in the ground with their sharp beaks, they use this sticky tongue to gather numerous ants, pupae and eggs quickly and efficiently.  Ants and other insects are the flickers’ primary food. 

Flickers make their nests in old trees, also known as snags.  After a 3 inch diameter hole is made, a large cavity about 15 inches deep is created by both parents.  Six to eight eggs are also incubated by the pair.

At this point, the cavity is still being excavated as I frequently see the birds flinging wood chips out of the hole.  Although they are known to re-use old cavities, this nest is a new one, and there’s much work to be done to create such a deep nesting hole.  The fungus seen growing next to the hole in these photos was removed by them yesterday afternoon.  They’re busy all day long, and the harder they work, the more ants they eat.  Imagine how many ants this entire family will consume over the summer months!

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