Posts Tagged ‘Paper birch’


Of course, you know that a forest is made up of trees, but in the summer, the trees have lots of competition for your attention. Wildflowers and undergrowth and the sounds of squirrels and birds draw your eye away from the trees. In the winter, with a covering of snow on the ground, the trees stand stark and alone, the smaller plants obscured, the woods silent.


At the same time that the trees become more conspicuous, they take on a new anonymity as the deciduous trees lose their leaves and stand naked. I’ve never made the effort to learn the clues offered by bark and twigs and other signs that distinguish one leafless tree from another, but some remain easy to identify, even in winter.


The evergreens, of course, look familiar year round. In the opening photo is a majestic Eastern White Pine, the stately monarch of our 40 acre forest. There are also several beautiful mature spruce trees like the one in the second photo, and little groves of Eastern White Cedar, above. Most of the trees are deciduous, however.


The peeling bark of this White Birch, or Paper Birch as it is also known, makes it easy to identify.


This tree looks similar to a birch but is actually a member of the poplar family, Trembling Aspen. Root sprouts from one lone seedling may grow into a stand of clones, and over repeated generations, have been known to occupy many acres, with all the trees being clones. Aspen clones may have originated soon after the great ice sheets melted after the last ice age, making them among the oldest organisms on Earth.


Beech trees are easy to pick out because of the habit that young trees have of retaining their coppery leaves. For more on beeches and their habit of marcescence, visit this earlier post linked here: Life’s A Beech.


The bark of a mature Black Cherry is scaly and dark. If you look closely, you can still see little horizontal dashes, lenticels, which are typical of cherry trees.


The bark of White Ash is furrowed into intersecting ridges that form a diamond pattern.

And finally, here is one of my favorites, Shagbark Hickory, whose bark separates into long plates that curl free at their lower ends or at both ends. This gives the tree the shaggy look that is the source of its name.


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An Ojibwe legend tells the story of a spirit-boy named Winabojo, who one day went looking for feathers for his arrows. He discovered a nest of baby Thunderbirds. By turning himself into a rabbit, he tricked the Thunderbirds into carrying him to the nest, but when the parent birds flew away, Winabojo turned back into a boy and clubbed the young birds and stole their feathers. Then he jumped from the nest, clutching his handful of feathers.

When the parents returned to the nest, they were (understandably) very angry, and chased Winabojo. He ran for his life. Just before the Thunderbirds could catch him, Winabojo dived into a hollow birch log that was lying on the ground and was safe. The Thunderbirds gave up the chase, but before they left they put “pictures” of their baby birds with out-stretched wings into the birch bark so the sacrifice of their children would always be remembered. To this day, you can still see the branch scars on birch trees, the mark of the Thunderbird.

When Winabojo climbed out of the log, he blessed the birch tree for the benefit of humanity. The birch tree served native peoples in many ways. It provided sugar in its sap, transportation through birch-bark canoes, medicines and dyes from its roots. The bark was used to make many domestic items, including containers, utensils, wigwam coverings, torches, scrolls and tinder for fires.

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