Posts Tagged ‘Shagbark Hickory’


We haven’t done much hiking this summer. It seemed that it had just rained, was raining, or was about to rain all summer long. But last Friday was a perfect day, too nice to waste on mundane chores, and we headed out to the Marble Rock trail, north of Gananoque, Ontario. This region is part of the Frontenac Arch, an amazing section of the rugged Canadian Shield that dips down through southeastern Ontario and connects the far north bioregions with the Adirondack Mountains in New York state. The Arch marks an entirely different landscape from the surrounding plains. You can learn more about the Frontenac Arch here.


We completed the South Loop, with a side trip to the North Loop Lookout, a total of 4.7 miles (7.5 km). The east side of the South Loop is the most demanding terrain. If you aren’t climbing up a slope, you’re clambering down another, and the rocky ground can be treacherous. But the scenery is gorgeous.


The forest is primarily deciduous, with trees just beginning to take on the hues of autumn. You didn’t have to look up to know that oak trees were well represented in the diversity. The path was littered with acorns for much of its length, a bounty for wildlife.


Oak trees (Quercus spp) can be divided into two groups, red oaks and white oaks. The red oaks have leaves with pointy-tipped lobes, while the white oaks have rounded lobes. Both were represented in the forest.

Red Oak (Pointed tips)

White Oak (rounded tips)

Acorns weren’t the only nuts to be seen. The shagbark hickory trees (Carya ovata) were also offering up a good crop.

Hickory nuts

Check out the shaggy bark on this example.


Junipers are most often encountered as low-growing shrubs on rocky ground, but there was a sprinkling of pretty, upright juniper trees (Eastern juniper or Eastern Redcedar Juniperus virginiana) decorated with their bluish seeds.


Juniper berries

Around open, damp areas, the white berries of dogwood shrubs stood out on their red twigs.


Dogwood berries (Cornus sp)

Still climbing…


I liked the way this millipede, about 2 inches long, blended so well with the colour of an old log.

Flat-backed Millipede (Polydesmida sp)

And here’s a Hickory Tussock Moth (Lophocampa caryae) caterpillar hurrying through the leaves.

Hickory Tussock (Lophocampa caryae)

This tree has been attacked by Phomopsis galls. The galls appear as a cluster of nodules tightly pressed together. When cut open they consist of woody tissue that is a bit disorganized in comparison to the normal wood. Galls of affected trees may develop for several years then die.

Phomopsis galls of hickory

This attractive vine is Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens).

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)

The leaves of this clump of sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica nobilis acuta) are attractive even without the pretty flowers that will bloom next spring.


This colony of ground pine clubmoss (Lycopodium obscurum) looks like a stand of tiny, 6-inch tall pine trees. Clubmosses are ancient plants that were once 50-foot giants, but now carpet forest floors.

Ground Pine (Lycopodium dendroideum)

Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum) seems to grow right out of the rock. Their rhizomes and roots trap leaves and other debris to build up a thin layer of soil.

rock polypody (Polypodium virginianum)

It’s not just ferns that can seem to grow from rock. We came across this very large windfall along the trail.


We were amazed to see that much of the ground that lay under its trunk was rock.


We walked through a little grove of Musclewood, or Blue-Beech trees (Carpinus caroliniana). Their smooth bark has longitudinal ridges that really do seem reminiscent of muscles, making them easy to identify.

Musclewood or Blue-Beech (Carpinus caroliniana)

Finally, we reached the North Loop Lookout and settled down on the rocky ledge to enjoy the view as we ate our well-earned lunch.


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We have hiked out to the Rock Dunder lookout several times and promised ourselves to get back in the autumn to view the fall colours from this spectacular platform. A combination of bad weather and competing events postponed our return visit until this weekend. With the autumn leaves now rapidly giving way to the forces of rain and wind, we made a hike a priority and revisited the Rock Dunder trail last Friday.


It was interesting to visit the rocky woodland in a different season. The reindeer lichen (Cladina rangiferina), which was shrivelled and dried up in the summer, is now springing back to life in brilliant silver patches.


With less vegetation attracting attention, the trees themselves were more conspicuous. I hadn’t noticed this Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) on previous hikes.


The green fronds of Rock Polypody ferns (Polypodium virginianam) brighten rocky surfaces.


Patches of Pale Corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens), also known as Rock Harlequin, were growing amongst the lichens and mosses. This dainty looking plant is actually very tough. It produces pretty, tubular pink and yellow flowers held on long stems across the summer.


The effects of our hot, dry summer could be read in the number of dried out oak seedlings and brown juniper shrubs along the trail. Those junipers that survived the summer were now thriving after recent rains.


I noticed this patch of silk in a half-curled leaf on the trail. It’s probably a hiding place constructed by a spider.


Finally, we reached our destination, the Rock Dunder lookout, and were rewarded with a beautiful view. It was a cool day, so cool that we spotted a few snow flakes, and the open rock surface was windy, but we stopped long enough for a quick lunch and a hot cup of coffee. Here are a few photos taken from the lookout. Rock Dunder looks out over the northeast arm of Whitefish Lake, north of Gananoque, Ontario.






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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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We have had a wonderful display of fall leaves this year. Fall leaf colour is the result of leaf senescence, the process by which trees recover valuable mineral nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen from leaves before winter. Leaves change colour when chlorophyll synthesis stops and the current chlorophyll degrades, revealing the yellow carotenoids in the leaves. Anthocyanins, which are produced in some leaves as the chlorophyll breaks down, give red and purplish tints. Dry, sunny days and cool nights promote the formation of anthocyanins.

The forest is beginning to open up as the leaves drop from the trees and the undergrowth dies back. The dense green forest of just a month ago has been replaced by the bare branches of trees and a carpet of colored leaves underfoot.


Not all the trees in the forest are bare. Some tree species hang on to their leaves a bit longer than others, and the copper leaves that now stand out in the forest make the American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) trees easy to find. Some beech leaves will persist through the winter. The dead leaves that are retained are termed marcescent, and are most common on beeches and oaks. For more on marcescent leaves, see Dressed for Winter


The leaves of some of the smaller beech trees were yellow, rather than copper. It is usually the youngest trees that retain dead leaves, so perhaps this difference in marcescence is reflected in the different leaf colours. Thanks to Birdgirl for this suggestion!

Beeches are trees of the climax forest, often found growing with larger trees like sugar maple, red oak, white ash and white pine, where they thrive in the shade of their bigger cousins. They are slow growers, but can live to be 200 to 300 years old. Beech trees often re-propagate by producing a colony of clones that sucker from the roots of the adult tree.


Like other species such as the White Elms (Ulmus americana), which were decimated by Dutch Elm Disease as the result of a fungus imported from Europe, and the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata), nearly wiped out by an imported Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica), beech trees have also been attacked by a foreign invader. The beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga), a tiny insect with formidable piercing and sucking mouth mechanisms, arrived in America with an imported European Beech and, along with a companion fungus, has laid waste to beeches across eastern North America.


Beeches have beautiful, smooth grey bark. They make an inviting surface for initial-carvers, but the wound inflicted by this destructive practice can provide an entry point for disease. Below, the bark of this Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), growing close to the beech tree in the opening photograph, provides an interesting contrast to the smooth beech bark.


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