Posts Tagged ‘White Elm’


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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