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Posts Tagged ‘Oak Trees’

In 1889 a true visionary named George A. Wheelock sold a piece of land known as the Children’s Wood to the City of Keene for one dollar. This area was eventually combined with an additional parcel of land purchased from Wheelock, known as Robin Hood Forest, to form Robin Hood Park. This Park has been enjoyed by children of all ages ever since, and since it was originally designed for them that is as it should be.

Many thousands of children have fished in the pond and skated on it in winter, and have explored the forests on wide, well laid out trails. The place is a child magnet and I see them here having fun every time I come, even in the rain. Every town should have a place like it, in my opinion.

Small streams chuckle and giggle their way down the hillsides and add a song to the place and of course, that’s just the kind of thing any child loves. Even those in their 60s.

I came here too, as a boy and then as a teen, and now as a senior citizen, and the reason I’ve come here my whole life is because I learn so much about nature here. In the spring this is where I’ll come to take photos of coltsfoot flowers to show you. They’re one of our earliest blooming plants and they and many other interesting and unusual plants live here. For instance this is one of only two places I know of to find the rare dwarf ginseng.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a red clover blooming on this cold, cloudy day. If we were still in the days of heraldry when every family had a crest, this blossom would be a prominent part of mine because it is a plant that taught me to truly see. I found out, with nature’s help, that there is a huge difference between looking and seeing.  

I looked up the trunk of one of the old oaks that live here and saw what I expected. When even the oaks have bare branches winter is here, no matter what the calendar might say.

I found out where all the leaves were.

Actually not all of the leaves were in the pond. These were a beautiful spot of color.  

But this is what our forests look like now. One of the things I love about this time of year is how easy it is to read the landscape. All the stones and bones of the forest are there, easily seen. If you came through here in June, you’d hardly know that ridge in the distance was even there. That’s why if you want to really know a place it’s important to visit it again and again, at all times of year.

Beech leaves are still beautiful. It’s a tree that gives all year round.

Sometimes I imagine what a forest might be like without the decomposition that the wood eating fungi perform, but I don’t do it often. It’s not a pleasant thing to think of. We’d be up to our eyeballs in forest litter without them and this is one of the best places I know of to find fungi of all kinds doing their work.

According to The Gymnosperm Database spiral growth in trees can be right or left-handed, and a tree can reverse its spiral growth direction several times over its lifespan. While the article I’ve linked to is very interesting reading, the answer to why spiral growth happens in trees is left unanswered. There are many hypotheses but in the end it’s a mystery because nobody knows for sure. One of my favorite quotes by Nassim Nicholas Taleb tells us that “You find peace by coming to terms with what you don’t know.” I like to remember that occasionally (often) but in case you were wondering the right side of this log was the root end when it was a tree, so it spiraled to the left.

Bark beetles had been excavating egg laying cavities on this tree and had girdled it, and that had killed the tree. Once the connection between the roots and the crown is lost so is the tree.

Someone had put a mushroom on a log. It had nice color, and I loved the accordion like shape and texture of its gills.

Though the water in the pond wasn’t completely still, it was a good day for reflections.

When I was a teenager, I used to love to go and hear live bands play at the local high school, YMCA, and even right here in this park. Of course they were rock bands in the 60s and 70s, and it was all about psychedelics and expanding your consciousness. Back then a “light show” consisted of someone shaking a glass dish full of colored oil floating on water on an overhead projector, hopefully in time with the music. There were no lasers or strobes and this sheen floating on the surface of the pond reminded me of how simple things were then. Imagine loud rock and roll music and a light projecting this pulsing, colorful sheen on a screen in a darkened gymnasium and you’ll understand what the “concerts” of yore were like. Pink Floyd it wasn’t, but it sure beat watching The Dating Game on television.

In the summer nobody pays much attention to the ferns because there is just so much greenery to see, but at this time of year they are the only green thing to be seen, and they stand out. Some are evergreen and others can simply take a lot of cold before their fronds pass on. Marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) is an evergreen fern and one way to know you’ve found one is to see if the leaf blade is wider in the middle than it is on either end.

You also know that you’ve found a marginal wood fern if the spore cases (sori) are on the margins of the sub-leaflets as they are in this example. This fern is rather leathery and is often colored blue green, but not always.

I was surprised when I saw something dark among the moss growing on a stone. The dark bits were so small I couldn’t tell what they were by eye so I got out the macro camera, and it showed me that they were tiny dog lichens (Peltigera,) just starting life among the mosses. I’d guess that spores must have landed among the moss but that can’t be the whole story because spores account only for the fungal part of the lichen. To be a lichen there must also be an algal or cyanobacterial partner present because a lichen is a composite organism. In any event it was interesting to see the “birth” of a lichen.

NOTE: A knowledgeable friends tells me that this lichen is actually a blue  jellyskin lichen (Leptogium cyanescens.) It’s one I’ve never seen before so I’m excited that I found it and excited that I remember where it is so I can go back and see it. There are no veins on the underside of the lobes, which differentiates it from Peltigera lichens. I hope my mistake didn’t cause any confusion.

For no reason that I could see there is a chain around this tree. Eventually, as the tree grows, the chain will be in the tree. It will become part of the tree and some poor woodcutter in the future will find it the hard way. If you want to see something quite incredible just Google “Things found in trees.” Everything from bicycles to glass bottles to cannon balls have been found inside trees.

Someone had built a squirrel size hut. It’s a good sign that it is the children who rule this place.

If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows; the hills purify those who walk upon them.  ~Richard Jefferies

Thanks for coming by.

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I spent a large part of the day last Saturday raking leaves again. It wasn’t a great comfort, once I’d finished, looking up and seeing thousands of leaves still clinging to the two oak trees in my neighbor’s yard, (that would fall in my yard) but neither was it a surprise. 

I’ve learned over the years to make peace with the late falling oak leaves. After all, spring cleanup should always include raking the lawn, and a few scattered leaves on it aren’t going to matter in the grand scheme of things.  Even though it would be so much more convenient if all the trees dropped their leaves at the same time, why they don’t is part of nature’s plan.   

In the fall shortening day length tells most deciduous trees that it’s time to stop growing, so the tree forms a layer of waxy, corky cells at the base of each leaf. This is called an abscission layer, and it slows and finally stops the flow of sap to the leaf. Once the sap stops flowing to the leaves they lose chlorophyll and the reds, yellows and oranges that the green chlorophyll was hiding finally become visible. 

In some trees like oak (Quercus), beech (Fagus), and hornbeam (Carpinus) , this abscission layer forms much later, so even though the leaves might freeze dead and turn completely brown they still cling to the branches. Pin oaks (Quercus palustris) don’t form an abscission layer until spring, so their leaves stay on the tree all winter. This retention of dead leaves is known as marcescence. 

Nobody really seems to know for certain why trees retain dead leaves but some believe that one reason might be to ward off foraging moose, deer and other animals. Animals will eat the bud bearing twigs from the lower parts of older trees and from nearly all parts of younger trees. One theory says that they don’t like the taste or texture of the dead leaves so they stay away from the trees, which means the buds stay safe and can grow on.

 Another theory says that dead leaves clinging to the lower branches trap snow and ensure that the trees get plenty of water in the spring when it melts.  I’ve seen nature do some pretty amazing things, but this idea seems a little far fetched to me. What, I have to ask, if the tree is on a hillside-doesn’t all the water from the melting snow just run down hill? 

Even though we know how the leaves remain on certain trees, we don’t really know why, so I’ll view the “why don’t some leaves fall in the fall?” question as just another one of nature’s great mysteries. It will give me something to ponder as I rake more leaves today.

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