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Categorized | Outdoors

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ephemeral sap sickles

The sweet taste of sap sickles is here. I have been watching and saw one hanging from a tree branch higher than I could reach. By 2 p.m., I saw a string of them on the sugar maple branch where I hang suet. I could not resist tasting one. It was a cloudy 25o F day. Despite the cold and lack of bright sun, the sap is flowing. I looked to see if silver maple buds are swelling and they were. Silver maple is one of the first to show ballooning buds. Protective scales will not open and allow flowers to bloom for some time yet.

When looking at silver maple buds, it is possible to recognized flower buds from leaf buds based on size and roundness. The flower buds are more robust than new twig and leaf buds. Trees grow new leave, flower, and twig tissue in summer and fall. The tissues remain embryonic and contained within protective bud scales all winter. Bud scales protect delicate tissue from desiccation and mechanical damage. The tissue waits for spring or it would be killed by winter’s drying sun and air if not protected by tightly overlapping scales. Winter winds that thrust branches against one another would damage or kill unprotected embryonic growth. Some trees and shrubs are able to keep their new growth tissue alive without bud scales. Witch hazel and bitternut hickory do not have protective scales. Instead the new curled leaves are exposed. Because they contain little moisture they are able to survive the winter and are tough enough to survive mechanical damage.

sapDuring winter, water is kept from the new tissues and repeated freeze/thaw does not cause expanding ice water to pop cell membranes. With the nearing of spring, sap begins flowing and causes buds to swell. Any March day now, we might expect fuzzy tissues of willow buds to become visible as they push back the single scale that has covered them all winter. Watching for the first pussy willows builds excitement for the coming pageant of spring ephemerals. Training your eye to watch for early signs of spring brings you closer to nature.

Like all worthwhile endeavors, it takes work to build a meaningful relationship. The work can be pleasurable and healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We hear about nature deficit disorder showing itself through depression, lowered school and work productivity, and human body stress symptoms. Do your family a favor and spend time outdoors several times a week enjoying nature niches. Out door activities like snowmobiling, downhill skiing, and ice-skating are great but they do not provide the same connections with nature, as will other activities. Consider cross-country skiing, quiet winter hikes, sitting still in ice shanty fishing or just watching the fish below, and bird watching through the window or better yet on a walk.

Hunters know the peace and rejuvenation that results from sitting in the woods watching. Many if not most get their greatest pleasure during the wait while watching the world around them activate. It is hard to find a hunter that does not have stories of wildlife coming up to them as they patiently wait. My brother once had a deer come up from behind him and smelled his shoulder. Shooting wildlife seems to become less and less important as one ages while observing the wonders of nature seems to become more and more important.

It is important to spend time outdoors actually interacting and connecting with nature. It improves physical and psychological wellbeing. Thrill sports, like downhill skiing, tone our muscles but still keep us isolated from nature niches that whiz by too fast to comprehend. Take time to experience sap sickles and nature.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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