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Tag Archive | "white pine"

365 days of new


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

New sightings, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch are waiting for you to experience. Do not miss the opportunity to explore nature niches everyday. Spend a few minutes outside reaping at least one newness each day. Do not make a resolution that you will not keep. Instead, find something new for this year and savor it as the special.

The White Pine tree is the only pine with five needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Photo from www.bates.edu.

The White Pine tree is the only pine with five needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Photo from www.bates.edu.

It might be most rewarding to discover something you have not noticed previously but relish things you have known and find new joy in experiencing them this year. You might know Black-capped Chickadees but enjoy them anew this year. Look closely at a tree branch in your yard to notice buds. Can you count the small bud scales that cover the bud during these cold winter months? Some trees like the Bitternut Hickory do not have protective scales over the embryonic leaf and stem tissues. Two small leaves tightly crumple as protective covers over the inner tissues. Willows have a single scale over next spring’s new growth. Oaks have several sturdy scales covering the nearly microscopic leaves and stems within.

Make it simple and enjoy things you want to explore. Continue to make new discoveries for 365 days. The year has already progressed a few days. There will be days without observations so catch up by making more discoveries on other days. Keep a list of new experiences daily. You can keep track what you have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt. It is good to list date, location, time, and observation. Look over your list once in a while to refresh your memory and relive the experience. This can be the beginning of nature journaling.

Walk with a friend on the White Pine trail. Avoid being so engrossed in conversation that you miss the natural world. Stop along the trail and use your senses. Share a discovery with your friend. It might be as simple as pointing out the sound of an American Crow. You might take notice of how many pine needles are held together in a cluster. White Pines have 5 needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Each needle is shaped like a cut piece of pie. Two sides are straight and meet at the inner point. The outer edge is curved like that of a pie. Run your fingers from the base to tip and notice they all fit together like a freshly cut pie. I contend this is a pine tree’s version of the compound leaf.

I have never heard of needle clusters being referred to as compound leaves but each cluster is one needle-like leaf divided into five parts. When spread apart they make it possible to capture more sunlight for photosynthesis. Red Pines, Jack Pines, and Scotch Pines have two needles in a cluster that fit together like two half moons. Spruce and firs have one needle attached directly to the branch.

Feel tree trunks to notice different bark textures. Do some feel smooth or rough, furrowed up and down or crosswise? Do trees have different bark colors?

When looking at birds in flight, are wings long and narrow, short and wide, light or dark? Are tails longer or shorter than wings?

Be cautious with tasting but bite into a cherry twig and describe the taste. Try tasting a Sassafras twig. Find a White Oak acorn and taste it. Do the same with a Red Oak acorn. It is good to have a bottle of water with you just in case you do not like a taste and want to rinse your mouth. You might discover why deer have preferences for what they eat. Smell each item to discover new pleasant or unpleasant smells.

Rather than isolate yourself from nature when outside with music coming through ear plugs or by being totally engrossed in conservation, put the ear plugs away for a few minutes or cease talking for a few hundred feet. Stop at a random location for a short time to experience the surroundings. Introduce a friend to a nature’s wonderful world. Turn New Year outdoor experiences into meaningful conversations full of newness.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments (0)

Dying Pines


This photo shows normal fall needle drop in a white pine tree. Photo from purdue.edu.

This photo shows normal fall needle drop in a white pine tree. Photo from purdue.edu.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

During fall, people notice pine trees dying. They become concerned about what unexpected fungal blight or insect infestation is killing trees. Events occur in our neighborhoods that generally escape notice and then suddenly capture our attention.

Broad-leaved trees like maples, cherries, and aspens drop their leaves each fall and stand naked all winter in wait for the spring growing season. Losing leaves helps them avoid structural damage that would occur from the weight of snow or ice that would get caught on leaves during the winter. The weight would snap branches. If the trees maintain their large leaves during winter, they would fail. Frozen water in leaves would burst cell membranes causing leaves to die.

In our yards and in wild places over yonder during fall, one is likely to see massive brown needles on pines. This is very noticeable for our State Tree, the White Pine. People contact me inquiring what is wrong that trees are dying. In most cases I reassure nothing is wrong and the trees are healthy. It is normal for needles that are three years old to die. Younger needles closer to the branch tip remain green and healthy.

The older needles away from the tip wear out from old age. They are also tucked farther back into the tree instead of being more exposed to sunlight. Look at pine branches to notice the brown needles are clustered away from the branch tip. Closer to the tree trunk notice that there are no needles. In previous years the bare branch held needles. Each year as the branch extends new growth with fresh needles, old needles die at the inner portion during fall.

A layer of needles builds annually under pines, where pine pitch helps prevent their decay. Usually a thick duff of pine needles is found under the trees in wild nature niches. Yard needles are often removed.

How is it that pine needles avoid frost damage that would kill broad-leaved tree foliage? One advantage is pine pitch helps prevent frost damage by lowering the freezing temperature like antifreeze. Needles also contain sugar that functions like antifreeze. That only works to a limited point and then water in the cells would freeze and burst cell membranes causing the needles to be killed.

To survive very cold weather, water must be mostly removed from the needles. Trees transport water from needles and branches to roots in a similar manner to broad-leaved trees where sugar and nutrients are stored. Living needles that did not turn brown in fall cling to life throughout the winter but are mostly dormant.

During a warm sunny spell in midwinter, green needles are warmed and become active. This is dangerous for the needles and tree. The needles produce sugar by photosynthesis where they combine carbon dioxide and water in the presence of sunlight energy.

The winter needles contain little water and that helps prevent frost damage. Unfortunately, using the limited amount of water can dehydrate the needle to the point of death during photosynthesis. The trees are unable to ship needed water from the cold ground unless the soil temperature is above 40 F. The needles in warm air and sunlight make the effort to produce sugar but instead die from lack of water for completing the process.

What were healthy needles in late fall become victims of “winter burn.” The winter burn might only affect some needles on the tree but some years I have seen entire trees “burned” to the point that it causes tree death. Living is not easy but brown needles on pines in fall is usually not a sign of stress or tree death.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

Posted in Featured, Outdoors, Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments (0)


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