Category Archives: Trees

Whorled Affairs

Hemlock Branch
Detached Hemlock Branch

In the 1980’s, almost all of the Eastern Hemlocks in Westwoods died from the Woolley Adelgid disease, leaving what appear to be medieval weapons strewn about on the forest floor. These bludgeons are Hemlock branches with tapering concentric rings on the insertion end. When the branches are still attached to the mother bole, they remind me of sculptures.

Why do they taper like this? I asked my go-to tree person, David Zuckerman, who is a Horticulture Manager at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle and also my brother-in-law (read David’s blog about Hobbit Trees). This extra wood, called a collar, is laid down by the trunk to give the branches more support. David sent me a research paper by Alex Shigo, who is known in some circles as the “father of modern arboriculture.” Shigo’s diagrams indicate that Hemlock branches have thicker collars than most other species due to having a core of hard resin.

Hemlock Branch
Whorled Hemlock Branch
Whorled Hemlock Branch
Whorled Hemlock Branch
Winged Victory of Samothrace
Winged Victory of Samothrace
Nkondi Nail Fetish
Nkondi Nail Fetish

Holding on until Spring

Marcescent Beech Tree
Marcescent Beech Tree

Here in the Northeast, many of us experience a strong feeling of protest, an internal voice that shouts “No!” when the deciduous trees are about to lose their last leaves. Well, some leafy trees do keep their leaves until spring! There’s even a special word to describe this tenacious holding onto living plant material through the winter — marcescence.

For years, I didn’t appreciate the tan papery leaves on Beech trees that flutter throughout the winter because I assumed they were a sign that the trees were dead. One year, it dawned on me that the parched leaves appeared winter after winter on the same trees. They had to fall off at some point to allow for the new leaves, but when? I watched as they held on through heavy snowfall, frost, ice storms, and gusty winds. It was February, then March, then April… suddenly there were new green leaves; I had missed the transition!

It’s weird that I am happier about winter now that I know there is such a thing as marcescence. Even though the trees were there before, I didn’t appreciate how their leaves make a crinkly sound in the wind, glow when backlit by sunlight, and add color (believe me, even tan stands out) in the forest in winter.

Beech Tree Leaves Holding on in Winter
Beech Leaves Holding On

Revelation in a Piece of Wood

Slice of Spalted Wood
Spalted wood from a sawn tree.

This sliver of maple wood cut from a tree that fell over the Red Rectangle Trail looks like a map of some unfamiliar world so I was surprised to learn that it is exactly that. The squiggly black lines superimposed on the circular growth rings look like meandering rivers. Known as zone lines, they mark territorial boundaries between species of fungi competing for the dead wood. I felt a little sad to learn about this self-serving behavior of micro-organisms. The sadness made me realize that, even though I swear I never thought about it, I had assumed that fungi would share.

For more information on this process known as spalting, visit the Woodland Trust website or meet “Dr. Spalting” herself.