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Thursday, February 18, 2016



Thursday,  8:00 AM.  22 degrees F at the ferry dock, 20 on the back porch.  Wind variable, calm.  The sky is mostly overcast  The humidity is 67% and the barometer is 30.2" and falling, predicting rain showers tomorrow, when temperatures will be in the thirties.  The ferry was still struggling through the channel at 7:30 this morning.
   Even short-lived trees such as paper birch have fairly long lives (perhaps fifty years or more under good conditions in nature).  Many trees are very long lived, such as white oaks, that can live hundreds of years, or some species of conifers that may live thousands of years.  Sugar maple, Acer sacharum, is moderately long-lived, perhaps two hundred and fifty years in nature.  
   The tree pictured is a sugar maple perhaps thirty or forty years old, still quite young, not even middle-aged for its species.  It is perfectly shaped for its stage in life, having had a terminal leader for a number of years before it started to develop several co-dominant trunks.  To my knowledge it was never pruned and never suffered any significant damage due to accident, disease, insects or birds.  It has not been overly crowded by other trees or shrubs.  
   In short, it has led a charmed life that is reflected in its beautiful appearance, whether in leaf or dormant.  It will change in shape as it matures, its canopy spreading and its branches beginning to grow so tightly together in such a narrow "V" that the bark becomes included and the branching structure weakened.  That tendency of sugar maples to have a weak branching structure as they grow older is one of the real problems with maples grown in a city street environment.  In Bayfield we regularly have sugar maples that literally fall apart due to a weak branching structure when eighty or more years old.
   But for the present at least, this tree is a "Perfect Ten;" healthy, beautiful and structurally sound.  That said, it is unwise to over-plant any species or variety of tree, particularly in an urban environment.  As a society, should have learned that lesson with Dutch elm disease, but then we over-planted ash trees, which of course are being decimated by the emerald ash borer. Neither should we over-plant a given species or variety of tree because of one feature or aspect of its life history that we admire.  Hybrid red maples, such as 'Autumn Blaze' come to mind, as do varieties of ornamental pear that may look fabulous until a bad ice storm strikes and they disintegrate before our eyes.
   Speaking of sugar maples, it will soon be maple sugaring time.  One of the true mysteries of trees is why some have a sap flow when dormant (maples, birch, a few others) and most others don't.  Or, for that mater, why some species have a sugary sap (maple, birch) and others don't. 
   In any case, maples need to be monitored carefully to determine when to tap them to get a decent sap flow.  It is very difficult to be the absentee owner of a "sugar bush" (a maple woods where trees are tapped for their sap) as proper conditions for good sap flow can be quite local.  Cold nights below freezing followed by warm sunny days typically produce a good run of sap.  Judicious tapping of trees over 6" in diameter does the trees no harm as long as the tap holes heal over well before the next sugaring season, which they generally do.

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