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Saturday, February 11, 2017






Saturday, 9:00 AM.  27 degrees F at the ferry dock, 26 on the back porch.  Wind NE, calm with light to moderate gusts.  The sky is overcast (as it was yesterday but cleared by mid-morning).  The humidity is 85%, the barometer 29,97" and rising slightly.  The week ahead is predicted to have temperatures in the twenties and thirties with partly cloudy skies and no snow.
   The Madeline Island Ferry will run all winter, it was announced yesterday, and pretty obviously there is little likelihood of there being an ice road, although ATV's and snowmobiles are crossing the channel.
   Bayfield's premier bed and breakfast, Chateau Boutin, has a charming gazebo used for weddings and other receptions.  About five years ago young European beech trees were planted around it, which have been kept trimmed as a hedge.  The hedge has done well, and is now about twelve feet high and perhaps half that wide.  It makes an excellent privacy hedge, as the young shoots, when kept clipped,  retain dried leaves all winter.  The Chateau is only a block from the lake, so it provides good habitat for the European beech, which needs high humidity to do well.
   The European beech, Fagus sylvatica, in the Beech Family (Fagaceae), is native to continental Europe as far east as the Balkans, north to Sweden and south in Spain.  It also occurs in the British isles.  It requires high humidity and ample  moisture, and a woodland soil with good drainage.  It is shade tolerant, and produces heavy shade.  It becomes a massive tree with age, and in its native habitat can grow to 160' in height and 5' in diameter.  It is very wide spreading and takes up so much room in the landscape it is suitable at maturity only for large parks and estates, but is a spectacular tree when properly situated.  There are numerous horticultural varieties of the species, including many with weeping habits and copper, purple and tri-colored leaves. Beech nuts are edible and highly valued.  A wide spreading, copper-leaved beech tree is the crowning attraction of many a grand old estate or landscape park in the eastern US.
   The American beech, Fagus grandifolia, (larger leaves) is native to the eastern US and southern Canada. It is a somewhat smaller tree than its European counterpart. It has outlier populations in northeastern Wisconsin, but needs higher humidity than is found to the west and south.  It grows in association with sugar maple and hemlock, and is a very shade tolerant, climax forest tree.  Like the European beech, it prefers rich bottom land soils, with ample moisture and good drainage.  Its smooth gray bark, dark green leaves and edible nuts render it an attractive, useful tree in locations where it will grow well. A more southern variety,  Fagus grandifolia mexicana, extends further south but is not usually considered a separate species.
  Beech wood is very dense, almost impossible to split by hand, and burns in the fireplace like anthracite coal.
  Beech tree bark is mostly smooth and light colored, and therefore a favorite surface, or canvas if you will, for inscriptions, such as a heart pierced with an arrow and the words "I love you" carved into it. Perfect for Valentine's Day.

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