Nature Notes

New Things and Old Things

By Boak Wiesner

For the first time, I’m cycling around the Three Mile Loop. I think I’m going faster than when I drive it! And to think! – it’s March 5!

The Arboretum, titularly, is all about trees, so of course trees are on my mind. I used to work at a summer camp near here whose name was taken from a native expression about trees: that they are self-sufficient. The canopy of the forests around here consist mainly of Sugar Maples and Basswoods, with Red Oaks mixed in, where there’s been fire, plus many smaller understory trees like Ironwood.

Trees get holes in them on their way to dusty death, as it were, and all along this journey, animals can use them for bed and board. I check some holes I’m familiar with around the Wildflower Garden to see if any of the inhabitants are around – no such luck!

The hole now is where a branch used to be. Trees oftentimes decay in their inner layers before their outer ones. The inside section of the trunk is where xylem, the tube system through which water and dissolved nutrients are drawn up the tree, is the heartwood, and when this is decayed, it makes a snug cavity in which animals can live, if they can gain access. The outer area, where the xylem is still functioning, is the sapwood.

Any chewed branch is gushing maple sap right now which natives learned to boil down and make into sugar. Even dead trees provide nourishment for organisms as fungi digest up the cellulose for their own needs.

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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