Look! Up in the Trees! It’s a Leaf! It’s a Squirrel! It’s …. a Turkey?

By Greg Lecker

This morning, a stiff breeze directed my attention to sense its origin.  Instead I found a gray squirrel in a crabapple tree.

Gray Squirrel Amid CrabapplesGray Squirrel Amid Crabapples

Searching further, I spot a larger object in an adjacent tree – a wild turkey that also appeared to be harvesting crabapples.  Walking along, I counted the number of birds in two large flocks of wild turkey:  more than twenty on one side of the roadway, and fifteen on the other side of the roadway.  Several turkeys had been resting in a pine tree.  I managed to photograph one as it walked down a branch and then half jumped and half flew down to join other birds on the ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATurkeys – in Trees and on the Ground

Further along the roadway, I found a tamarack tree with limbs dangling almost down into a frozen pool of water connecting the Iris Pond to Green Heron Pond.  Because these are deciduous conifers, the trees can look uncomfortably gangly during the winter. The cones of the tree are little spheres made of overlapping scales.

Tamarack Cones and Icy PoolTamarack Cones and Icy Pool 

Although occasionally they can be found on upland loamy soils, Tamaracks prefer moist to wet peat bogs or swamps – conditions present here and along the bog boardwalk on the opposite end of Green Heron Pond.   Tamarack trees prefer full sun and are fairly intolerant of shade.   One of the northern-most trees, Tamaracks are a useful ornamental for cold climates, and certainly a conversation piece.  The bark is dark, and flakes off in small scales. The cones are small round and tan, and borne on short stalks.  The seeds, needles and inner bark are eaten by grouse, red squirrel, porcupine and deer.

Within the woodland, persistent leaves rustle against tree twigs.  Growing in the persistently damp soil alongside a woodland pool and the ravine stream, the tree is swamp white oak – also known as bicolor white oak.

Swamp White Oak LeavesSwamp White Oak Leaves  

Swamp white oak leaves are 4-7” long with rounded lobes, sinuses and tips.  In summer, leaves are medium and glossy green on top and silvery green underneath (courtesy numerous white hairs), hence the name “Bicolor”.  In fall and winter, the leaves are orange brown.Swamp White Oak is tolerant of heavy, poor drained soils and drought conditions.  Where naturally occurring, Swamp White Oak prefers moist soils such as river bottoms and wetland edges, where it is fast growing, and especially fast sprouting from the acorns that fall in late summer or early fall.   New growth – now that’s a welcome thought at this time of year!

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.


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