Nature Notes

Making Tracks – Marking Tracks

Birch trees stand out from among the rest of the forest especially during the winter.

COVID-19 Update: All members and visitors need to make a reservation in advance of their visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Find updates and information here.

By Greg Lecker

Snowshoe tracks ring Green Heron Pond:  and I see numerous visitors carrying their rental snowshoes up and down Three-Mile Drive between the Visitor Center rental counter and the snowshoe trails. December snows have provided perfect conditions for at least several weeks.  I make a mental note to schedule time for renting snowshoes for my next visit.

Snowshoe Tracks

With my eyes, I follow the snowshoe tracks toward the opposite side of Green Heron Pond, There grow deciduous tamarack and evergreen white cedar:  one leafless; the other bearing flat sprays of needles. Compared with the white cedar (arborvitae) ringing Iris Pond, these cedar have a bit thinner foliage — growing as they are in the partial shade of the tamaracks and maples on the south side of the pond.

Tamarack and White Cedar

Shapes and “tracks” help one to identify trees – especially in the winter.  Birch trees stand out from among the rest of the forest especially during the winter.  Their white bark – stark, but marked in black – mimics the white snow and sky AND the dark trunks of the forest. The more numerous thin horizontal lines are lenticels. 

Birch Markings

Lenticels are porous tissue that allows exchange of gases between the tree’s interior and the atmosphere through the tree’s otherwise impervious and waterproof bark. The larger black markings are scars from shed branches. But I prefer the poetry of the Native American origin story.  The winged-shaped scars are marks left by angry birds – specifically Thunder-birds that retaliate against Naniboujou, a powerful spirit (and namesake of the Grand Marais, MN Lake Superior lodge). Explore the legend in an internet search here. Further along the path, I find the “well-behaved” linden and the wild oak!

Linden and Oak

Seen – but “not heard” in the background, linden – also called basswood – trees have crowns that appear trimmed into soft triangles or ovals. The oak wears its age in its irregular and twisting limbs stretching even towards the ground!

There’s one bright side of the pandemic on this dim day (seemingly cloudier by the minute).  Crews are now clearing and sanding the entire Three-Mile Walk – and it offers a different winter perspective than Three-Mile Drive. Now, I’ve walked the trails outside of the winter season; AND I’ve walked the drive in the winter. (Editor’s Note: Three-Mile Drive is open to vehicles and bicycles this winter, and Three-Mile Walk is open to walkers.) But until today, I haven’t walked much of the trails during the winter – with good reason.  There’s usually plenty of snow.  But, now – with every twist in the path I turn to enjoy another peek to a distant vista viewed through the leafless forest.  That is except through the thick black Austrian pine grove!  

Black Austrian Pine Grove

Black is an appropriate adjective to describe Austrian Pine.  The grove is dark and deep and blocks even the wind – offering protection for the bird feeder nestled within the densely planted trunks.

A different type of mark making is on exhibit in the Reedy Gallery of the Visitor Center – graffiti art – check out “Breakout Creations: DASKARONE – Art of Graffiti.” Make tracks to the Arboretum – Expect the Unexpected!

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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