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Changing Trees Along the Salish Sea

Along the inland shore of the Salish Sea, red alder catkins are now expressing, dancing according to time of errant breezes throughout disturbed, wet, and clayey landscapes. Though dead leaves have still not left all the introduced oaks, both paper birch and the western beaked hazelnut may have surprised the casual observer this month with pendulous, red, or pale-greenish catkins providing accents to the landscape.

From these reproductive structures, clouds of pollen rise in light winds when they can dry out between fogs and a scattering of rain. Roots of our native hazelnut or ‘filbert’ go deep and on steep, partially forested slopes, are often interspersed with ocean spray clumps as surviving prominences where surrounding soils are eroded away faster.

Evidence of holding strength are the limits of small landslides, which slough off regularly from glacial-origin banks, are demarked often by clumps of these plants. While the evergreen trees’ boughs are wracked in winter storms, slender trunks and branches of these deciduous edge trees always tell the direction of strong winds but show much fewer negative effects of ‘sail’ forces acting against weak spots and joins to produce damage.

However, as leaves begin to open nearer the beginning of spring, expect storms to bring down tree parts broken or stressed during last year’s storms, being now soaked and frozen during the cold spells of winter creating more weakness through expansion of volume during water’s phase change of liquid to solid. Trees going through active minimization or “retrenchment” have already lost weaker pieces in wind events but as sap fills bole, limb, and leaf cells in spring, other less weakened parts now have gravity and leverage increasing as factors towards possible failure.

Once realizing a tree is going through “retrenchment”, the homeowner or tree manager has the option of leaving parts shunted to die to fail naturally during strong weather events, or to proactively remove the obviously failing (seen by extreme ‘flagging’ of needle density and full-needle death) outer parts. A smaller stature tree more able to deal with stressors such as lack of water or heat is the hoped-for end result of this resilient decline process.

Sap flow in paper birch and big leaf maple trees is like water and slightly sweet. At least one account relays that early homesteaders along Hood Canal made syrup and called the big leaf maple our “sugar maple”. Like farming bees, portioned amounts of this precious resource can be utilized by humans in early spring for syrup making though much more sap is required to equal the same amount of syrup as the ‘eastern’ sugar maple. 

Yours in trees,


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