Thursday, April 12, 2012

European larch and a Crow's Nest

What: I've been watching the tamaracks (these are European Larch, Larix decidua) from a distance emerge into spring with this odd yellowish color. These little spur shoots have stacks of rings indicating previous year's growth.

Ecological notes: I climbed the tree to take a photo of the storm clouds dropping rain to the east over the Green Mountains. This patch of 3 larches are part of a larger plantation of trees adjacent to Centennial Field. As such they've got great lower limbs for climbing. I boosted myself up an all too healthy buckthorn and took these photos about 40' up one of the larches. The wind wasn't even that strong today but still made me uneasy - life in the sun ain't that easy (see video for a poor attempt to capture what caused my uneasiness). After about 20 minutes the two crows that I'd seen yesterday with nesting materials flew over and made a ruckus. With my arms hugging the bole like a frightened koala I twisted my head to watch them dip acrobatically down into the valley below. As the crows disappeared I spotted an old nest!! Or a new nest?!

Larch branches seem to break quite readily. In fact the whole tree has this appearance of someone who barely made it out of bed. Snapped branches litter the lower limbs, latent buds burst from every fissure on the bark, the bark turns a dead scraggly gray and flakes readily, and the new growth is a sickly grayish white. Yet it maintains it's own elegance (though certainly, at least to me, this peaks in the fall when it, unique among conifers, drops its needles. And so the crows' shabby little nest blended in perfectly with the dishelved backdrop. But again my mind wandered to the wind. On the edge the trees were like sails, and would be worse once the leaves fully emerged. Crows obviously don't get motion sickness. But imagine the nestlings - in a nest that barely has sides to it - perched up there in a good wind storm.

Where: Most of the larch in the Champlain Valley are plantation European varieties, these being no exception. There's one other European larch that I know of in Centennial Woods and it's a bit bigger than these - though I don't know exactly how old they are.

Other notes: I've found my desire to want to know challenged by my want to experience. While driving home tonight, the sunset was beautiful, and I thought of stopping at Overlook Park and snapping a photo, but didn't. I couldn't imagine trying to explain away the pink fire swallowing the horizon with the physics of light scattering.

And I started this blog in part to confront much of the misinformation about natural history (or at least plagiarism) rampant on the internet. One source quotes an esoteric piece of information from another source and then another source quotes the second, changes the text a bit, drops the citation, posts it and this gets reposted and changed to suit the new author's needs. Pretty quickly the initial attribution is dropped and nobody really knows the original source. Take the etymology of Tamarack (and alias for Larch, more properly applied to L. laricina, our native larch). Tamarack is supposedly a bastardized version of hackmatack, the Abenaki word for "wood good for snowshoes." In this case the original source is Charlotte Erichsen-Brown's 1979 book Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants, and even she doesn't cite her source (I don't have access to Gordon Day's Abenaki Dictionary so I can't verify this).

So now everyone can run around and say, Oh yeah, larch is great for making snow shoes without having actually tried. Hopefully most of what you'll read here is less recapitulation of other people's speculation and more (mis)information that at least comes from first-hand experience.

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