Sunday, December 5, 2010

Learning from trees.

Winter is a fabulous time to practice plant identification. Studying trees in their starkest form is a great way to focus on important features like bark, buds and seed.

But there are clues we can also take from nature- such as usage and animal preference. Sometimes birds or mammals can lead us to some surprising revelations. For example this tree trunk:

On a recent hike, our party's first impression of this tree was noting the damage at the base. It looked healthy above, but its deep furrowed bark had been peeled away- leaving some rather nasty gouges in the wood. Studying that bark, and looking on further to large swollen buds, started to bring our puzzle pieces together.

This majestic tree was standing along the beautiful Clear Fork River, one of the feeders to the Mohican River and both local reservoirs: Pleasant Hill in Loudonville and the Clear Fork in Lexington. I noted the tree's humongous size and shape would be conducive to Bald Eagle nesting. Perfect habitat, perfect location.

Nearby we found a mudslide. A good sized beastie had been using this for entrance to the crystal waters babbling past the snowy shore. But how can that help us identify this tree as a Cottonwood?

Too soft to be utilised as lumber or fuel, cottonwood is considered a "junk" tree to many Ohioans, but many species of wildlife would disagree. Beavers love the tasty buds and bark! Our girdled tree and mudslide points to an active beaver community in this secluded portion of the Butler, Ohio backwoods.

Beaver are well deserving of our admiration and praise. I know a former EPA employee that says the beaver is the most efficient engineer of diverse and productive wetlands, and joking said he may raise them in his retirement. Their networks of ponds and dams played a tremendous role in the history of Ohio. Not only other wildlife benefit from their engineering, their pelts were greatly sought after by both Native Americans (see Beaver Wars) and French Trappers supplying an endless craving for their pelts used in hat making.

I have the greatest admiration for their renewed populations working back into the streams and ponds of Ohio, knowing they create habitat for many species. But I worry that many will not greet them with my enthusiasm. Recently a dead beaver was found in Richland county off the Orweiler Road wetland, poached- probably due to fear of creating flooding.

Man has the uncanny ability to dominate habitat and the wildlife there in, often without an understanding of the delicate balance at play. Our actions have changed the natural balance and left us at odds with a species that once created much of Ohio's once abundant wetlands. Our agriculture based society has a hard time appreciating the diversity supported by two of Ohio's original cohabitants- the Cottonwood and Beaver.


  1. Amazing wetland creators, they are, certainly. I have hope for beavers- They're now pretty common in the Olentangy River in Columbus- I've even seen one just below the 5th avenue bridge just south of the OSU campus. I have not been able to get a good photograph of one however- great shot Cheryl!


  2. I have been enjoying this truly delightful blog. You manage to capture the moment in your pictures and your knowledge of your subjects is so informative.
    This site is the Featured Site of the Week at Nature Center magazine.

    Emma Springfield

  3. Thanks Tom-
    My photography is never as polished or professional as yours- it is more about being lucky! I just happened to be at the right place, at the right time.

    -Emma re:Featured Site of the Week
    Thank you for this honor! It is my pleasure to share a few photos and some of the fun I have out in the field. Thanks for stopping by the Weedpicker's Journal.

  4. I went back through July and was amazed at your posts. You might look over the curriculum offered here in Iowa at Lakeside Laboratory to see if you could work or would want to join a class. They work primarily with prairie and wetland projects.It is an amazing place to be part of.