Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Questions, questions, and a sowbug graveyard

I don't know enough about trees. With the leaves on, and a bit of help, I can usually recognize the more common ones. Without leaves, I'm struggling. It doesn't help that here in the lower mainland, the climate is so mild, and the gardeners so enthusiastic, that many of the trees around the homes and businesses are imported or hybridised. Even in the greenbelts, the newcomers are taking root. (See Huckleberry Days, for example.)

I take a photo of some bark, bring home a leaf or two, and compare them with my books. Sometimes, I find them right away, and there is no doubt about them. At others, well, is this bark like that, or like that? Or maybe like this one from China? Do the leaves match? Almost? Not at all?

This evening I got out all my tree books and leafed through them, looking for the latest find. No luck, at all.

What is this? It's a deciduous tree, not terribly big. There were no catkins nor budding leaves yet.

The other side of the same trunk. Elephant skin. Are these younger branches, coming up from below?

In a couple of spots where the bark has separated from the trunk, this red mass shows up. Is it the inner bark, or some fungus or slime?

Far too many questions.

Inside the trunk, we found a mini-habitat:

At several points around the trunk, where it seems that a branch must have broken off some time ago, there are deep holes.

The young branches have grown up around this one.

I blew my photos up to full size and took inventory. The wood at the top had a crumbly look to it; I could see worm tracks here and there. There may be a few woodpecker holes, but not many. (Compare it to Seabrooke's woodpecker tree.)

In the puddle at the bottom; dead leaves, a few twigs, some rectangular whitish things, and an earthworm (I think). Above that, in the damp; slimy green algae, looking uncannily like sea lettuce. Up at the top where it's dry; white slime (parchment, crust, dry rot?). And between the algae and the puddle; a few sowbug carcasses. They looked like spider frass; while we were at the tree, I looked for webs or spiders, but none were visible.

Another view of the same hole. See the sowbug graveyard?

Not the same hole. This one is dryer, and full of dead sowbugs. The edges of the plates are white, making the bugs look striped, possibly because of a fungal growth.

Those are the first sowbugs, dead or alive, I've seen around here since the cold weather started. Under the bark, though, no matter how it snows and blows, there is a modicum of warmth and moisture for assorted insect, worm and spider life.

On a tree a few feet away, moss and lichen grew. Different chemistry, different organisms. But there are probably sowbugs in the crevices there, too. And spiders. There are always spiders.

Leaf lichen and tiny moss.



  1. I dont know if this link will it uses leaf and fruit id.

    But being the geeky googler that you are you probably already know the best places to search.

  2. Thanks for the link. I hadn't seen that one. I like the practical way of clicking through to the result. But as you say, it doesn't mention bark.

    I've bookmarked it for when I have fruit and leaves.

  3. Those pictures are all so beautiful.Do the sow bugs winter kill from frost? (How are things?)

  4. Jean,
    I don't know if it's the frost that kills them. Probably, because their habitat is still green.

    We're doing ok. Slowing down some. Thanks for asking.

  5. I've always found winter trees to be beyond my level of patience. Except for the obvious ones like the conifers or birches or beech.

    It's interesting what you can spot if you stop to look closely. I don't think I've ever poked around inside a hollow trunk.

  6. Seabrooke,
    Even the conifers can be confusing; there are too many varieties and regional morphs.

    What's worse, is when a definitely deciduous tree wears a conifer's bark. Not fair!


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