A Little of What the Bark Says

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There are tomes to read in the forest. We read together a few stories from the forest floor not long ago, today we’re moving up in the world, looking at tree trunks, and more specifically bark.Barb Winter 2013 120

Remember the photo of the Pacific yew I posted? It’s a great illustration of how bark can help in tree identification. But, what if that bark is covered with greenery? Eh, don’t worry, still some good reading to be had.

Let me tell you the tale of the licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza). Those green fronds on the yew are the Pacific NW native – licorice fern. This fern grows primary on substrate other than soil: in moss, on rocks, on tree trunks and limbs.  It has a penchant for Big-leaf Maple (the tree in the top photo). I’ve not tried it, but they say that the fern’s rhizomes have a sweet licorice taste that soothes sore throats.

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Now, back to the bark. Douglas firs, or Dougies as I like to call them, have a distinctive creased and knurled bark. That bark is part of its protection against fire; it’s quite thick. But, ultimately the bark is no match for Thor’s fire. The scar running the length of this ancient tree not only testifies to the power of lightning but it tells a little about this tree’s situation. Perched on a knoll facing the prevailing path of many of the Willamette Valley’s thunderstorms (not that we have many), this patriarchal tree is also the tallest of its ilk and therefore a lightening rod. The tree survived the strike, continues to grow, a little maimed but in that injury it helps sustain other forest dwellers.

One of the creatures that benefits from the ooze is the Red-breasted Sapsucker, a type of woodpecker that sips sap from trees. Typically, it relies on bore holes it drills into the bark of trees; they drip and provide nourishment   The horizontal rows of holes in this younger Dougie (below) tell us the sapsucker has been at work. This is not necessarily a sign of a sickly tree, but over time those holes will provide pests access to the woody sanctum of the tree’s core. Those bugs will feed on the tree, but also be fed upon, perhaps by another woodpecker. And that my friends is perhaps the greatest story to find in the woods. It’s the story of the circle we all ride on during our journey here; the circle that links all things together.

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4 thoughts on “A Little of What the Bark Says

    • Thanks. It’s like learning a language isn’t it. There’s lots out there I can’t interpret but I have a basic vocabulary and it makes visiting the woods so much more fun.

      • I really enjoy delving into the micro ecosystems. We have so many hundreds of species of ants (for example), and mostly they are ignored. But they are so strong and really fascinating to watch!

      • Oh, then you must be a fan of E. O. Wilson!? I spent several days in the desert last week and several hours were allotted to watching ants – even after sundown!

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