What is it about trees that can make you stop and look?
Is it the sunlight on the trunks of yellow birch that catches your eye – the bark silvery-gold and curling? Or the smooth gray bark of beech – easy to look for scars from bear claws on this canvas. Or perhaps it is the rough platy bark of a shagbark hickory that intrigues you. No matter what catches you about a particular tree, your gaze inevitably follows the trunk up it’s base, and continues upward into the canopy where the branches are silhouetted against the sky. The beautiful spectacle prompts many questions: How old is it? What has it been through? Are there any animals up there?
Of course, trees with showy flowers – like magnolia, cherry, or crabapple – always grab our attention. But all our broadleaf trees also have flowers, so look a little closer for those that are not so conspicuous. Among the first to flower in the spring are the maples, a hint of color in the treetops. Look for red tassels on red maple (Acer rubrum) or silver maple (Acer saccharinum) or green on sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Norway maple (Acer platanoides) has larger yellow-green flowers. Take a closer look at these little bouquets; you can usually find clusters that have fallen to the ground.
A nice tree to look for in the spring is serviceberry, also known as shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis and A. arborea). Its delicate white flowers show up long before the other trees leaf out, so you can spot these trees more easily in spring than in the summer. There are also several shrub species of Amelanchier in NY State, all with similar flowers.
And later in the season, in May-June, look for the straight-as-a-pole tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) whose flowers look like yellow-green tulips!
Trees become a busy place in the spring too. Bees and other insects feed on the nectar and pollen of the flowers above. Woodpeckers search for insects under the bark and many animals hide out or make their home in tree cavities – bats, owls and other birds, raccoons, squirrels, and porcupines. Bears climb trees for safety and sometimes curl up in the base of big hollow trees. With all that activity, trees are a good place for wildlife watching, whether in your neighborhood or in a state park or historic site.
NY State Parks are home to countless beautiful trees. Look for many mature and outstanding trees around the mansions and other historic sites, at campgrounds and picnic areas, and in the forests that cover nearly 80% of State Park lands. Get out and enjoy the trees on Arbor Day – and every day – in your neighborhood and favorite parks.
Post by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program. Photos by NYNHP or other as noted; for use by permission only.