Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Silver Maple Story

Low: 29°F
High: 42°F
Conditions: Mostly cloudy with flurries.
A college campus is a great place to be a dog: there are plenty of friendly undergraduates, many of whom desperately miss their own canine companions, ready to say hello and fawn over your soft fur and even softer ears.
It’s also a great place to be a caninaturalist, especially if your human lets you come along for lab work in the field.
Recently, Ari and I ventured out with members of one of our seminars on an investigative field trip of sorts. We’ve been studying climate change and the ways in which ecosystems respond to changes in precipitation and weather. We’ve read great books, like Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers, and watched some really compelling films, like Between the Tides. But this was all in the classroom.
To show us firsthand, our favorite naturalist Dave Potter took us out to a very special forest near campus.

This may look like any other stand of trees, but it’s actually quite unique and is comprised almost entirely by silver maples (Acer saccharinum), so called because of their lighter bark and leaves.

Silver maples love wet, soupy areas, so it's not a surprise that they favor places like this one, which floods each spring and stays pretty marshy even in the dryest of seasons:

Incidentally, canine naturalists also prefer this kind of habitat, as evinced in this investigative action shot:

So we shouldn't have been surprised to find a muddy, blue-eyed dog having a good time there. And, on the surface anyway, it might not have seemed all that interesting to find some lovely silver maples there, too. But here's the thing: silver maples don't really grow in Maine--at least, not in a stand of trees all their own. Our guru Potter says that this is the only such forest he knows of in Northern New England.
Dave isn't entirely certain why these trees are not only living, but thriving here. But he does have a few guesses. One is because this area borders a body of water called Sandy Stream, a floodplain built by the last series of glaciers. The giant wall of ice cut a rivulet between our local lake and a larger river. What makes Sandy Stream pretty extraordinary is that it is entirely controlled by these two bodies of water: sometimes, the river backs up and pushes its water and debris into Sandy Stream; other times, the lake drains out, bringing sand and its own unique fluid down this way. As a result (and over the millenia), it's created an utterly beguiling ecosystem--and one capable of hosting some pretty sturdy trees.
We learned from Dave that silver maples support a lot of moss on their trunks, which can be a pretty good thing in a climate as unforgiving as ours.
But look at this tree:
It's wearing a moss bikini. Not because they are incredibly stylish, mind you, but rather because the moss is stripped away each spring as the area floods and then freezes. As the water levels shift, the ice moves up and down, ultimately shaving off the moss (and some of the tree) each season.
The silver maple is one of the only trees that can tolerate this kind of treatment, not to mention the constant oozing wetness of the soil. And they are living proof, says Potter, of 15,000 years of gradually changing climate. But if that change becomes more rapid and increases our rainfall, not even these sturdy trees will be able to withstand this kind of rude climatological handling.
We learned a lot on this outing. And we're still processing quite a bit of it. But at least one of us feels much smarter for the trip. Can't you just see it in her eyes?


YD's a little bit of everything place said...

Ari, you looked like you had a grrreat time!
We like going to work with mommy too but she couldn't do it too often.
Please let your human know that our mom said this post is very educational and thanks.

Khyra The Siberian Husky said...

Once again, Ari looks simply beaWOOOOtiful!

Tank woo fur the arbor lesson!


umekotyan said...

Good evening Ari.
The leaf of the maple is beautiful.
Nature beautifully scatters ground a lot of leaves, and the cleaning is serious.
However, the falling leaf makes the productive land.
And, the omission of the moss is an interesting product of nature.
The enjoyment of the stroll taking care about the cold of the marsh. :)

from loved ume tyan

Steve, Kat, & Wilbur said...

Whoa, you got to go swimming in a swamp? That's really cool.

We have lots of moss up here, but I haven't seen any swamps. Just moss growing in the yard and on the trees.


Ferndoggle said...

Mom gets really into leaves this time of year. She makes me take a billion pictures with them b/c I'm so handsome. We have tons of moss around our yard...but it hasn't turned into a swamp yet!


Kathiesbirds said...

Fascinating read! I love the moss bikini! Why don't silver maples live anywhere else in Maine?

YourFireAnt said...

Fascinating post, Kathryn, just fascinating. I always learn something when I read you, and enjoy the writing at the same time.

And of course those heart-melting blue eyes too.


The Army of Four said...

Beautiful trees! In our yard, we have a Japanese Maple and two Amur Maples - as far as Maples go. They are really pretty. I like the Amur ones best, since the Amur River runs through Siberia. :)

Naturegirl said...

Kathryn and Ari: I've missed coming by in some time..I was away travelling and just lost touch but through Kathies blog I have found your two once again!
Congrats on recieving Kathies award!!
Whoo Hoo...Ari I have missed seeing your gorgeous blue eyes! Hugs NG