These are a few of my favorite trees

Adrian Thysse recently posted a video of a talk by Wayne Maddison titled “Jumping Spider Melodies,” given November 2012 at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of Canada and the Entomological Society of Alberta. It was a fascinating talk that revealed some interesting correlations between the phylogeny and geographical patterns of distribution of jumping spiders—those bright-eyed, bouncy, almost kitten-like darlings of the spider world. One quote from the talk, however, that stood out for me above all others went something like “Scientists have a rational motivation to seek truth and an emotional motivation to seek beauty.” I think this is true especially for biologists and natural historians—who among us that studies that natural world in adulthood didn’t start out with a love of the outdoors as a child? For me it was the woods that ignited my passion, and still today nothing rejuvenates my spirit like the overwhelming beauty and solitude of the forest.

Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) | Wayne Co., Missouri

Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) | Wayne Co., Missouri

Wintertime especially is when I enjoy my visits to the forest. Far from the cacophony of summer, my mind is free to explore the open canopy, to examine the fabric of the landscape and ponder its history—unhurried, without objective. During the summer, trees are host plants—I see them not for what they are, but for the beetles that might be on them. I identify them, sample them, assess them for where their guests might be. In winter though, without beating sheet in hand, without collecting vials in the pocket, I see trees as works of art—freed from their summer cloaks, living skeletons on a living landscape.

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) | Wayne Co., Missouri

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)

Different trees are my favorite at different times for different reasons. Blazing hot orange sugar maples (Acer saccharum) at peak fall color, stately white oaks (Quercus alba) with their ash-gray branches, broad-crowned post oaks (Quercus stellata) dotting a remnant savanna, or even gnarled, ancient red-cedars (Juniperus virginiana) clinging tenuously to life on the edge of a dolomite bluff. Most often for me, however, the beauty is in the bark. The deeply fissured, reddish plates of shortleaf pine (Pinus echninata), the terrifyingly thorned trunks of honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), the shaggy, peeling strips of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata). Even in their winter nakedness, the bark of these trees gives them year-round personality that is lacking in lesser-barked trees.

Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) | Wayne Co., Missouri

Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) - thornless individual | Wayne Co., Missouri

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) – thornless individual

The tree in this post were photographed during November 2012 while hiking the Wappapello Section of the Ozark Trail in the Ozark Highlands of southeastern Missouri (Wayne Co.). 

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

6 thoughts on “These are a few of my favorite trees

  1. I really enjoy the open jack pine forests that we get in sandy habitats here. The undergrowth of kinnikinnick and blue berries, and large patches of lichens are characteristic. And even our black spruce bogs, with pillowing mossy undergrowth, can be quite attractive when mature.
    Thanks for the link! 🙂

    • I was hiking yesterday through restored shortleaf pine savanna – once much more common in Missouri’s historically fire-mediated landscape. As I looked out over the blanket of tawny gold grasses under an open canopy of tall, mature pines I half expected to see Henry Schoolcraft appear on horseback!

  2. Nice perspective on trees, Ted.
    Those elephant-poking honey locusts have a most daunting appearance.

    (PS – Check spelling of “stellata”.)

    • I’m struck by the extreme variability in the degree of “thorniness” in this species – from none to full-bore as in the two examples I show. I guess the mastodon extinctions have relaxed selection pressure for this trait over the past dozen or so millenia.

  3. i am never happier than when I am alone in some seeming endless forest or prairie tract; the fewer the human influences the better. But even when I am scrambling through some severely mangled bit of second growth tangles or an invaded and degraded bit of grassland, I get a feeling of quite joy, like a reset button has been pushed and I can finally exhale and truly live. This all comes crashing down when someone comes ambling by, usually squawking on their cell phone and smoking a cigarette (I usually can’t get that far away from the rest of humanity). However, things so simple as laying down in the leaf litter to photograph a box turtle face to face, peering closely into the bark, lichens, and mosses of living trees or into the beautifully beetle-excavated galleries of dead ones, extracting bits of crinoids, rhombophora, or fenestella from a gravel bar can bring it all back once the intruder has left…these are a few of my favorite things too.


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