A spruce tree was felled in my neighborhood recently. I have no quarrels with its removal, especially since it was leaning over my roof. But some wild neighbors were not so upbeat about the incident. A Red Squirrel scolded anyone within earshot. It had lost its secure pathway between the front and backyards. Now it must run on the ground before once again climbing into the safety of loftier pathways.
Spruce trees have much to offer the non-human inhabitants of our urban landscapes. The noisy Red Squirrel may also have been complaining about the loss of a nest. Both squirrels and birds like to nest in spruce trees.
The dim interior of the spruce is a good place to look for owls roosting during daylight.
Spruce trees shelter animals during storms, their dense branches providing a dry, calm haven from wind, rain and snow.
Spruces offer a high perch from which every bird, house finch to crow to robin, can declare their territory by song sung lustily from the topmost branches.
When the Sharp-shinned Hawk swoops the birdfeeder for a feathery meal, the juncos and chickadees scatter to hide themselves in the spruce’s embrace.
Last winter, flocks of White-winged Crossbills descended upon Utah. Their bill crosses at the tip, which makes it perfect for prying open spruce cones to get to the tasty and nutritious seeds. These birds wander the Northern Hemisphere in search of abundant cone crops of spruce and other conifers.
The noble, lofty spruce is more than a decorative landscape tree. It offers food, home, safety and shelter to our wild neighbors.
Our theme music was written by Don Anderson and is performed by Leaping Lulu from their CD High Road, Low Road. Our bird music is provided by Kevin Colver. Credits:
Holly: Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.
The canyons and valleys of Utah will soon be awash with brilliant fall hues. Cascades of red, orange and gold will blanket the hillsides as the weather turns cooler and morning frost dusts the mountain ridges.
The Canyon Maple is one of Utah’s main sources of autumn color. Like most maple species, its leaves are carved into deep lobes. The leaves are medium-to-bright green now, but soon the entire tree will glow with spectacular color.
Canyon maple is found throughout Utah at medium elevations between 4,500 to 7,500 feet. It tends to grow on lower slopes and canyon bottoms in the mountains in association with Douglas-fir and junipers.
Its scientific name, Acer grandidentatum [AY-ser gran-dih-den-TAY-tum], means “Big Tooth”, referring to the tree’s distinctive lobed leaves with large, toothed margins. In fact, bigtooth maple is another common name for this species.
Some think that he canyon maple is related to the sugar maple of the northeastern and midwestern United States,” says forestry professor Mike Kuhns of Utah State University’s Department of Wildland Resources. It’s possible that long ago, the Rocky Mountains rose up and isolated a sugar maple population that eventually evolved into a unique species.
The canyon maple rivals its eastern relatives in fall color but does it produce sap suitable for tasty, syrup-covered waffles and pancakes? Back in 1970s, a group of scientists set out to determine just that. The trees were tapped and yielded plenty of sticky liquid. The color was very light, resembling light honey and the flavor was delicate and fruity, almost like pineapple. However, it was notably less sweet than the northeastern sugar maple. Of 30 panelists from Utah who participated in a taste test, 57 percent preferred eastern sugar maple syrup but the remaining 43 percent preferred canyon maple syrup.
The researchers concluded that while canyon maple sap was not practical for large-scale syrup production it might be enjoyable for individuals to try on a small scale on private land within its habitat range.
Syrup aside, the medium-sized tree thrives in Utah’s residential landscapes, parks and urban areas, as well as in the wild. Its year-round beauty, hardiness and manageable size make it a perennial favorite in the Beehive State.
Thanks to the USU College of Natural Resources for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.
For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand. Credits:
Tollefson, Jennifer E. 2006. Acer grandidentatum. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [2009, September 16]
In the late 1970’s, springtime in the American West warmed abruptly by 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the valleys, double that higher up. Our average onset of Spring now comes a week earlier across the West. If these are the first signs of climate change, even longer growing seasons will trigger not just earlier blooms but also northward plant migrations.
The past provides us with lessons about plant migrations. A thousand years ago, one-needle pinyon hopped from the Raft River Mountains in Utah to City of Rocks, Idaho. Across Utah, two-needle pinyon leaped over the Uintas to Flaming Gorge. We know this from radiocarbon dates on pinyon pine needles taken from ancient nest heaps of packrats preserved in caves. According to Dr. Julio Betancourt of the U.S. Geological Survey, who uses these packrat middens and tree rings to reveal past plant migrations, these recent advances by Utah’s two pinyon pines followed the Medieval Climate Anomaly, a period from 900 to 1300 AD marked by warming in Europe and severe drought in Utah.
Droughts figure prominently in Dr. Betancourt’s view of tree migrations. Droughts trigger bark beetle infestations, wildfires, and tree dieoffs, opening up niches for regeneration. When the drought abates, the resident tree species typically return. With long-term warming, however, other species can move in from lower elevations or further south. Dead trees now abound on Utah’s landscape, and Dr. Betancourt thinks that we are on the verge of a new spate of tree migrations.
This go around, which species retreat or advance will depend on new factors, including human fragmentation of the landscape and accelerated dispersal of native and non-native species that hitch rides with us. To conserve ecological goods and services associated with some species, Dr. Betancourt argues, we will have to manage for these plant migrations.
This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
The study of recurring plant and animal life cycle events is phenology. It is the calendar of nature. This includes when plants flower, when birds migrate and when crops mature. Phenology is relevant to interactions between organisms, seasonal timing and large-scale cycles of water and carbon. Phenology is important to us for many reasons. Farmers need to know when to plant and harvest crops and when to expect pests to emerge. Resource managers use it to monitor and predict drought and assess fire risk. Vacationers want to know when the best fall colors will be or when the wildflower blooms will peak. Timing varies but we can discern patterns.
The USA National Phenology Network monitors the influence of climate on the phenology of plants, animals and landscapes. They encourage people to observe phenological events such as flowering, migrations and egg laying. The Phenology Network provides a place to enter, store and share these observations, which are then compiled and analyzed nationwide. Participants range from individual observers in their own backyards to professional scientists monitoring long-term plots. My husband and I monitor leafing and flowering of lilacs, a key species in the program.
These observations support a wide range of decisions made routinely by citizens, managers, scientists and others. This includes decisions related to allergies, wildfires, pest control, and water management.
I urge you to participate. The National Phenology Network has many public, private and citizen partners. It is a great way to become involved in a nation-wide effort to better understand our environment. All this information and much more is available at the National Phenology website, to which there is a link from our Wild About Utah website.
This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Text: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society Additional Reading: