Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Forest Floor in Late Winter

Moss, fungi, lichens, and an alien invader


Moss, lichens, fungiHere's a look at some of the life that's thriving in the woods in mid-February, despite the long cold spell we've just had. The moss is lush and green, and the lichens are practically glowing. Beige fungi are digesting the dead branch.

I see a few sprigs of honeysuckle -- the stems with green leaves at left. Honeysuckle vine, a non-native, invasive species, is rampant along the edges of these woods. Here in Kentucky, it's a nearly-evergreen plant. It can climb to great heights by twining and twisting around trunks and branches, and once it reaches sunlight, it forms its own canopy over the canopy of its host tree or shrub, depriving the host of sunshine and subjecting it to a great deal of stress from the weight of the overgrowth. 
Lichens are interesting things. They're composite organisms -- that is, they're made of fungi growing together with something else (usually algae) in a symbiotic relationship. Many of the lichens even reproduce by making a diaspore that contains cells from both partners.

I've noticed that the lichens seem to do very well in winter in Kentucky. Lichens are so immune to damage from cold that they survived unprotected in space in an experiment conducted by astronauts -- thus a few months with temperatures below freezing are nothing to them. The leaves are off the trees, so they get plenty of sunshine and there's usually plenty of moisture too, since we get a lot of our annual rainfall during the winter months.

I don't know what sort of fungus that is, but it seems to be a benign part of the circle of life, just helping that tree branch decompose. However, some fungi can be a big problem to living trees. Heart-rotting fungi may not kill a tree immediately but will destroy its lumber value. Root-rotting fungi make the tree vulnerable to windfall. Then there's the various fungal diseases that can kill trees, such as oak wilt and dogwood anthracnose and many other molds, wilts, rusts, etc.

Another "Tree Note"I love to see green patches of moss in winter. The bit of bright color is a welcome accent to winter's muted palette of browns. Like the lichens, the moss thrives in the damp conditions and cool temperatures of winter and takes its dormant time during the hot, dry months of summer. That sounds good to me! I don't like hot weather either!

1 comments -- please add yours:

eastcoastdweller said...

I know that I am going to find this blog intensively addictive. I love trees and all of the natural neighbors of trees, such as the humble but important lichens and mosses.

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

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Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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