Sunday, December 13, 2009

Outdoor Christmas Tree

For the past few years, my family and I have been putting a small spruce tree on our deck. In the past, we have used this tree as a "bird tree" but stringing popcorn, fruit pieces, suet bits, and other bird food on the tree. With a tree full of food, lots of birds fly right on to the deck to feed. Many species of birds visited the tree when we had food on it, including chickadees, titmice, bluebirds, and nuthatches. This year, I have not had the time to put food on a bird tree, but today I did go out and get this year's outdoor Christmas tree:

In the south-eastern section of the property, there is a stand of old Norway Spruces, most likely planted many years ago, marking the edge of a field.

Today, these huge trees, although non-native, are home to an incredible number of organisms. In the past few winters, when the winter finches have come into Pennsylvania, the seed-filled spruces fed Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, and White-winged Crossbills. For most of the year, Red Squirrels can be found munching on the cones, and during the winter, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are almost always present among the spruces.

Since the trees are tall and thick, they block much of the sun's light from reaching the ground. This, along with a small spring (which often dries up during the summer), keeps the ground damp and cool. This habitat is home to many species of mushrooms. The dampness also attracts several species of plants which do not occur elsewhere on the property: jack-in-the-pulpit, lopseed, and several wood fern species.

While the seed-bearing trees are beneficial, they are also creating a problem. The area north of the spruces is a grassy/sedgy area with several interesting plants (swamp milkweed, three dogwood species, and giant ragweed). Since the spruces produce so many seeds, there are several small to medium spruces popping up in the grassy area. So, for my outdoor Christmas tree, I use one of these little Norway Spruces.

The search for the perfect outdoor tree is always a fun excursion, and involves practicing tree identification. Although the majority of the trees in the area are spruces, there are also some other species.

I have to be careful no to cut down this...

...the needles are much longer than spruce's and are in groups (of five), where as spruce needles are not in groups, making this an Eastern White Pine.

I have to watch out for this Scot's Pine:

again, needles are long, and in groups or "packets" (of 2)

Hey, this one has short needles that are not in packets...

...but the needles are more or less flattened and are only on two sides of each branch. Also a look on the underside of each needle would show two parallel white lines, making this tree an Eastern Hemlock.

What about this one...

...although it has needles on all sides of the branch... this Eastern Redcedar has a much different shape and look than a spruce.

Here we go!

Norway spruce

Here are a few Norway Spruces which are fairly close together. By taking two trees that are close together, I am just doing what nature will eventually do by crowding out one of the trees.

So now I have my tree, but no time to put bird food on it... maybe I will get some on before the Wild Creek-Little Gap Christmas Bird Count next Sunday, which includes my house.

Happy Holidays!

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