I love to walk through the woods on any occasion, but especially with my daughter Molly because she knows things.
Yesterday, we went foraging — she for morel mushrooms, garlic mustard and stinging nettles and me for stories.
While she came up empty handed, which is good, she said, because garlic mustard and stinging nettles are both invasive species, I ended up with a headful of knowledge.
As we walked through one area of the land, I pointed to the messy woods closer to our cabin and vaguely wondered if we should tidy it up. Molly assured me that all those mossy stumps and fallen logs play a necessary role in both the ecosystem and the history of Wisconsin.
“There are very few areas of old growth in Wisconsin and that’s why the swampy area by the river with all those cedar trees is so cool,” she explained.
Apparently, Wisconsin settlers in the 1800s clearcut large swaths of primary growth during the lumber boom. The Civilian Conservation Corps came along in the 1930s and replanted 265,631,000 trees in the North Woods and, together with the Trees for Tomorrow program that started during World War II, they rebuilt the woods.
But, the old growth, the trees that really tell the history of this old world (including the oldest tree in Wisconsin, which is said to be a 1,290-year-old cedar located in the Greenleaf area), are rare.
Due to its seasonal swampiness, an area of our land that runs along the river contains old growth.
I have a new respect for the veiny path of tree roots that snake through it, and an explanation for its almost prehistoric look. Those trees are the real story tellers in this state and it’s up to us to take the time to listen.
Molly also explained the differences in the various trees:
- Birch trees have papery bark and fragile wood because they grow so fast and don’t have time to develop the denseness slower growers, like oak trees, enjoy.
- Only pine trees have long needles, hemlock needles are flat.
- White pines have five needles per bundle.
- Cedar pine needles are rich in vitamin C, which may be why deer love them.
- Some trees naturally prune themselves, that’s why you see a line of foliage starting halfway up the trunk in a dense forest. Sunlight can’t reach the lower branches so the tree sheds them to direct the energy up.
I could go on but my brain is old growth and I think we’ve all learned enough for one day. Thank you for heading into the woods and through the trees with Molly and me.