Forest For The Trees - how to know your juniper from your snotty var
Many of us head into the woods during all seasons on snowmobiles or snowshoes, hiking or biking, and encounter many types of trees. However, beyond being able to tell a birch from a spruce, what do you know about them?
The relatively small, primarily coniferous forests of Newfoundland and Labrador form the eastern edge of the Boreal Forest Region of North America. Black spruce forms about one-third of the forests on the island and two-thirds of the trees in Labrador. The west coast of Newfoundland, in particular, is dominated by pure stands of balsam fir. Conditions are not generally favourable for large stands of hardwood species, but white birch and trembling aspen are significant components of mixed wood and hardwood stands in the province.
There are 21 native species and 16 introduced species of trees populating Newfoundland and Labrador. The following is a brief guide to the seven most commonly found native species, including some helpful tips to identify each one.
White spruce is a common evergreen coniferous tree in Newfoundland and Labrador, though less common than balsam fir or black spruce. It can attain a height of 25 m, but usually reaches less than 15 m in this province. The bark of younger trees is light reddish-brown, turning greyish-brown, rough and scaly with age. The yellowish-green to bluish-green needles are shiny and stiff with sharp points. They are spirally arranged on the twig and twisted upwards to crowd the upper side. The oblong, cylindrical cones are 3-5 cm long. These are green tinged with red at first, then turn pale brown as they mature.
This slow-growing wetland tree usually grows to 12 m, but can be as tall as 18 m. The upper part of the crown is often oddly shaped, very dense and heavily laden with cones. The stiff, straight, pale bluish-green needles often have white stripes and blunt tips. The reddish-brown or greyish-brown bark is scaly or shredded when young, becoming darker with larger scales as it ages. The 1-4 cm long cones are oval, blunt-tipped and purplish-green at first, turning brown as they mature. They often stay on the tree for many years.
Fir can tower to 25 m, but it doesn’t often exceed 15 m in height in this province. The needles have rounded or notched tips and are shiny dark green on the upper surface and paler underneath with 10-12 lines of white dots. The bronze to purplish bark has many resin blisters that turn grey and somewhat scaly on older trees. The oblong cones are cylindrical, erect, 5-8 cm long and green at first, then purplish, and then rusty brown as they mature, usually with resin droplets on the surface.
“Snotty var” is a Newfoundland term for an old fir tree with resin clotted on the bark. It is considered too greasy to be good for burning because all the sap (turpentine) comes out of it, making it very sticky.
Once a common tree in Newfoundland, it was almost completely wiped out due to major pine harvesting that began in 1890. Additionally, in the early 1900s, a lethal parasitic fungus called white pine blister rust devastated much of the remaining mature pine.
Often growing in stunted form in bleaker habitats, this tree can reach a height of 25 m. The straight, slender, bluish-green needles measure 4-8.5 cm, are soft and flexible with finely toothed edges and grow spirally on the twig in clusters of five or, rarely, three. The bark is smooth and greyish-green on younger trees, but looks darker and deeply furrowed with broad, scaly ridges on older trunks. The brown cones are elongated, 7-15 cm long, and drop from the tree during fall and winter after the seeds have shed.
Commonly called juniper in this province, larch is the only native coniferous tree that loses its needles in the fall. This small-to-medium sized deciduous conifer is rarely more than 15 m high and in exposed habitats may grow flat along the ground. The pale bluish-green needles are slender, soft and flexible, growing in clusters of 12-30, and turning yellow and dropping by early November. The bark is smooth and grey when young, turning reddish-brown and scaly as it ages. The cones are erect, often egg-shaped and about 1.5 cm long. They are reddish at first, but light brown when mature, and on short, curved stalks.
Yellow birch is the largest of the eastern birches, often reaching heights of up to 23 m. Its coarsely toothed leaves are oval or oblong, gradually tapering from the middle to the tip, with a heart-shaped base. Leaves are dark green and hairless on top, but paler and usually hairy underneath. Young bark is dark reddish, becoming yellowish and peeling into thin, papery curls that give it a ragged appearance. Older trees have darker bark that is broken into plate-like scales.
White birch, our most common hardwood species, can grow to a height of 20 m. The coarsely, irregularly toothed leaves are ovate, tapering at the tip with a wedge-shaped or broadly rounded base. Leaves are dark green and hairless on top, and paler with hairs near the base underneath. Each leaf has, on average, 23 teeth per side. The bark of younger trees is reddish-brown with transverse whitish lenticels (raised pores on the bark). Mature bark is chalk white or cream coloured and peels easily into horizontal strips.
DID YOU KNOW?
The mountain alder and the speckled alder can be used in treating a sore throat, diarrhea, sore eyes and inflammation. It can also be used to induce circulation and as a therapeutic foot bath. Alder chips also are great for smoking salmon, fish and meats, and for barbecuing.
DID YOU ALSO KNOW?
- by Todd Hollett
Todd Hollett is a wildlife conservation officer who lives on the Burin Peninsula. He writes about science and nature for Downhome.