Story and Photos by Joan Herrmann

Whereiwander… today, once again, it will be outside and a day of exploration without even leaving our property. In addition to our meadow, we have several acres of woodland, which is where I begin my exploration. Even as a small child, when I went outside to “play,” my play, whenever possible, would be in the woods. I always felt comfortable among the trees, mosses, and woodland wildflowers. It was much later when I learned just how important trees were to our daily existence. Trees take in our expelled carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Trees prevent soil erosion. Worldwide there are at least different fifty thousand coniferous and deciduous species.

Trees provide food and shelter for both humans and animals. Trees supply most of our daily needs, some of which include transportation such as ships, rowboats, guide boats, paddles and oars, canoes, and kayaks. They give us means of communication (paper and pencils, newspapers, books). Trees help us to enjoy sports; baseball bats, hockey sticks, golf clubs, skis, snowshoes, sleds, and hiking sticks. Trees provide us with heat used in wood stoves and campfires. They help us with daily chores, assorted tools with wooden handles, wheelbarrows, and ladders. Many instruments are made of wood, like violins, flutes, pianos, and guitars. Everything from tongue depressors, crutches, splints, and other medicinal things are or have been made of wood. This even includes cough syrups and other medications.

As I go from room to room within our home, I become almost overwhelmed with the number of items that are made of wood. In the kitchen, the cabinets and knobs and handles, wooden spoons, rolling pins, cutting boards, toothpicks, knife handles, drying racks, wooden bowls, and chopsticks. As I look around our living room, I notice the bentwood rocking chairs, the frames of photos and paintings, and the enchanting carved wooden birds that were done by a local woodcarver. In our bedrooms, the bed frames, dressers, and night stand. And even in the bathroom, the facial tissue, other tissue, and the cabinets are all products of trees. I imagine as you look around your room, you too will be amazed at how items were made of wood.

Trees are also prominently associated with many of our Holidays. At Christmas time, we decorate our Christmas trees and hear stories, and sing songs about our Holiday tree and Yule logs. At Easter, wooden baskets may contain colored eggs or other goodies. In spring, dancing around a Maypole and some other customs involve the burning of logs at the beginning of the equinox and solstice. Also, many foods that are enjoyed at holiday meals come from trees. Foods like roasted chestnuts, jams and jellies, citrus fruits, and a multitude of other things, including cones and nuts, may be part of your holiday traditions.

Plant Succession is the natural change in the type of plant species that occupy acreage, with one plant community being replaced by another. An example of this progression may begin with Grasses, Goldenrods, and Steeplebushes being replaced with White Pine (Pinus strobes), Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), and then later Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) and Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis).

Another interesting thing that I have learned is there are about eighty-five species of cavity-dwelling birds in North America. The tree cavities protect nestlings from predators and weather conditions. The cavity nesters are among the first birds to lay their eggs in the spring, and their nestlings are the first to leave the nest (fledge). Many birds can create their own cavities within a tree, and since their brood leaves the cavity fairly soon in the nesting season, other birds that are unable to produce a cavity will claim ownership as soon as it is empty. I have witnessed a Pileated Woodpecker tree cavity being used by Wood Ducks within hours of the woodpecker nestlings’ departure.

Many insects depend on trees. For example, all butterflies and moths have a host plant or host tree, where they will lay its egg or eggs. Many of you are familiar with the Monarch butterflies host plant, which is one of the species of milkweed plants that may be either the common milkweed or swamp milkweed. The adult butterfly or moth will use one or many different host plants to lay its egg or eggs, and when the egg hatches, the larva (caterpillar) will begin eating the leaves of that plant exclusively. If you are interested in locating a particular butterfly or moth for photographic or other purposes knowing which plant or tree is, its host plant can make finding and identifying the caterpillar or adult much easier. The Luna Moth has several host plants, which include Birch, Hickory, and Walnut. In comparison, the host plants of the Viceroy butterfly (a Monarch butterfly mimic) are Willow, Aspen, and Poplar.

Other groups of insects that depend on trees for their species continuation are those that build the hanging paper nests that we begin to see this time of year. These insects are hornets and yellow jackets. It takes hundreds of workers chewing bits of wood from rotting logs or weathered wood to masticate the fibers combined with their saliva to create these beautiful nests. The color variations within these nests are created because each wood used has a different color.

Learning how to identify a tree may seem difficult. We are blessed to have so many different species in our area. If this is something that you choose to do, I would highly recommend the purchase of a tree field guide. Most of these books have a visual glossary. Once you become familiar with the flowers, fruits, leaves, and bark, you will be able to recognize certain trees at a glance. A guide will acquaint you with leaf structures and leaf shapes. For example, is the leaf heart-shaped, circular, or fan-shaped, and what do the leaf margins look like are they single-toothed, doubled-toothed, or are they smooth, etc.? Tree buds and flowers can definitely help with the identification of species. Many trees can be identified by their fruit or their seed pods. Many other trees may be identified by their bark.

The autumn colors usually entice us to get out and admire the trees and perhaps give thanks for all that each one of them has done for us. Hope to see you where you wander.

As a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator, Joan Herrmann has been teaching and doing programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers, for about 38 years. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995, she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and also became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York, she has been educating children and adults for nineteen years.

In 2007 she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP), and in 2013 and 2014 did a week-long summer program at BROEP in conjunction with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC). Using her love of both nature and photography, she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.

Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in the cataloging of all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.

Since October 2016, she has been writing a bi-monthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October of 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with the My Little Falls Newspaper. You may reach her at