Friday, April 26, 2013

Old Birches

My Dad says that the mystery trees from Wednesday's blog post are birches. "Those trees have been there longer than the barn," he said as he reminisced about how old the barn on Mom's home farm could be.

Lately I've been watching in the Midwest for sycamores or Planetrees. There are large, old specimens of Planetrees on the campus at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. I learned to identify them last summer after seeing them in Oxford and Cambridge in the UK in spring. I realized that the trees in England resembled some trees at Michigan State. The connection was made and I added another tree to my "identified" list.

I didn't consider that the "mystery tree" on the farm in Wisconsin might be a birch because I'm used to seeing much smaller specimens with very white bark, often peeling, that are used as landscape accents on lawns. These guys on the farm are big, maybe 75-100 feet tall, and there are a lot of them in one grove, almost like they are protecting each other.

Could they have been young trees when my grandparents worked this farm as young people? Or are they older than that?  Did these trees see me as a child, walking along with the stone wagon, helping my grandparents pick stones after supper during one of those long northern summer evenings?

Now the next thing is to identify what kind of birch they could be. I'll be thinking lots of things -- my grandparents, the big trees, childhood days on the farm -- when I walk back to see and photograph them again this week.

NOTE: If you want to learn more about trees and their growth habits, read "The Trees In My Forest," by Bernd Heinrich. His book puts me in touch with tree characteristics that I had never thought about.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

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