The Eloquence of Trees

Martin Prechtel says that each species has its own eloquence, an eloquence that crescendos for a brief moment each year. Boxelder flowers burst to life in the early spring, humming with bees and hungry chipmunks. Smoother sections of white ash trunks turns pink in the spring and in the fall big-toothed aspen turns a golden yellow, striped maple a striking deep purple. For the oaks, larches, and tamaracks, their moment of eloquence (at least to my ears) comes in the late, late fall – or Stick Season – well after those show off sugar maples have shed all their leaves. It makes ID of these trees easy enough to do while driving on the highway!

The Oaks

For most of the year, scattered red oaks are perfectly content to blend in with the rest of the canopy. But when running on Vermont’s roads this time of year I’m always surprised at just how many red oaks there are on our landscape (at least here in the lower elevations of the Champlain Valley). From a distance you can spot a dry southern-exposure ledge by the splash of deep reddish brown. For many of these oaks, their leaves will last well through the winter and only be shed once temperatures warm up in the spring. This pattern, called marcescence, is common amongst oaks, beech, witch-hazel, and a few others.

Tamarack/European Larch

The same for oaks is true for tamaracks and larches (Larix spp.), our only deciduous conifers. You’re less likely to stumble upon a tamarack (Larix laricina) or see them from the road unless you’re on a mission to find them. They’re common denizens of cold, boggy areas, usually tucked in a thick .

European larches, on the other hand, are quite common. You’ll find small, solid stands scattered throughout the state. European larches were planted extensively as a commercial crop. They are one of the last trees to shed their leaves in the fall, with needles lasting into late November.

A plantation of European larch, their colors contrasting against the drab hardwood backdrop (Williston)

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