Trees come crash­ing down, while other plants emerge

Rappahannock News - - NATURE - PAM OWEN wil­[email protected] amer­i­cana) (Co­ry­lus © 2018 Pam Owen

Win­ter Storm Ri­ley, the first of three nor’east­ers to move through our area in less than two weeks, brought down an alarm­ing num­ber of trees, which in turn pulled down power and phone lines, wreak­ing havoc on roads and in yards. Ma­ture pines in open ar­eas seemed to have taken a par­tic­u­larly hard hit.

My guess was that these pines had suf­fered more be­cause of their full fo­liage, which of­fered more re­sis­tance to the 60 mph winds, while hard­woods were still bare and there­fore of­fered less re­sis­tance. To find out if I was on the right track, I emailed Joe Ros­setti, Vir­ginia De­part­ment of Forestry (VDOF) se­nior forester for North­ern Vir­ginia, which in­cludes Rap­pa­han­nock and Culpeper Coun­ties. Af­ter con­sult­ing with VDOF ur­ban for­est con­ser­va­tion­ist

James McGlone, Rosetti con­firmed that re­sis­tance from the pines’ fo­liage likely was a big fac­tor in the de­struc­tion they in­curred.

“Be­cause the pines had nee­dles, they caught the wind more than the hard­woods,” Ros­setti wrote. When the dere­cho hap­pened in the sum­mer a few years back, “plenty of hard­wood trees were blown over be­cause their leaves caught the wind, re­sult­ing in greater force on the tree,” he added.

Most of the pines that fell over were white pine, with Vir­ginia pine com­ing in sec­ond, ac­cord­ing to Rosetti, while the fewest were loblolly and short­leaf pines. This is likely be­cause loblolly and short­leaf have ad­justed bet­ter to be­ing grown in open spaces and ex­posed sites than white and Vir­ginia pines have, he ex­plained. To build firm­ness in the face of wind when they are grown in open ar­eas, the for­mer “ac­tu­ally change the way their roots are struc­tured in the soil.”

White and Vir­ginia pines, on the other hand, do not grow dif­fer­ently in the open than in forests. “Ba­si­cally,” Rosetti wrote, “they never ad­justed from be­ing for­est grown trees, where the force of wind is spread out through many trees, to be­ing open grown trees where each tree has to with­stand the force of wind on its own.”

He also pointed out what I no­ticed on a drive to War­ren­ton af­ter the storm — that the east­ern red cedars that grow in the open along the high­way showed lit­tle dam­age from Ri­ley. Even though they also had a full canopy of leaves, “very few” of them failed in the storm, Ros­setti wrote. East­ern red cedars, which are com­mon in such ex­posed ar­eas, which also in­clude un­used pas­tures and fields and in fence rows, are “well adapted to be­ing open grown, which means they have to sur­vive that sort of wind on oc­ca­sion,” he ex­plained.

De­spite the dam­age to in­di­vid­ual trees, the forests should be fine, Ros­setti wrote. “For ev­ery tree that failed in the storm,” he pointed out, “there were thou­sands or pos­si­bly mil­lions in the state that did not fail.”

Such storms are one of the ways na­ture re­cy­cles un­healthy trees, en­abling other, health­ier trees to get more light and sur­vive. “The vast ma­jor­ity of the trees that failed had some sort of prob­lem — a struc­tural de­fect, branch union de­fect, dam­age, or root prob­lem,” Ros­setti wrote. He un­der­scored the need for landown­ers to have a cer­ti­fied ar­borist check trees for po­ten­tial is­sues that may be af­fected by winds on a reg­u­lar ba­sis “to mit­i­gate these de­fects be­fore they cause trees to fail at a bad time.”

De­spite the storm, some na­tive trees and wild­flow­ers were still valiantly go­ing about their busi­ness, which this time of year is re­pro­duc­tion. The week be­fore the storm, Rap­pa­han­nock res­i­dent Mike Wenger, a Vir­ginia mas­ter nat­u­ral­ist with the Old Rag chap­ter, re­ported his Amer­i­can hazel­nut trees

were get­ting busy with that: The males are sport­ing catkins, which pro­duce the species’ pollen, and the fe­males’ red blooms were start­ing to open. Bruce Jones, who has nat­u­ral­ized most of his prop­erty, was out clean­ing up af­ter the storm and re­ported find­ing, in his woods, hep­at­ica bloom­ing and emerg­ing leaves emerg­ing of trout lily and shoot­ing stars.

Since the storm, I didn’t get up my moun­tain to look for signs of spring un­til Sun­day (March 11), an un­sea­son­ably cold day. I found two hep­at­ica, their leaves shriv­eled by re­cent freezes, start­ing to bloom. Such spring ephemer­als are adapted to deal­ing with tem­per­a­ture swings and tend to keep their flow­ers closed when tem­per­a­tures plunge. Why risk dam­age to the flow­ers when no pol­li­na­tors are out in such cold weather?

I also found one cut­leaf tooth­wort (Car­damine

con­cate­nate), another spring ephemeral, sport­ing buds striped win­ter­green leaves emerg­ing. In look­ing for such wild­flow­ers on the for­est floor, I no­ticed a plus side of the storm for some an­i­mals that don’t climb: the wind had brought down onto the for­est floor hun­dreds of pine cones, nuts and seeds that had been un­reach­able in the canopy.

On the way up the moun­tain, I stopped by the small pond there to check for am­phib­ian ac­tiv­ity. With ice again cov­er­ing the pond, I was not sur­prised by the lack of wood frog eggs, but I did no­tice eggs of another am­phib­ian — the spot­ted sala­man­der. En­cased in a milky white, gelati­nous outer en­ve­lope, they were easy to spot in the clear wa­ter.

This species usu­ally breeds at about the same time as the wood frog but has a dif­fer­ent strat­egy for egg place­ment. Both at­tach their egg clus­ters to de­bris in the wa­ter, par­tic­u­larly downed branches, but the frog lays more of a sheet of eggs on the sur­face, while the sala­man­der at­taches its glob­u­lar egg clus­ters to de­bris near the bot­tom of the shal­low pond, es­cap­ing the ice that might form on the sur­face.

This is the first year I haven’t seen both am­phib­ian species lay their eggs at the same time. And I was dis­ap­pointed to have missed the sala­man­ders lay­ing their eggs. I had plan­ning this year to fi­nally go up at night to try to see these shy noc­tur­nal crea­tures re­pro­duc­ing. They spend much of the rest of their lives un­der­ground, so are rarely seen.

I ex­pect the next sus­tained warm spell will bring an ex­plo­sion of wood frog breed­ing, but with global warm­ing desta­bi­liz­ing the weather, which in turn messes with the phe­nol­ogy of am­phib­ians as well as plants, I’m not lay­ing any bets.


The Vir­ginia De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion was out clean­ing up the many fallen pine trees and boughs along U.S. 211 be­tween the ex­its to the town of Wash­ing­ton.


De­spite leaves be­ing shriv­eled by re­cent freezes, this hep­at­ica is bloom­ing on Oven­top Moun­tain, near Sper­ryville.


Another early spring ephemeral wild­flower, cut­leaf tooth­wort, braves the cold weather and shows buds about to bloom.

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