The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group. It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you. Snails, fish, insects, weather, meteorites, climate, birds and/or flowers. All are worthy additions to the bucket. Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment. Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located.
May 10, 2013
Salish Sea, Pacific Northwest
foggy spring day on San Juan Channel
Along the shore of the Salish Sea, we have just one native pine. Appropriately, it is called the Shore Pine, although its distribution extends inland to the Rocky Mountains, and from the Yukon down to Mexico. Inland, Pinus contorta
is called the Lodgepole Pine, growing straight and tall. Makes great tipi poles. But along the shore, it lives more up to its scientific name, often growing contorted and stunted, in dry rocky sites. With our low annual rainfall here in the rainshadow of the Olympic Mountains, and generally poor soil, Shore Pines are abundant and widespread in the islands.
For some of us, the Shore Pines are especially noticeable right now. To me, those branches appear to be making a rude gesture.
It's pollen season for the Shore Pines. In the last week, the male flowers have exploded, and every gust, every light breeze blows clouds of yellow pine pollen. Drifts collect, windshields are powdered, people sneeze...but insects feast. I've been eyeing the flowers recently, tracking the imminent opening.
May 8. I'm giving the branch a little shake (holding my breath):
More Shore Pine below the dry brush.
But I do like these vigorous prolific trees. Their long bright green evergreen needles give the foliage a lush feel. Here's a pine growing next to the bluer green Douglas fir.
The pink female flowers will grow into cones in time (if pollinated): sturdy, hard, prickly things that never fall off the tree, and only open reluctantly. We can see young and old cones on these branches.
Fires will open the hard resinous cones and release the seeds, an adaptation which tells us periodic forest fires can be ecologically significant. Fire suppression in Lodgepole pine forests, the high-elevation inland variety, has contributed to insect infestation
. The pines are a "pioneer" species, quick to take advantage of an opening in the woods, fast-growing, light-hungry, short-lived, and then in most places shaded over by later-growing trees. Around here, where fire is rare, cones will open eventually anyway, and the seeds will germinate readily in disturbed areas.
They grow like weeds along the side of the road even. The road department mows them down when clearing the verges and pulling ditches. This clump has escaped the first mowing.
Shore Pines don't live as long as most conifers, 150-200 years, nor grow as tall (maybe 50' around here) but in a felicitous location, they become a substantial tree, with attractive gray-black blocky bark.
Interestingly, even though the pines are tough little trees that can anchor securely to bedrock on the bluffs, their wood is brittle, and tends to break partway up in high winds. That random splintering can be more hazardous than a tree that tips over. We watch out for the pines in a storm.
For some reason, deer avoid them. Given a choice between pines and Douglas Fir in this open field, the firs have been nibbled back into shrubs while the pines have shot up unmolested. At some point the firs will most likely get taller than the deer, and then grow normally, like the ones in the background.
Great little trees, in spite of the deluge of pollen for these few weeks. Here's a lone pine growing essentially in bedrock, directly above rough water where it's soaked in seaspray, taking the full force of winter storms blasting in from the ocean every year. It's older than you might think, in these conditions. Today it's calm, heavy fog drifting up the strait. It'll be here in summer drought too.
Got bark, needles, flowers or pollen? It's middle of spring for us in the Pacific Northwest. How about you? Let's hear your observations of nature today.