a mystery discovered while tree measuring

Yesterday, as part of our “big tree” project, we measured several trees while hiking the trails at Ferguson Forestry Centre near Kemptville, Ontario. We found many broken trees and branches down across the trails throughout the forest – the result of the ice storm a little over a week ago. We also found a mystery, which I’ll describe following these tree measurements. Click on any of the photos for a larger view. I’ve included estimated ages based on the Growth Factor Chart on this webpage. By the way, you’ll notice that the height and canopy measurements seem somewhat vague. Between the broken limbs and canopies of the larger trees, and our frequent inability to pace a good straight line out from trees due to the ruggedness of the land and the amount of downed trees and branches, measurements beyond the diameter should probably be taken with a grain of salt. As we’re not meticulous enough to carry and fiddle around with a long measuring line, we’re just pacing out distances as best as we can. Therefore, height and canopy measurements should probably be considered rough estimates.

Tree: Black Cherry, Prunus serotina
Location: N45.01.926, W075.39.216 (WGS84)
DBH: 24.19 inches (circumference 76 inches) – thick trunk that splits into 2 tops.
Height: c. 70 feet
Canopy: c. 25 feet
Estimated age: approx. 120 years (24 x growth factor of 5.0 = 120)

Tree: Red Maple, Acer rubrum
Location: N45.02.230, W075.39.133 (WGS84)
DBH: 24.82 inches (circumference 78 inches)
Height: c. 85 feet
Canopy: 24 feet
Estimated age: approx. 117 years (26 x growth factor or 4.5 = 117).

Tree: Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobus
Location: N44.46.604, W076.11.273 (WGS84)
DBH: 32.14 inches (circumference 101 inches)
Height: c. 95 feet.
Canopy: c. 50 feet (has a divided trunk and becomes 2 trees)
Estimated age: no growth chart – I’ve found a couple of references that seem to place the growth factor rate at about 4 years for Eastern White Pine….
so… 32 x 4 gf = approx. 128 years.

This isn’t the same White Pine as the one in the above measurement, but it’s quite representative of several that we observed, measured and photographed yesterday. After studying a few, we discovered that almost all of them have split trunks and divide into 2 or 3 tops. In an earlier post on tree measuring, I mentioned having noticed this among the great Eastern White Pines at other sites in eastern Ontario. Two places I can think of offhand are Foley Mountain, and Murphy’s Point Provincial Park. What could this mean? Does it indicate severe ice storm damage that would have occurred about 100 or so years ago? Taking into consideration the above-pictured Black Cherry Tree with a split trunk, the evidence does seem to suggest that some event might have incurred damage in forests over a section of eastern Ontario. Now that we’re more aware of this, we’ll watch for further examples of 100+ year old trees that exhibit similar characteristics.

I must say that this measuring trees has got us looking at the trees much more closely now. Consequently, we’re beginning to notice things we hadn’t paid as much attention to before — such as the trees with multiple tops. I had noticed a few here and there, but yesterday, we actually searched for examples and found a good number. Once again, as in so many aspects of nature study, we’re reminded that there’s much to be learned when we spend more time on observation.

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5 Responses to “a mystery discovered while tree measuring”

  1. Dave Says:

    I see a lot of white pines of all ages with double trunks, and I always thought this was due to the terminal bud being destroyed by a borer when the tree was a sapling. If I’m not mistaken, Berndt Heinrich talks about this in his book The Trees in My Forest.

  2. burning silo Says:

    Dave – It’s been awhile since I read The Trees in My Forest. I was actually thinking of reading it again, so perhaps I’ll get it out and do so. It might be that there was a period of time when borers were bad all across this part of Ontario. However, now I’m looking at other tree species as well and wondering if there’s something more to this that might be weather related. I believe I’ve noticed a lot of misshapen Sugar maples at one of the places mentioned (Murphys Point), so I’m going to look for them and measure a few and get a ball park age on them and see if there’s any correlation. When I think of how the 1998 survivor trees will look if they manage to achieve a great old age, I believe they will bear the marks of that ice storm. We have many damaged trees that now have multiple leaders and other crazy looking deformities, so I can imagine a similar past event might have left a record in the forest. Interesting stuff in any case!

  3. Wayne Says:

    Thanks Dave, and Bev, for mentioning another book I should be reading! We don’t have such weather extremes here but I’ve also noticed the effects of damage while doing tree measurements.

    That’s quite a nice red maple there, Bev! We don’t have any particularly large specimens, certainly none approaching a two-foot diameter! I wonder why that is, since red maples are one of our most common trees. They tend to be understory trees in our hickory-oak forests, so maybe it’s the presence of other larger trees like oaks and beeches and tulip poplars that slows down their growth.

    I see you’ve run into the same technical problems with measurement! I don’t put a huge degree of confidence in my heights and canopies either, and for the same reason – it’s hard to get two measurements at 90 deg on a canopy when the trees (as most of them are) are growing on a 30-40 degree slope! And I’ve been a bit worried about parallax in measuring heights, unless I get a long ways away.

  4. Mark Says:

    I mentioned at Niches that I find a particular kind of oak on our little plot that seems to always grow with multiple trunks. In some cases with older trees, the trunks seem to have merged several feet above the ground, and in some cases they seem never to merge.

  5. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – I’m sure you would enjoy Bernd Heinrich’s book. Have you read any of his other books? The first that I read was A Year in the Maine Woods. I’ve read quite a number of his books since then. As a scientist-naturalist, he’s very much into counting, measuring and recording data, which appeals to me as I do quite a bit of that myself – as do you.
    Regarding Red Maples — locally, I think Sugar Maple may be more abundant. However, there happen to be a couple of good stands of Red Maple in the forest that we visited on the weekend. According to Native Trees of Canada by R.C. Hosie (my main tree reference and field guide), they have a range that goes farther north than the Sugar Maple (he states that their range extends north into the eastern fringe of the Boreal Forest Region). He also states that it “prefers moist soils round the borders of swamps, but is also found on dry upland soils that may be rocky.” In this particular forest, the Red Maples stand near a swamp – not in an area that floods, but just up from that. There are quite a few and they are growing alongside Eastern Hemlock (I think you can see some Hemlock branches in that photo of the top of the Red Maple). Hosie says that Red Maples can reach diameters of up to 4 feet, but most trees are usually much smaller.

    Mark – I wonder if the species of oak that you have there would normally grow with just one trunk, or if multiple trunks are the norm? Up here, the White Oak that I see growing on the rocky escarpment of Foley Mountain tend to be very gnarled and with wide-spreading branches. I just checked Hosie’s book and on White Oak he writes:

    This tree, when growing in a dense stand, tends to produce a long trunk with little taper, and which is usually branch free for two-thirds or more of its height. When growing in the open, the trunk divides near the ground into a few large limbs with many wide-spreading lateral branches which become gnarled and twisted and which give the crown a quite rugged appearance. The tree is firmly anchored by a deep tap-root and several spreading lateral roots.