RIGHT IN OUR BACKYARDS: Barking Up the Right Trees

We naturally get concerned when major rain storms with high winds, such as last year’s Superstorm Sandy, blow down large numbers of trees.

Published January 9, 2014 5:00 AM
3 min read


We naturally get concerned when major rain storms with high winds, such as last year’s Superstorm Sandy, blow down large numbers of trees.

By Bill Lawyer  

We naturally get concerned when major rain storms with high winds, such as last year’s Superstorm Sandy, blow down large numbers of trees.

But as we look around at Rye this winter, it’s actually amazing to think how many trees seem to be getting along just fine, despite the severe swings in moisture and temperature we’ve seen this month. We went from temperatures in the low teens to over 60 degrees, within just a few days.

We humans, of course, can go inside and crank up the heat. And some people with plants native to warmer climes bring them in as well.

Some of the obvious adaptations trees have made to survive in our neck of the woods include shedding of leaves, having needles that minimize moisture loss, and having thicker and more variegated bark.

Cold-weather trees have evolved to store the sap that’s been produced during the spring and summer in their roots, so that the sap won’t snap when temperatures drop below freezing.

Sugar maple trees are a good example of ones that store sap in the roots. Unfortunately, as Rye’s winter temperatures get increasingly warm, the trees get “fooled” into stopping the fall flow sooner and starting their late winter sap run earlier – which has led to very poor output of “sweet” sap that can be converted into maple syrup and related products.

Scientists studying global climate change predict that within 50 years sugar maples will only be growing in the very northern part of the country.

Trees that don’t drain their sap in the winter have been known to “explode.” The cold weather causes contractions that put such pressure on the tree that they snap. Back on October 4, 1987, sugar maple trees in northern New York State and New England cracked and fell when a sudden snowstorm and cold spell caught them with their sap still in the branches and trunk. And their branches were still fully leafed-out.

Bark is one of the most interesting aspects of how Rye’s trees make it through our rollercoaster winter temperatures.

Barks can be categorized on several criteria relating to weather. The most obvious is their thickness. Trees growing in warm, even climates can have thin barks, as they aren’t subject to temperature changes, but most of our native trees have evolved with thick bark. Selecting Effective Tree Care and Management Service is very important to maintain a beautiful space.

Texture is a second criterion. Most barks in Rye have grooves and variegations to allow for expansion and contraction as the weather changes from hot to cold and dry to wet.

Color is a third. Dark-colored bark absorbs more sunlight than light-colored, so that the winter sunlight, moving from the southeast to southwest, helps to moderate the cold and wind. And, the moss that grows on the more shadowy north side of the tree also helps hold in the heat.

By the way, it’s fairly easy to notice that some trees in Rye have bark that sheds – sycamore, paper birch, and shagbark hickory are three examples. Scientists haven’t been able to determine if this has anything to do with weather protection.

So, while some people go to great lengths to cover up and insulate their favorite fig trees or boxwood shrubs, most of us just try to bark up the right tree – by planting and encouraging trees that come by their protection naturally – right in our backyards.

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