Thursday, December 3, 2009

Trees of the Boardwalk - Tamarack

Alert folks have noticed that the interpretive sign describing tree species found in the Beaver Boardwalk area was missing a prominent local species. That's because there was no tamarack close to the trail in the first two years. However the 2009 construction passes by lots of tamarack. The resolution of the original sign was also below standard, so we're redoing the sign and the new version will include Larix laricina.

The tamarack is an oddball tree in one respect. It's a conifer, which means it bears its reproductive structures in cones. But unlike most local conifer species that have evergreen needles, the tamarack needle clusters turn a deep gold in the autumn and join the parade of falling leaves from aspens and poplars.

In our area tamarack usually grows in fens, which are wetlands on organic soils that have water flowing through them. This makes them more nutrient rich than bogs, which usually have stagnant water. The relationship is so strong that tamarack trees are diagnostic - if you see a tamarack you are likely looking at a fen.

The word tamarack comes from an Algonquin word that translates loosely as "wood used for snowshoes". The tough springy wood of this small to medium sized tree is also used for posts and poles because its high resin content provides good decay resistance. The James Bay Cree use tamarack twigs to make goose decoys which are true works of Canadian artisan craft.

No comments: