Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Way Things Work ...

Small Cedar Grove In Front Of My House

I'm reading a wonderful little book, Teaching the Trees, Lessons from the Forest, by Joan Maloof. She teaches biology and environmental studies at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland. The book is a series of essays about the individual kinds of trees and the links between the trees and the creatures that live on and around them, each dependent on the other for their lives.

Take the redcedar for example. Known as a "pioneer" species, it is one of the first trees to begin growing on "disturbed" or abandoned pastures and fields. We have a very small grove of them in front of our home. Among the birds I've seen feeding on the lovely blue berries, produced only by the female trees, are robins, titmice, cedar waxwings, downy woodpeckers and starlings. Our overly abundant gray squirrels and cottontail rabbits also feed on them along with racoons, opposums and other small mammals. Within the first few inches of soil under the trees, lives a whole other universe, microscopic in nature, that feeds on the decaying plant material the cedars shed as they grow ... their needlie leaves, berries, the stringy bark.

The Female Of The Species With Her Lovely Blue Berries

Cedars also provide nesting sights and places to hide from the villains of the animal world. When a hungry hawk swoops through the yard looking for a quick bite, the birds at the feeders scatter quickly to the darkest corners of the cedar grove until the threat is past. The dense foliage, green all year, also gives protection from winter's cold winds and harsh weather. In return for all of these favors, the birds who feast on the berries, spread the undigested seeds across the land, planting small forests of cedars, provided that the owner of the land where these groves pop up let them remain standing.

In the heat of the summer, I often sit in the cool shade of these trees enjoying the birds going about their lives around me while I sip a gin and tonic. The flavor of the gin, of course, comes from the berries of cedar trees.

We humans use the wood of the redcedar for a multitude of items, including furniture, as in your cedar chest where you store your wool sweaters and socks. The wonderful aroma of the cedar keeps wool hungry moths away. Here in the south, the trees are often cut and used as Christmas trees.

Last but not least, cedars, along with all other green trees and plants, provide oxygen for us to breathe, while they take in carbon dioxide, which we are pumping into the air at an alarming rate due to our use of carbon saturated fuels, contributing to our problems with global warming. That alone seems reason enough to leave them standing.


Lucy said...

Lovely piece. The blue berries are not familiar, except as juniper (same root word as 'gin'!).
What about putting this in for 'Festival of the Trees'?
Get to it via 'Via Negativa'. I keep meaning to put a link to it in my sidebar but I haven't got around to it! I'll do it now!

jzr said...

Thanks, Lucy! I'll send it on! Yes, they are the same thing as Juniper berries.

marja-leena said...

Lovely post and yes, do send it in for the Festival of Trees. I also thought of juniper berries and the gin made from them. Do you know what variety of cedar these are, so different from the Pacific Northwestern ones.

paris parfait said...

I love cedar trees and grew up on a street lined with them (and named after them). I often wished I'd paid more attention when my grandparents were talking about the trees all around us. Now I see trees and can't always identify what kind they are.