“What’s the coolest tree that grows in Alberta mom?” asked my 11 year old the other day. His school project involved writing a diary from the perspective of a local tree including details about how it came to grow where it is, a bit about its life and who might use it or abuse it.
“A larch, because it’s a conifer that looses its needles!” I thought I had nailed it. This is for sure the coolest tree I’m aware of. It looks like an evergreen, feels like an evergreen, grows in forests with evergreens, but it is decidedly deciduous as it sheds its leaves come fall. Which makes for glorious hiking scenery in the mountains in the fall as the yellow larch trees contrast so stunningly with their dark green pine and spruce counterparts.
He seemed to be looking for a racier story line though, as he ended up going with the pine because it benefits from forest fires which helps its cones open and clears the forest so that the pine can grow up in sunshine, not shade, as is required for a pine sapling. Have you ever noticed that pine trees are the first ones on site after a fire? Within 10 years or more spruce then start to appear on scene as well, growing in the shade of the pine trees only to outgrow them and effectively kill them with their shade as the years pass.
Or maybe you are like I was a few years ago, and didn’t know one green tree from another. Here are some tips for identifying what’s what among the queens of green!
Spruce trees have Sharp, Stiff and “Square” needles. When you try to roll a spruce needle between your fingers it does so with ease due to this shape. Its sharp and stiff needles though mean planting one can become an extreme sport. Gloves and full protective body gear required!
Firs, on the other hand, are flexible, friendly and have “flat” needles. They are easy to handle with bare hands and their needles can not be rolled between your fingers due to the fact that they are 2 dimensional (flat firs).
Pines are much fluffier looking than either of these other 2 trees. Their long needles come from their branches in clusters of 2, 3 or 5 needles, and their cones are hard as a rocks. Ever wonder why pine nuts are so pricey? Because pine cones are nearly impossible to break into!
These are just 3 of the evergreen trees that grow locally, and within each category there are several varieties. Black, blue and white spruce for example. Lodgepole, Mugo and Scotch pines. But at least now you know a bit more about local native species and can start challenging yourself with tree ID while you are out and about in nature or the city streets.
With “Forest Bathing” being a Dr. prescribed practice these days for its numerous benefits including decreased stress, and heart rate, increased memory, energy and focus, and general feelings of well being and strength, it will benefit you to walk a little closer to trees. Feel their needles (to help with ID) and smell their unique scents which are generally uplifting and calming.
While my 11 year old and I may not agree on what makes a tree “cool”, I encourage you to make up your own mind and look for intricacies that amaze you. And go for a hike in the fall looking for those larch gems while bathing in the forest freshness!