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Mother Nature Monday: What in the world is Moosewood?

During the winter months, when the trees are bare of leaves, it is fun to see if you can identify the various trees by their bark and the clues left underneath the trees from the previous season.

One of the trees that is easiest to identify from its bark alone is the Moosewood Maple aka Acerpensylvanicum, known as the striped maple, whistlewood, moosewood, moose maple or goosefoot maple. The leaves can be up to seven inches long and are shaped like the foot of a goose, which is where the alternate name of the tree, goosefoot maple, comes from. Also, pensylvanicum is not misspelled. That is the original spelling of the Latin name by Linnaeus, the man who chose the name.

The Moosewood is the only “Snake-bark Maple” not indigenous to East Asia. It is native to the Eastern United State. Snake-bark gives you a clue about the appearance and texture of the bark. The bark of this small maple is strikingly different from most of the other trees in the forest. It is a lovely smooth darkish green color, striped with green, brown and white. As it matures, the green of the bark turns a much darker greenish-brown.

The Moosewood tree is an understory tree in cool, moist forests, often on slopes and it can easily be spotted during the winter along the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Trail. Because it is an understory plant it is tolerant of a great deal of shade. When a gap opens up in the overstory, the tree grows quickly upward, reaching for the sun. However, it is a small tree and usually grows no higher than 35 feet, not tall enough to become part of the average canopy. Instead, when it reaches its full height and the gap above it closes up with other taller trees, it begins to flower and fruit profusely.

There certainly are Moosewood trees that grow higher than 35 feet. One of the tallest striped maples ever documented was 65 feet tall. It had a circumference of four feet and six inches. It was discovered in the area of Black Mountain, in Kentucky, in the early part of the 1900s (before 1920).

Mammals such as moose, deer, beavers, and rabbits eat the bark, particularly during the winter.

To identify the bark, you must look for its unique features. The bark of the tree is striped—the origin of the tree's name—and the striping is especially noticeable in the young bark with its green and thin white striping, streaks and bumps. The bark has a very smooth texture compared to most other tree barks.

Where does the name “Whistlewood” come from? Small, finger-diameter sections of branches can be used to make whistles due to the ability to lightly bruise the bark, slip it off the wood, carve the whistle hollow and channel airflow directly into the wood tube. You can then slip the tube of bark back onto the whistle. An important reminder! Harvesting plants from the Joyce Kilmer – Slickrock Wilderness is prohibited. Please be sure and take only pictures and leave only footprints. That way everyone can

enjoy and learn.

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