When out for a walk in the woods, take time to study the different shapes of trees.
Trees can take on many different shapes, and by using your imagination, some humorous and scary trees can be found. The scariest tree that I have ever seen appeared to be a dragon.
Have you ever seen a bent tree? This is a tree in which the trunk is straight for several feet off the ground and then is bent in a horizontal position. From the part of the trunk that is horizontal, vertical branches grow again.
American Indians made marker trees by using leather thongs to tie down young trees. Marker trees were used to mark a spot or show the direction of travel; hence, these trees were known as trail trees.
Today, bent trees are the result of natural causes, such as falling limbs or other trees falling over and pinning young saplings to the ground for a few years.
The new growth on the pinned tree always will resume its vertical growth toward the light.
Another formation to look for is a flag tree, or banner tree. This occurs when branches on the windward side of a tree either are killed or deformed by almost constant strong winds, giving the tree a characteristic flag-like appearance.
If the lower portion of the tree is protected by either snowcover or rocks, only the exposed upper portion could have this appearance. This is a rather common occurrence in red spruce trees found on the highest peaks of the central Appalachian Mountains; however, flag trees most commonly are seen in the windswept high peaks and plateaus of the Allegheny Mountains.
While walking in the woods, it is not uncommon to come upon a large gnarled tree surrounded by younger trees. Usually these large trees either are boundary trees or trees that were not cut when the land was timbered off. They are not good timber trees because of their many gnarled limbs; however, they are excellent den trees.
An old tree, such as a red or white oak, found growing in either an open or wooded area, will have a large crown. These trees, which are called wolf trees, are doubly valuable since they usually are den trees and also produce food.
Vines also are a cause of deformed trees. Tree tops are broken, limbs twisted, trunks bent and leaves shaded by vines climbing up and through the trees, adding unsupported weight that makes the tree susceptible to wind, ice and uprooting damage.
Vines are similar to other woody plants in that each year a growth ring is added to the ring-porous stem.
If vines are wounded just before or during the growing season, which is from early spring until late summer, they characteristically bleed sap.
Vines are intolerant of shade and need to have sunlight.
Grapevines are supported by tendrils that enable the vines to climb and advance on trees. Shoot growth begins later in the growing season.
Shoot elongation starts slowly for several weeks, followed by periods of rapid growth.
While shoot growth is rapid (up to 15 feet a year), diameter growth is slow. A 50-year-old vine can have a diameter at ground line of only 1.5 inches.
In this area, vines such as bittersweet, grape and poison ivy, can damage trees.
Although Virginia creeper climbs trees, it does not appear to do any damage to a tree.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.