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O Tannenbaum

The odor of white pine sap is unmistakable; adult bald eagles place white pine sprigs in and within the nest, possibly to lessen the multitude of flies that are attracted to the leftover bits of fish and other prey items fed to the young.
TRR photos by Scott Rando


December 26, 2012

“O Tannenbaum” is the German version of the song “O Christmas Tree” that we hear so often during this holiday season. Tannenbaum is also the German translation for a fir tree, a very popular conifer to have indoors as the traditional Christmas tree. There are a number of varieties of conifers and evergreens in our region, some of which make suitable Christmas trees, but all have some impact on nature and wildlife.

Here are a few of our most common conifers:

If we hear the call of an eagle and look to see where it came from, chances we will see an eagle perched in a white pine tree. Most of the eagle nests in the region are in white pine trees, and other large raptors favor white pine trees as well. Tall trees like these were sought after for ships’ masts in colonial times. White pine lumber is still sought after today for a variety of uses.

Another long-needled conifer is the pitch pine. Pitch pines are less common than white pines and older trees have a rough-looking bark as well as a craggy appearance. Their needles grow in bundles of three, where white pines have five needles in a bundle. This tree needs more sun and will be found in more open sections of forest. Its wood is rot-resistant and pitch pines were once the source of pitch and turpentine, hence the name. In areas affected by wildfire, this tree may take seed and thrive. It is the tree of choice for restoration of inland pine barrens.

Anyone who has trout fished along a stream may have had the opportunity to untangle line or lure out of an eastern hemlock tree. Eastern hemlocks favor moist, cool climates, and mature stands of hemlock frequently line stream drainages and gorges. With its many small needles, an eastern hemlock makes a fine shade tree; this trait makes it very important to the stream habitat. The shade provided by stands of hemlock ensures that the water temperature of the stream stays cold enough to support trout. The wooly adelgid, a small insect pest, poses a threat to eastern hemlocks in our region, and there is concern for how this will affect some stream habitats in the future.

Rambling among a stand of conifers now may yield pine siskins darting to and fro, or perhaps a porcupine eating white pine sprigs, or even a red squirrel in a stand of hemlocks singing its own version of “O Tannenbaum.”