Tasty Evergreens... December 29, 2007
Most of December's blog has been devoted to conifers, and rightfully so. They are an important part of Ohio's native flora, providing cover and food for birds and some mega-fauna, as witnessed on today's Mohican Christmas Bird Count. While counting birds along a roadside overgrowth, we spied this row of Arbor-Vitae. Northern White Cedar, Thuja occidentalis is our native, but planted in a neat row, this could easily be Oriental Arborvitae, Thuja orientalis a landscape plant. The best way to tell them apart- according to the "McKee": "Oriental Arbor-Vitae, a commonly planted ornamental, has leaf sprays more vertical than the horizontal native species, and thicker cone scales with a hook like structure, and seeds that are wingless". I suggested beating on them to see how many species of birds we could flush out, but my wiser and level-headed partners restrained me and reminded me to use good birding etiquette. :) Besides, these poor plants looked as though they had already been traumatized enough. They were clipped, or rather well chewed, up to a height of about 4 feet. This would be pretty compelling evidence of deer browse. Arborvitae must be a deer delicacy, as this is a common occurrence in rural areas, including many cemeteries. A friend once asked if I knew why Arborvitaes were commonly planted in cemeteries, and the Latin roots of "Arbor" (tree) " Vitae" (life) are highly suggestive: Tree of Life. A fact corroborated by the National Cemetery web site, which also notes the tree's pleasant fragrance and evergreen foliage, desirable to the living. These trees, a logical choice for a living memorial, thrive on well-drained soil and can live for several hundred years.
Ohio has a data-base of Big Trees and many of them are found in cemeteries- that might make some interesting blog fodder for the future. :) Remember, cemeteries are a great place to botanize and bird!