Dec 31, 2012

Outdoor Hour Challenge #1: The Pine Bark Mystery!

The Mystery Bark
  In Outdoor Hour Challenge #1, the idea is just to whet the appetite for nature study. Charlotte Mason didn't want it crammed down the children's throats perhaps because, like all things that are good for them, they will run in the opposite direction as soon as they learn that it's beneficial. No matter that it might even taste good!
   So although we've been doing nature study for a few years, it was good to go back to basics and just let Mei lead the way in finding something of interest to her. She doesn't get all hot and sweaty over nature study, I have to confess (unlike me). So allowing her to call the nature study shots was a sneaky way to get her attention.
    As the Challenge stated, she could find anything she wanted.. She could have chosen some exciting stuff like the pileated woodpecker that I can imitate pretty well much to her amusement, or the bittersweet that was festooning the late-autumn trees. Nope, she chose bark.
    This bark was from a downed tree along the private road we frequent. It runs through a mixed hardwood forest divided by a couple of streams--tributaries to the Patapsco River which in turn flows into the Chesapeake Bay. It's a nice little piece of outdoors that provides many of our nature study opportunities. And a good dog walk.
   As I said, the tree was down and quite deteriorating. At first all we noticed was a trunk, smooth and lying a distance from its source. The short remains of branches stuck straight out in regular intervals. It was a few minutes before we discovered the stump that had once supported the tree. It surprised us to see that it was covered with bark, unlike the smooth surface we had seen on the fallen trunk. We helped ourselves to a sample and headed back, looking all over for a match to identify the tree.
White Pine: gray-green,
long crevices

We narrowed it down to a pine, but weren't
sure which. There were trees that were clearly white pines. We knew enough about clusters of five long, soft needles to pinpoint that one (ID trick: "WHITE" has five letters, just like the tree has five needles) But the bark didn't match. Nor did the cones. We suspected red pine, but here was the rub. Whenever we found a tree with bark that resembled ours, the tree was DEAD! No needles! Only a rare cone. Ah ha! Now I had her interest as I gave her the responsibility of doing the research at home.

Range Map for Red Pine
   At long last, after consulting a few field guides (hint: it's good to invest in several different guides!) and some internet resources, she concluded that it was indeed a red pine. But why all the pine death? She looked at the map and noted that  red pines don't normally grow this far south. So how did all these trees end up growing here in the first place? Did they sprout from seed cast by a transplanted parent in someone's landscaped yard? Are  they dying from the hotter-than-usual summers we've been having? Or is it something else, like an  infestation or disease? We really haven't solved the mystery
yet, but just having one related to nature made this study all the more "appetizing!"
Mei's  observation page for Challenge #1
   Want to know what makes a pine a PINE? Check out this video "How to Identify Pine Trees." And below that you can learn how to identify four different pines including White and Red! We'll be watching it too. It may solve the mystery of the Mystery Bark!
"How to Identify Pine Trees"
"Pine Tree Identification


  1. Great post on your study hour. It seems the trees are all struggling with some kind of disease or being attached by a non-native bug. I admire that you are doing the home study! It is also nice to meet another Maryland blogger. I will enjoy following along on your studies, maybe I will learn something new too. I wish you and your family a very Happy New Year!

  2. Hi, Eileen! I agree: another Marylander blogger and a nature lover to boot! Thanks for becoming a follower. Your pictures are wonderful!


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