Country Street Bee Tree

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by Neil Carleton

I’ve never seen bees active in winter before, or sampled wild honey on snow. February 7th was a memorable day on Country Street.

The wind storm last year that broke a large limb off the Shepherd Street maple (December 2011 column), and split the Manitoba Maple at Meadowglen Park (January 2012 column), also dealt a death blow to the mature white ash at the corner of Country and Elgin streets. Although only smaller branches broke off at the time, the large street-side limb was cracked for much of its length.

A strong wind can be such a destructive force when it encounters a tree. When leaves high up in the canopy catch a sudden blast of turbulent air, these food factory sails transfer tremendous stain to the rest of the tree. As twigs, branches, limbs, and the trunk yield to the wind by bending, the sap cells are compressed on one side of the bend, and stretched on the other. When the limits of flexibility are exceeded, the wood fibers are torn asunder. If the break is complete, gravity takes over and a portion of the tree comes crashing to the ground.

The damage to the Country Street ash was not as obvious. Nothing really big fell off during the storm. With each new winter squall, snow fall, and layer of ice, the street-side limb leaned farther and farther over the sidewalk, pushing against the power, telephone, and cable lines. Before the tree was carefully taken down by the crew of the Ottawa River Power Corporation, the large stress fracture on this big limb was easily visible. The crew of the Ottawa River

Power Corporation work to secure a looped rope over the end of the hollow yard-side limb on February 7th.

All was not well with the yard-side section either. Although not structurally sound, the hollow limb was attractive real estate from a bee’s perspective. With twin knot hole entrances away up near the top, and plenty of room for the needs of a colony, it was really an ideal situation for a large bee hive.

Not many people have a chance to inspect an active bee hive in a hollow tree. In this photo the twin entrance holes are visible, as are empty sections of honeycomb at the top of the hive.

Apiarian war was soon declared by the inhabitants when the chainsaw blade sliced through a section of the honey laden hive. The number of stings were thankfully limited, and the hydraulic bucket was quickly moved away. Using a long extendable pole, the crew secured a looped rope over the end of the limb. Armstrong power brought the hive safely to ground, and the brisk northerly wind quickly dispersed any insects in flight mode.

Bees are clustered where the chainsaw cut through a section of the honey laden hive. The tree was cut into blocks and removed for firewood.This top section of honeycomb was collected for further study at the lab out of the cold north wind. The end of each cell is a perfect hexagon.

A large hollow limb also makes a cozy nesting site for some birds. A considerable accumulation of nesting material, along with a few dark feathers, was discovered in a separate section below the bee hive. I wonder if the sound of droning bees made an imprint on any chicks that were raised and fledged there.

Unidentified feather from inside the Country Street white ash.

With a circumference of 2.43 m / 7.97 ft at chest height, the white ash at the corner of Country and Elgin streets was a mature tree. From the ring count on the stump, it was 122 years old. This fine specimen grew from a seed that germinated in 1889, when Canada was only 22 years old.

Whether a mature tree needs to come down or not, it’s always a sad day to see the trunk and big limbs cut up on the ground. When a street tree comes down, a neighbourhood is suddenly changed. After the physical presence of the tree is removed, so is the big promise of spring on that spot, the ritual of its fall leaves, and the familiarity of the landscape. Gone too over time is the arboreal beauty of our streets in all seasons that we value so much in this community.

It would be a sound municipal policy to replace any streetscape shade trees on town property when it’s necessary for them to be removed.

Do you have a notable of favourite tree? Readers are invited to submit their nominations for an honor roll of trees in our area that could be featured in future articles. You can contact me at 613-256-2018, <carle@magma.ca >, or Neil Carleton, P.O. Box 1644, Almonte, Ontario, K0A 1A0. I look forward to hearing from you.

My volunteer columns started in March 2010, as print features, to support the tree planting and tree awareness initiatives of the Mississippi Mills Beautification Committee. The contact for the Tree Working Group is Ron Ayling, 613-256-4617. In Carleton Place, the contact for the Urban Forest / River Corridor Advisory Committee is Jim McCready, 613-257-5853.

Until the next column, you’ll find me looking for and hanging out with local shady characters.