Snow Ghosts

Garden Clippings for Jan 28, 2023

Day 2 of the Bluewater International Ski Club’s trip to Whitefish, Montana was a disappointment, a chance you take when you strap on a pair of skis.

Whitefish Mountain Resort is a ski resort with a good mix of trails for beginners, intermediate and expert skiers.  Whitefish is well-known for its panoramic views, nightly snowfall, and thick base, but is also known for a mix of fog, cloud and wind.  Clouds hold water droplets that can remain in liquid state even when temperatures drop far below the freezing mark.  Once the water droplets hit ski goggles or any other object, they turn to ice, making visibility nearly impossible.

If a skier were to stand motionless for several days in the upper mountains of Whitefish, or any other West Coast mountain range, she or he would soon be covered in rime ice, an accumulation of ice resulting from water droplets freezing upon contact.

Snow ghosts are trees that are covered with layers upon layers of rime ice.  At first glance, skiers might think snow ghosts are soft and fluffy, but as soon as they are hit with a ski pole it becomes evident that the trees are hard and crusty.

At Whitefish Mountain Resort, most of the snow ghosts are Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta).

Rime ice is more than just a pretty face.  The accumulation of ice serves to protect the Lodgepole Pine from drying cold wind, allowing the Pines to survive the frigid temperatures just below the tree line.

Lodgepole Pine is one of West Coast’s most adaptable native trees, capable of growing from California to the Yukon.  It won’t grow east of Alberta.  In the category of conifers, Lodgepole Pine has plenty company, including Larch, Cedar, Fir, Spruce and the famous Giant Sequoia.

The forests of South-west Ontario are dominated by deciduous trees rather than conifers, a situation that reverses as you go north.  And it is because South-west Ontario’s forests are primarily deciduous, that we enjoy more plant diversity than any other region of Canada.

Conifers such as White Pine, Hemlock, Red Pine and White Cedar are few and far between, and can be found scattered in the Great Lakes regions of Ontario.

Ontario’s favorite conifer is the White Pine (Pinus strobus), which also claims the title of Ontario’s official tree.   White Pine is also the State tree of Michigan, Maine and Idaho.

In terms of quantities, White Pine is outnumbered by Black Spruce, Ontario’s most abundant tree, which grows mostly in the vast forests north of Lake Superior.  Black Spruce, (Picea mariana) with its short fleshy needles has increased water holding capacity, making it ideal to survive in areas of poor or rocky soils of Northern Ontario.

Next week we will examine Black Locust, a poisonous deciduous tree.