Category: Trees


Another new toy! Twisted Brush Tree Studio from Pixarra. More thanks to Philip Staiger at thebest3d.com for telling me about it. With Tree Studio you can quickly create 2D trees of several deciduous and conifer species.

A few trees made in Tree Studio added to the recently-posted image of a de Havilland Otter flying over snow-covered mountains gives it an entirely different look and feel. With a bit of work you would have a very nice forest at feet of the mountains. Tree Studio allows you to adjust the colors of the leaves as I have done here so that the birch trees can be in their autumn colors.

Click on the image for a full-size view.

For added realism a few of the png tree images generated by Tree Studio have been warped with another application.

Here is a screen shot of Tree Studio. The leaf color had been changed from the standard green to yellow. Tree Studios works with layers. A layer for the background, a layer for ground cover if, a layer for the trunk, a layer for the leaves. So that trees in the foreground will appear more realistic I suggest deleting the ground cover layer and adding another leaf layer behind the trunk as in this screen shot.

screenshot of Pixarra twisted brush tree studio

Twisted Brush Tree Studio

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Further exploring Howler’s capabilities I rendered the very same landscape in Puppy Ray GPU as was shown in the last post, having been rendered in 3D Designer. Oh my! Taiga forest, I lived there.

Click on the image for a full-size view.

Rendering Trees in Howler

I use DAZ Bryce quite a bit to render landscapes. A useful feature is the capability to “stack” terrains. Stacked terrains offer a quick way of adding trees or rocks. Here’s a simple mountain terrain rendered in Bryce.

daz bryce 3d mountain terrain

Simple Terrain Rendered in DAZ Bryce

To add trees I duplicate the terrain then modify it in Bryce’s terrain editor. Generally I first add a bit of height and slope noise so the result will be more interesting. The terrain editor can add “spikes” to a terrain bump map. This can be done at several resolutions. In the screenshot of the terrain editor below you can see spikes added to a terrain map. The size and number of spikes generated vary with the resolution chosen. Here the resolution is very low so that you can see the spikes, they are not just dots.  Simple dots would probably render as cylinders, not cones. You can see a rendered view at top right. When rendered in Bryce some of the cones are truncated.

screenshot of daz bryce terrain editor

Adding “Trees” In The Bryce Terrain Editor

When the two terrains are rendered together the spikes of the “tree” terrain protrude through the original terrain. After selecting a texture for the “trees” there are a number of ways to further modify the terrain. By simply raising or lowering the tree terrain relative to the original you can vary the size and number of visible trees. Areas without trees and treelines can be made my editing the  bump map. Such tree layers work best for mid-range or background terrains. With a bit of work you can a quite realistic image.

bryce terrain - spikes, or trees

Same Terrain With Trees

I wondered if I could do something similar in Howler, so I rendered a terrain bump map with spikes, or trees, in 3d Designer; this is the result. The grass color was set as a reddish hue to resemble soil or conifer needle duff. Snow and rock were set as similar shades of green.

example rendering of trees in dogwaffle howler 3d designer

Conifers Rendered in Howler’s 3D Designer

As you can not work simultaneously with multiple bump maps in 3D Designer it would be necessary to edit the bump map to make areas without trees, such as on the peaks and steep, rocky slopes. A better texture map and some method of distorting the trees, so they do not render merely as smooth cones, would improve the results. Post processing might be required to distort them for added realism. I usually have to do the same thing for trees rendered this way in Bryce.

I thought a digital rendering of a pine cone that I picked up in Ma’alot in northern Israel, would look nice with a quotation from naturalist John Muir. Muir was an early advocate of wilderness preservation in the United States, particularly in the west.

Click on image for full-size view.

john muir quote and pine cone

Preaching of Pines

Where the slopes are covered with pine forests, the Galilee reminds me very much of the western parts of North American. Jews began planting pines in the 1930s to reforest lands damaged by neglect and overgrazing by goats when under Turkish rule. Pines were chosen, in part, due to the fact that most of the “olim,” Jewish immigrants, were from Europe and pines looked normal to them. Eventually, the pine forests came under criticism, referred to as pine tree deserts, monotonous and sterile. Many people wanted to see native species reintroduced. However, in recent years much of the criticism has died away. It seems the pines have promoted the rebuilding of the soil. Native undergrowth and tree species, as well as wildlife, are making a comeback. And I can attest that sometimes the smell of pine resin is just wonderful.

The cone pictured is from from one of those pines, an Aleppo Pine (Pinus halpensis), also known as the Jerusalem Pine, is the only species of wild pine that grows in Israel. It is commonly accepted that the tree now called “pine” is the Biblical “oil tree”, as mentioned in Isaiah XLI, 19:

“I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree…”

It is also mentioned in I Kings VI, 23:

“And inside the sanctuary he made two cherubs of oil wood, each ten cubits high.”

The oil tree is also mentioned verses 31 and 33 of the same chapter, as well as in Nechemia VIII, 15.

The oil tree features close to other impressive trees in the description of the vision of the redemption, in the blossoming of the desert and the arid land. In the Mishnah and other rabbinic literature, the oil tree is mentioned as a tree that was used for kindling the beacons that were lighted to announce a new month.

The pine, in its present name, is mentioned in the Bible just once, in the Book of Isaiah XLIV, 14:

“… and takes the cypress and the oak, which he strengthens for himself among the trees of the forest; he plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it.”

There is a mention of pine trees in the Mishnah in the context of the various trees which were used for burning the “red heifer”. There are also those who hold that pines were among the trees used for kindling the beacons to announce a new month.

Here is another view of the cone, superimposed on fallen needles.

Click on image for full-size view.

pine cone and needles

Pine Cone and Fallen Needles

The Aleppo pine blossoms and flowers in the spring. The male cones are shed after the flowering while the female cones develop into fruit. The cone stays closed on the tree until a heavy sharav [hamsin], when it opens and its seeds are scattered.

Several versions of these images are available on a wide variety of items at one of my Zazzle. stores. Search for “pine cone” or “muir.”

Moroz

A dark night in Siberia – bringing in a bit of wood for the fire, conifer needles are covered in frost. Moroz (мороз) is the Russian word for frost.

Click on image for full-size view.

frost siberian night

Mороз

The taiga during the short summer season. The taiga, covering a large art of the world, but little understood by most people, is threatened due to climate change.

Click on image for full-size view.

Summer in the taiga

An image of the North American taiga (boreal forest) during the short summer period.

The Taiga is a nearly continuous belt of coniferous trees across North America and Eurasia overlying formerly glaciated areas and areas of patchy permafrost. The term “boreal forest” is sometimes used to refer to the more southerly part of the biome, while taiga is used to describe more barren areas of the north approaching the tree line and the tundra biome. The term “boreal” is taken from Boreas, Greek god of the north wind.

The taiga is the world’s largest terrestrial biome accounting for 29% of the world’s forest cover. It stretches over Eurasia and North America. Winters are very cold , summers are warm, rainy, and humid. In North America it covers most of inland Canada and Alaska as well as parts of the extreme northern continental United States (northern Minnesota through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Upstate New York and northern New England). It also covers most of Sweden, Finland, much of Norway, lowland/coastal areas of Iceland, much of Russia, northern Kazakhstan, northern Mongolia, and northern Japan. However, the predominant tree species varies. For example, the taiga of North America consists of mainly spruces; Scandinavian and Finnish taiga consists of a mix of spruce, pines and birch; Russian taiga has spruces, pines and larches depending on the region, the Eastern Siberian taiga being a vast larch forest.

The growing season, when the vegetation in the taiga comes alive, is usually slightly longer than the climatic definition of summer as the plants of the boreal biome have a lower threshold to trigger growth. For the Taiga Plains in Canada, growing season varies from 80 to 150 days. Data for locations in southwest Yukon gives 80–120 frost-free days. High latitudes mean that the sun does not rise far above the horizon, and less solar energy is received than further south. But the high latitude also ensures very long summer days, as the sun stays above the horizon nearly 20 hours each day, with only around 6 hours of daylight occurring in the dark winters, depending on latitude. The areas of the taiga inside the Arctic circle have midnight sun in mid-summer and polar night in mid-winter.

The taiga experiences relatively low precipitation throughout the year , primarily as rain during the summer months, but also as fog and snow. Snow may remain on the ground for as long as nine months in the northernmost extensions of the taiga. Muskeg (bogs) occur in poorly drained, glacial depressions. Sphagnum moss forms a spongy mat over ponded water. Growing on this mat are species of the tundra such as cottongrass and shrubs of the heath family. Black spruce and larch ring the edge.

Taiga soil tends to be young and poor in nutrients. It lacks the deep, organically enriched profile present in temperate deciduous forests. The thinness of the soil is due largely to the cold, which hinders the development of soil and the ease with which plants can use its nutrients. Fallen leaves and moss can remain on the forest floor for extended periods in the cool, moist climate. Acids from evergreen needles further leach the soil. Acidic soil often limits flora diversity to little more than lichens and some mosses. Herbs and berries can be found in clearings and areas with a prevalence of deciduous trees. The boreal forest is home to many types of berries such as raspberry, cranberry, cloudberry), bilberry and lingonberry. Diversity of soil organisms in the boreal forest is high, comparable to the tropical rainforest.

Since North America and Asia used to be connected by the Bering land bridge, a number of animal and plant species colonized both continents and are distributed throughout the taiga biome. Others differ regionally, typically with each genus having several distinct species, each occupying different regions of the taiga. Taigas also have some small-leaved deciduous trees like birch, alder, willow, and poplar; mostly in areas escaping the most extreme winter cold. Southernmost regions of the taiga may have trees such as oak, maple, elm, and tilia scattered among the conifers.

Evergreen species in the taiga have a number of adaptations specifically for survival in harsh taiga winters, although larch, the most cold-tolerant of all trees,is deciduous:

– Taiga trees tend to have shallow roots to take advantage of the thin soils.

– Many species of tree found there seasonally alter their biochemistry to make them more resistant to freezing, called “hardening”.

– The conical or spire-shaped promotes shedding of snow and prevents loss of branches.

– Needleleaf – narrowness reduces surface area through which water may be lost (transpired), especially during winter when the frozen ground prevents plants from replenishing their water supply and dessication could become problematic. The needles of boreal conifers also have thick waxy coatings–a waterproof cuticle–in which stomata are sunken and protected from drying winds.

– Evergreen habit – retention of foliage allows the trees photosynthesize with their older leaves in late winter and spring when light is good but temperatures are still too low for new growth. Larch are dominant in areas underlain by nearly continuous permafrost and having a climate even too dry and cold for the waxy needles of spruce and fir. Dark needles promotes maximum heat absorption allowing for photosynthesis at temperatures lower than would otherwise be the case.

A wide variety of wildlife are found in the taiga. Insects play a critical role as pollinators, decomposers, and as a part of the food web. Many nesting birds rely on them for food especially in the months of February and March. The cold winters and short summers make the taiga a challenging biome for reptiles and amphibians, which depend on environmental conditions to regulate their body temperatures, and there are only a few species in the boreal forest including red-sided garter snake, common European adder, blue-spotted salamander, northern two-lined salamander, Siberian salamander, wood frog, northern leopard frog, boreal chorus frog, American toad, and Canadian toad. Most hibernate underground in winter. Fish of the taiga must be able to withstand cold water conditions and be able to adapt to life under ice covered water. Species in the taiga include Alaska blackfish, northern pike, walleye, longnose sucker, white sucker, various species of cisco, lake whitefish, round whitefish, pygmy whitefish, arctic lamprey, various grayling species, brook trout (including sea-run brook trout in the Hudson bay area), chum salmon, Siberian taimen, lenok and lake chub.

The taiga is home to a number of large herbivorous mammals, such as moose and reindeer/caribou. Some areas have populations of other deer species such as the elk (wapiti) and roe deer.The largest animal in the taiga is the wood bison, found in northern Canada, Alaska and has been newly introduced into the Russian far-east. There is also a range of rodent species including beaver, squirrel, mountain hare, snowshoe hare, North American porcupine and vole. These species have adapted to survive the harsh winters in their native ranges. Some larger mammals, such as bears, eat heartily during the summer in order to gain weight, and then go into hibernation during the winter. Other animals have adapted layers of fur or feathers to insulate them from the cold. Predatory mammals of the taiga must be adapted to travel long distances in search of scattered prey or be able to supplement their diet with vegetation or other forms of food (such as raccoons). Mammalian predators of the taiga include Canada lynx, Eurasian lynx, stoat, Siberian weasel, least weasel, sable, American marten, North American river otter, European otter, American mink, wolverine, Asian badger, fisher, gray wolf, coyote, red fox, brown bear, American black bear, Asiatic black bear, polar bear and Siberian tiger.

More than 300 species of birds have their nesting grounds in the taiga. Siberian Thrush, White-throated Sparrow, and Black-throated Green Warbler migrate to this habitat to take advantage of the long summer days and abundance of insects found around the numerous bogs and lakes. Of the 300 species of birds that summer in the taiga only 30 stay for the winter. These are either carrion-feeding or large raptors that can take live mammal prey, including Golden Eagle, Rough-legged Buzzard (also known as the Rough-legged Hawk), and Raven, or else seed-eating birds, including several species of grouse and crossbills.

Large areas of Siberia’s taiga have been harvested for lumber since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In some cases, after clearcutting of trees, topsoil was also removed for shipment to Japan. In Canada, eight percent of the taiga is protected from development. The main forestry practice in the boreal forest of Canada is clearcutting, which involves cutting down most of the trees in a given area, then replanting the forest as a monocrop (one species of tree) the following season. Industry officials claim that this process emulates the natural effects of a forest fire, which they claim clearcutting suppresses, protecting infrastructure, communities and roads. However, from an ecological perspective, this is a falsehood, for several reasons, including: a) Removing most of the trees in a given area is usually done using large machines which disrupt the soil greatly, and the dramatic diminution of ground cover permits large-scale erosion and avalanches, which further damage the habitat and sometimes endangers infrastructure, roads, and communities. b) Clearcutting removes most of the biomass from an area, and the various macro and micro-nutrients it contains. This sudden decrease in nutrients in an area contrasts with a forest fire, which returns most of the nutrients to the soil. c) Forest fires leave standing snags, and leave patches of unburned trees. This helps preserve structure and micro-habitats within the area, whereas clearcutting destroys most of these habitats. In the past, clearcuts upwards of 110 km² have been recorded in the Canadian boreal forest. However, today 80% of clearcuts are less than 260 hectares(2.6 square km). Some of the products from logged boreal forests include toilet paper, copy paper, newsprint, and lumber. More than 90% of boreal forest products from Canada are exported for consumption and processing in the United States. However with the recession and fewer US homes being built, that has changed. Some of the larger cities situated in this biome are Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Yakutsk, Anchorage, Yellowknife, Tromsø, Luleå, and Oulu.

Most companies that harvest in Canadian forests are certified by an independent third party agency such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forests Initiative (SFI), or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). While the certification process differs between these groups, all of them include forest stewardship, respect for aboriginal peoples, compliance with local, provincial or national environmental laws, forest worker safety, education and training, and other environmental, business, and social requirements. The prompt renewal of all harvest sites by planting or natural renewal is also required.
Climate change

The zone of latitude occupied by the boreal forest has experienced some of the greatest temperature increases on Earth, especially during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Winter temperatures have increased more than summer temperatures. The number of days with extremely cold temperatures (e.g., −20 to −40 °C) has decreased irregularly but systematically in nearly all the boreal region, allowing better survival for tree-damaging insects. In summer, the daily low temperature has increased more than the daily high temperature. In Fairbanks, Alaska, the length of the frost-free season has increased from 60–90 days in the early twentieth century to about 120 days a century later. Summer warming has been shown to increase water stress and reduce tree growth in dry areas of the southern boreal forest in central Alaska, western Canada and portions of far eastern Russia. Precipitation is relatively abundant in Scandinavia, Finland, northwest Russia and eastern Canada, where a longer growth season (i.e. the period when sap flow is not impeded by frozen water) accelerate tree growth. As a consequence of this warming trend, the warmer parts of the boreal forests are susceptible to replacement by grassland, parkland or temperate forest.

In Siberia, the taiga is converting from predominantly needle-shedding larch trees to evergreen conifers in response to a warming climate. This is likely to further accelerate warming, as the evergreen trees will absorb more of the sun’s rays. Given the vast size of the area, such a change has the potential to affect areas well outside of the region. In much of the boreal forest in Alaska, the growth of white spruce trees are stunted by unusually warm summers, while trees on some of the coldest fringes of the forest are experiencing faster growth than previously.

Recent years have seen outbreaks of insect pests in forest-destroying plagues: the spruce-bark beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) in Yukon and Alaska; the mountain pine beetle in British Columbia; the aspen-leaf miner; the larch sawfly; the spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana); the spruce coneworm.

Many nations are taking direct steps to protect the ecology of the taiga by prohibiting logging, mining, oil and gas production, and other forms of development. In February 2010 the Canadian government established protection for 13,000 square kilometres of boreal forest by creating a new 10,700 square kilometre park reserve in the Mealy Mountains area of eastern Canada and a 3,000 square kilometre waterway provincial park that follows alongside the Eagle River from headwaters to sea.

Two Canadian provincial governments, Ontario and Quebec, introduced measures in 2008 that would protect at least half of their northern boreal forest. Although both provinces admitted it will take years to plan, work with Aboriginal and local communities and ultimately map out precise boundaries of the areas off-limits to development, the measures are expected to create some of the largest protected areas networks in the world once completed.

The taiga stores enormous quantities of carbon, more than the world’s temperate and tropical forests combined, much of it in wetlands and peatland. In fact, current estimates place boreal forests as storing twice as much carbon per unit area as tropical forests.

Spring 2012

We had record-breaking snowfall in South Central alaska this last winter. Most of it has now melted though quite a bit remains on the mountains.

I thought this was a nice view for a spring day. Looking east towards the Chugach mountains from Anchorage.

New grass is coming up and leaf buds are beginning to open up as you can see on the willows here.

Click on image for full-size view.

Spring 2012

Spring 2012

chickadee birch beer bottle

Chickadee Birch Beer

Returning now to fictional goods and services; try a Chickadee All Natural Birch Beer.

There are seven species of chickadees in North America: the Black-capped Chickadee, Boreal Chickadee, Carolina Chickadee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Mexican Chickadee, Mountain Chickadee, and the Siberian Tit. 

Chickadees are found throughout much of North America including Alaska and most of Canada. They are also found on Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Queen Charlotte Island and Vancouver Island. In general, they do not migrate. Every couple of years when populations are high, birds that hatched within the past year may “irrupt” (spread out), or move southward in the fall.

Chickadees get their name from their familiar chick-a-dee-dee-dee song. This simple-sounding call is astonishingly complex. It has been observed to consist of up to four distinct units which can be arranged in different patterns to communicate information about threats from predators and coordination of group movement. Recent study of the call shows that the number of dees indicates the level of threat from nearby predators. In an analysis of over 5,000 alarm calls from chickadees, it was found that alarm calls triggered by small, dangerous raptors had a shorter interval between chick and dee and tended to have extra dees, usually averaging four instead of two. In one case, a warning call about a pygmy owl – a prime threat to chickadees – contained 23 dees.

There are a number of other calls and sounds that Chickadees make, such as a gargle noise usually used by males to indicate a threat of attacking another male, often when feeding. This call is also used in sexual contexts. This noise is among the most complex of the calls, containing 2 to 9 of 14 distinct notes in one population that was studied.

Insects (especially caterpillars) form a large part of the Chickadee’s diet in summer. The birds hop along tree branches searching for food, sometimes hanging upside down or hovering; they may make short flights to catch insects in the air. Seeds and berries become more important in winter, though insect eggs and pupae remain on the menu. Black oil sunflower seeds are readily taken from bird feeders. The birds take a seed in their bill and commonly fly from the feeder to a tree, where they proceed to hammer the seed on a branch to open it.

At bird feeders, Black-capped Chickadees tolerate human approach to a much greater degree than other species. In fact, during the winter many individuals accustomed to human habitation will readily accept seed from a person’s hand.

Have you ever wondered how chickadees, weighing about 12 grams and small enough to fit inside a human hand, can survive winter? They have high metabolic rates and little body fat. 

On cold winter nights, Chickadees reduce their body temperature by up to 10–12 °C (from their normal temperature of about 42 °C) to conserve energy. Such a capacity for torpor is rare in birds (or at least, rarely studied).  While this may seem counterproductive, “nocturnal hypothermia” probably reduces energy expenditure by as much as ten percent.

As winter approaches temperatures decrease as does the supply of insects, berries and seeds. The birds must eat during the day and put on sufficient fat to be metabolized as heat during the night. Some studies suggest chickadees may gain ten to a whopping 60 percent of their body weight in a day to keep warm through the long winter night. On extremely cold nights, a chickadee uses almost all of its body fat to keep warm, then replaces it the next day in order to repeat the cycle.

To ensure a food supply, during autumn the chickadee roams a territory covering tens of square miles, gathering morsels of food and stores them in hundreds of hiding places in trees behind buckled pieces of bark, in patches of lichens and other caches. In the fall the chickadee’s hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for spatial organization and memory, grows by 30 percent. In the spring, when memory requirements lessen, the chickadee’s hippocampus shrinks back to its normal size,

In the states of Alaska and Washington, and in parts of western Canada, Black-capped Chickadees are among a number of bird species affected by an unknown agent that is causing beak deformities, which may cause stress for affected species by inhibiting feeding ability, mating, and grooming. Black-capped Chickadees were the first affected bird species, with reports of the deformity beginning in Alaska in the late 1990s, but more recently the deformity has been observed in close to 30 bird species in the affected areas, as reported by the Alaska Science Center of the United States Geological Survey.

Click on image for full-size view.

Chickadee Birch Beer Label

The label from a bottle of Chickadee All Natural Birch Beer

Northern Edge

The farther north you go the tougher it is for trees to survive. Eventually you reach the limit. You may find just a few isolated, scraggly black spruce (Picea mariana) hanging on.  Often they are damaged and bare of needles on one side due to wind.  Sometimes, what appears to be number of indivdual trees, are in reality just one plant with several trunks.

Click on image for full size view.

Northern limit for trees