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Different Kinds of Trees in the Catskill Mountains

birch image by Henryk Olszewski from

The most notable trees to come out of eastern New York's Catskill Mountains may have been the evergreens that Mark Carr harvested and transported to New York City's first commercial Christmas tree lot in 1851. The Catskills, however, are home many tree species. Hardwood beeches, maples, oaks and basswoods light up mountainsides in the fall. Flowering trees fill them with spring color and fragrance. The Catskills' wildlife depends on these trees for food and shelter.

Paper Birch

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera), immortalized in a Robert Frost poem, is as iconic a northeastern American tree as the sugar maple. This slender-trunked tree signature characteristic is paper-thin white bark marred with black scars where it has peeled. Reaching 50 to 75 feet, frequently with multiple trunks, graceful paper birches provided the bark with which northeastern Native Americans covered their with cedar-framed canoes. Today its wood shows up in toothpicks, ice cream bar sticks, thread spools and veneers. Paper birches grow wild along the Catskill's damp slopes and stream banks. They need cool summers and tolerate sun and shade. Plant them in moist rich soil. They are especially effective, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, in ornamental plantings with backdrops of dark evergreens.

Sugar Maple

Generations of New England calendars have depicted the month of October with photos of sugar maple (Acer saccharum) in its full autumn glory. Sugar maple's fall foliage is a dazzling display of several brilliant colors--often occuring simultaneously on the same leaf. Sugar maple wood is highly desirable for flooring and furniture veneers. It is best known as the source of maple syrup and sugar boiled down from sap collected in the early spring. An outstanding shade tree, sugar maple seldom exceeds 75 feet in home landscapes. Trees thrive in sun or shade and in the Catskill slopes’ rich, moist soil. They suffer in prolonged high temperatures.

Eastern Red Cedar

Eastern red cedar's (Juniperus virginiana) remarkable cold, heat and drought tolerance makes it most prolific cone-bearing tree in the eastern United States. The first English settlers in North America at North Carolina's Roanoke colony used red cedar's crisply fragrant wood in their cabins and fences. Red cedar's silver-gray bark makes an attractive combination with its blue-green to dark green leaves. Small blue berries occur on female trees in the autumn. Red cedar likes dry, sandy or loamy pH-neutral soils but isn't particular about light. It does well in caliche (soil high in limestone). Birds and small mammals feed on its berries

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