Contrary to the expected, December around here tends more towards ice than snow.  This year, the long spell of close/below freezing has meant that our current winter weather is rather mild: it started as snow and is now sort of drizzle.

Other years, however, it comes as ice.  That ice can be pretty is in no way a redeeming feature.  It tends to prune trees in an unfortunate manner. Most of the native trees can adapt, hemlock and spruce simply droop, white pine unfortunately tends to drop branches, usually snapping off a few feet out from the main trunk.*  This doesn’t bother the tree, but people don’t care for it. Birches bend, until they don’t of course.  Oaks and Maples stand tall, unless they are unbalanced due to a combination of factors (unbalanced rapid growth, saturated ground, wind, etc.); they usually don’t drop branches in ice storms however.**  The truly vulnerable trees are the non-native ornamental ones which often have many narrowly branched limbs, such as Japanese Maples; sadly those tend to tear off at the trunk, making for a difficult pruning job afterwards.

This shows a light ice-load on the trees east of the house, you can see how the Norway Spruces in the background (which normally would be touching) have turned into individual ‘cones’ as the branches are weighed down.  The closest trees are pines, and you can just tell that the main branches do not flex at all, only the smaller branches under a few inches in diameter.  The Maples in the midground have not changed shape at all.


*Mature white pines, that is, the 70 ft plus monsters, such as the ones in the photo.  The limbs simply fracture, if you look at them afterwards there is very little tearing in the way you see on maple or ash.

**Look, All Trees can and do drop things in storms (don’t go dancing around in the woods without paying attention to what is above you!)

Balanced trees are important, some trees are more tolerant than others and can carry an uneven load: as is shown by this River Birch, which is quite one-sided, but it capable of bending in the main trunk:


However, there is always a possibility that they can carry the uneven load until they don’t: this double trunk Red Oak was about sixty years old, perfectly healthy.  It simply grew a bit too much due to the other side of the road being cleared two years previously, giving it much more light.  As you can see, there were no branches on the side facing away from the road.  Ice plus saturated ground plus a year of abundant extra growth and…thud.  (this was several years ago, the trees have since been aggressively pruned by the DOT)*


*Murphy’s Law being what it is, there was a car going past at the time.  The driver was fine, the car not so much.