LTER Road Trip: Hemlock Hospice

I walked along the shaded paths of Harvard Forest with Audrey Barker Plotkin, Site and Research Manager. The air was cooler in the woods, despite the warm June afternoon. Wildflowers covered the forest floor in patches, while large white pine rows told a knowing observer that this property used to agricultural land. I knew this was an experimental forest because the signs literally abounded around us, from shiny identification tags to bright orange ticker tape, from sensors recording soil temperature to giant flux towers measuring the tree stands as they breathed.

As we walked, I suddenly heard a delicate pattering sound, like the gentlest of rain showers.

Pulling a shirt flap over my exposed camera, I craned my head upward, wondering how a rain cloud could have developed from the clear blue sky I had seen before entering the woods. All I saw was canopy, and Barker Plotkin shook her head.

“It’s not rain,” she explained, “It’s the hemlock needles.” All around us the needles fell like the strangest form of precipitation nature could conjure, only, it wasn’t ‘natural.’

Harvard Forest

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