September 19, 2012

Mystery in tree a real education

By SUSAN TOBIAS, Pinch of Time

---- — Fall is my favorite time of year. Nature is so beautiful with leaves turning orange, red and yellow; the days are sunny, and the nights are cool.

Nature can also be quirky, to say the least.

For the past three or four years, I have been watching a “thing” growing in our very tall pine tree. Each year I would tell Toby there was something weird about that tree, and he’d tell me it was only a bird’s nest and to forget about it.

This year was no different. All summer I kept an eye on this “thing” in our tree. Finally I could ignore it no longer. I took a picture and sent it to the local Cooperative Extension asking if they knew what it was. The reply was that it looked like a squirrel’s nest.

I hated to disagree, but I had never seen a squirrel’s nest that looked like that, stayed around from year to year and grew larger each summer.

A week ago, I took my usual stroll around the yard, checked out the “thing” in the tree and was surprised to see that the limb it was attached to had begun to sag and looked like it was going to break. Well, that was it. Time to cut that “thing” down.

After telling Toby what I was planning, he said he would go up the tree and saw the limb, probably because he remembers me climbing a ladder once before and falling flat on my back while standing at the top. He also said something about not wanting “it” to drop on his face and be attacked by something.

As he sawed, I waited underneath. With a “crack,” the limb let go and down came the “thing.” It weighs about 20 pounds, is 33 inches from top to bottom and more than 5 feet around. As I carried it back to the house, I still had no idea what we had.

It nearly filled the wheelbarrow when I laid it down. It is shaped like a very large hornets nest, small pine boughs on one side with no needles, and a few green boughs on the other side with some greenery, but all in all a very complicated, intertwined conglomeration of branches.

Seeking an answer to this mystery, I posted it on Facebook. My esteemed colleague Gordie Little left a note saying he had seen one before and even written a column about it a long time ago but could not remember the name. Well, as happens with us “old” folks, a short time later Gordie left me another note:

“Yes, yes, yes. It’s all coming back to me now. Witches broom is the name we remember. It is a fungus or growth that happens on and in trees over time. They look like nests and are actually sometimes used as a nest by various birds…”

Gordie suggested I look it up on the Internet. Lo and behold, he was right. There were several pictures, none exactly like mine, but I got the general idea that I do have a witch’s broom, or witches broom, depending on the possessive or the plural.

Can you imagine that? Me, a born-again Christian, growing a witch’s broom in my yard? Needless to say, we’re having a good laugh about it all. It just goes to show, even at 65, you are never too old to learn something new.

One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at