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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sapsicles: Nature's Ice Pops

A Chickadee perches next to Sapsicles in the
famous Red Maple at the North Branch Nature Center
As I travel down an old country road, the sweet smell of a wood fire fills the air.  Buckets and tubes line trees on both sides of the road, and as I near the top of a hill, I can see smoke coming from the chimney of a sugarhouse down in the valley.  Sugar-making season is here and the sap is flowing!

Anyone who has collected enough sap buckets has likely seen icicles hanging from the tap as the sap freezes on cold days.  Even non-sugar-makers can see “sapsicles” dangling from branches and trunks of maples and other trees where the sap oozes from open wounds.  The sapsicles form slowly, as drops of liquid sap come in contact with freezing air.  Slowly, they grow, trapping the sugary sap out of reach of most creatures.  

They continue to grow until temperatures warm, and then they slowly begin to melt.  The drops of sap trickle to the bottom of the sapsicle, where they hang until they become heavy enough to fall.  Other watery drops evaporate into the air, while some ice sublimes (turns directly into water vapor).  As this happens, the sugary solution becomes more concentrated.  I have watched chickadees hover at sapsicles in the Red Maple outside my office window, drinking up the sweet drops.  Red Squirrels, too, will drink sap (they actually tap their own trees!). 

Over the next week, keep your eye out for sapsicles… nature’s ice pops!

The Chickadee hangs upside-down to sip up the sweet maple sap!

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