When the lovely distraction of summer’s green or autumn’s fire-colored leaves is gone, a walk through the woods brings overlooked sights to our attention. This year, high up in many trees, you may spot long gashes where the gold-colored inner bark and cambium layers have been exposed, contrasting richly with the duller gray-browns of the weathered outer bark. Most of these are the scars of our unwelcome October blizzard, when healthy branches were violently ripped from trees, stripping the still-supple bark in long patches. The color contrast is so noticeable that these wounds are often called “shiners.”
But that is not the only wound trees endure. The ruddy-colored scratches on the trunk of the Angle Fly tree in this photo were caused by a white tailed deer. This “deer rub” is a sign that a buck (a male deer) has scraped its antlers roughly against the tree.
To understand why, it helps to know a bit about deer antlers. Antlers are bone and are regrown anew every year (unlike horns which are made of keratin like our fingernails, and add on a bit each year). In the spring, a buck’s newly growing antlers are covered with velvet – a soft fuzzy covering rich with nourishing blood vessels. Once the antlers mature in late summer or fall, mating season has begun and bucks rub the velvet off on the trees while also leaving a scent that challenges other males and attracts does.
Unfortunately, this type of damage can seriously weaken a tree. Since the living part of the trunk, the cambium, is a thin-walled layer just beneath the bark, if it is sliced through all around the trunk the tree will have no way to bring water up to the leaves nor nutrients down to the roots and it will die. Oh, deer!