Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Elms given as symbols of friendship

Historic trees recorded by Professor C. S. Sargent

In his magazine, "Garden and Forest," (published 1888-1897) Professor C. S. Sargent frequently recorded bits of history about trees. Here's the story of several elms that Native Americans in Massachusetts (probably the "Praying Indians") gave to Christian preachers whom they considered friends.

The American Indians were not planters of trees, but they discovered the white man's love for them, and the story is told that in Massachusetts early in the last century [that is, early in the 1700's] a party of them came to the Reverend Oliver Peabody, the pastor of Natick, and the successor of Elliott, the apostle of their race, bearing two Elm-trees on their shoulders and begging that they might be allowed to set them out before his door as emblems of friendship.

The larger of these two trees was struck by lightning and destroyed ninety years afterward, when the trunk girthed twenty-one feet just above the ground. An account of these trees and of two other Elms planted by the Indians in 1753 in front of the house of Mr. Peabody's successor, the Reverend Stephen Badger, as a sign of their respect for him, appeared in the fourth volume of the New England Farmer, published in 1826, from the pen of Mr. John Welles.

--Professor C. S. Sargent, in Garden and Forest, June 11, 1890 (Volume 3, Issue 120, pp. 281-282.)

It is interesting and even poignant that the Indians dug up these trees and planted them for their preacher friends. They could have chosen any tree in the primeval forest of those days, but they brought elm trees. They knew elms to be strong, long-lived, beautiful trees with generous shade. In those days (long before Dutch elm disease), an elm could easily live two centuries or even more.

The Nineteenth Century in Print is a wonderful repository of historic information, and Garden and Forest is one of my favorites there. I doubt that I would ever have read this little story anywhere else.

Image credit: Ulmus americana by Flickr user nautical2k
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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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