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

Monday, July 30, 2007

America's Atlantic white cedar swamps

Brief history of the Atlantic white cedar, Chamaecyparis thyoides

When the first European settlers came to North America, they found a new-world member of the cypress family. It grew densely, often in pure stands, in the swamplands of the Atlantic coast. This tree was the Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides,) and its range once stretched from present-day Maine to upper Florida and along parts of the Gulf coast.

The Atlantic white cedar is a tall, straight-growing tree. The settlers soon learned that its wood was resistant to rot and insects, light in weight, and easy to tool. They used Atlantic white cedar lumber for many purposes -- shingles, flooring, furniture, buckets, barrels, shipbuilding, docks, and more.

As time went by, the swamps were cleared of larger trees, then of smaller ones. The trees grew so closely together in dense clumps that it was often hard to cut them one at a time.

Some swamps and former swamps were mined for fallen trees from earlier times that were covered over by earth, peat, silt or muck. The wood of these fallen, buried trees was still sound, though it had been buried for many years.

One of the largest caches of or buried Atlantic white cedar was discovered in the vicinity of Dennisville, New Jersey, in 1812. Some of the trunks pulled out of the Dennisville swamps were as large as 6 feet in diameter, and it was common to find trunks 4 feet in diameter.

The mining of the swamps provided employment to Dennisville residents through the late 1880's. Many of the mined trees were used as shingles; well over half a million shingles were produced in some years. Some of the larger logs were cut into boards.

In Joseph S. Illick's 1926 book, Common Trees of New Jersey, he mentions that Atlantic white cedars were being used as a substitute for chestnut telephone poles because chestnut was becoming hard to find (due to the blight, no doubt.)

Today, Atlantic white cedar swamps have been reduced to about 20% of their original area. Much of the swampland has been cleared and drained for agricultural purposes and various sorts of development. In recent years, interest has grown in restoration of white cedar swamps where possible, and preservation of white cedar swamps that still exist.

The American white cedar is sometimes grown as an ornamental. Many cultivars are available, including blue varieties, dark green varieties, and others with fuzzy-looking foliage. If you have a boggy, swampy area to plant, this would be a tree to consider.

Historic accounts of Atlantic white cedar mining in New Jersey:
History of the Lumber Industry in America (pages 493-495)
Manufacturer and Builder: "The Buried Forests of New Jersey"

More reading about Atlantic white cedar swamps
White Cedar Swamp, Cape Cod National Seashore
Peatland Atlantic white cedar forests in Virginia
White cedar swamp restoration in South Carolina
Trees of the Maritime Forest: Chamaecyparis thyoides
Chamaecyparis thyoides info from U.S. Forest Service database

Friday, July 27, 2007

Wood that is durable underground

Woods with natural resistance to rot

On the Library of Congress American Memory website, I found some old magazine reports of studies done in the 1800s on the durability of wood . It's interesting, but not surprising, to see that those researchers discovered what every fence builder knows -- red cedar and black locust are naturally rot-resistant woods. (Their studies didn't include redwood or bald-cypress, two other woods with excellent resistance to decay.)

If you need modern research on the durability of various wood when used as fence posts, a good study to read is Service life of treated and untreated fence posts. But, just because they're interesting, here are the old studies of rot-resistance that I found in Manufacturer and Builder, a magazine from the late 1800s.

In some tests made with small squares of various woods buried an inch in the ground, the following results, says the Garden, were noted:

-- Birch and aspen decayed in 3 years
-- Willow and horse chestnut in 4 years
-- Maple and red beech in 5 years
-- Elm, ash, hornbeam and Lombardy poplar in 7 years
-- Oak, Scotch fir, Weymouth pine and silver fir decayed to a depth of half an inch in 7 years
-- Larch, juniper and arborvitae were uninjured at the expiration of the 7 years.

Source: Durability of Woods. [Manufacturer and builder / Volume 17, Issue 11, p.242, November 1885]

Here's a five-year wood-durability study that involved wood stakes placed six inches in the ground:

Durability of Various Kinds of Wood.

ACCORDING to the Nautical Magazine, the following are the particulars of experiments made on several kinds of wood, 1-1/2 inches square and 2 feet long, placed vertically in the ground, and about 1 foot 6 inches exposed to the atmosphere, January 1st, 1831; examined at two different times, namely, May 8th, 1833, and February 24th, 1836:

Leaf or live-oak
-- Very good, 1833
-- Three much decayed, the rest tolerable, 1836

Canada white-oak
-- Very much decayed, 1833
-- Very bad, and rotten, 1836

Memel oak
-- Very much decayed, 1833
-- Verybad, and rotten, 1836

Dantzic oak
-- Very much decayed, 1833
-- Exceedingly bad, 1836

Mahogany, hard
-- Good, 1833
-- Tolerably good, 1836

Mahogany, soft
-- Much decayed, 1833
-- Very bad, totally decayed, 1836

Lebanon cedar
-- Good, 1833
-- Tolerably good, 1836

Pencil cedar
-- Very good, 1833
-- All very good, as put in the ground, 1836

Teak, heavy
-- Very good, 1833
-- Rather soft, but good, 1836

Fir, red pine
-- Much decayed, 1833
-- Very rotten, 1836

Fir, yellow pine
-- Very much decayed, 1833
-- Very rotten, 1836

Fir, Virginia pine
-- Decayed, 1833
-- Very rotten, 1836

Fir, pitch pine, hea-
-- Decayed 1/(?) of an inch, the rest good, 1833
-- Decayed 1/4 of an inch, the rest tolerably good, 1836

Fir. pitch pine, light.
-- Very rotten, 1833
-- Very rotten, 1836

Polish larch
-- Decayed 1/4 in the surface, and lost in weight, 1833
-- Decayed 1/4, the rest a little decayed, 1836

English elm
-- Very rotten, 1833
-- All rotten, 1836

Canada rock-elm....
-- Very rotten, 1833
-- Rotten, 1836

American ash
-- Very rotten, 1833
-- Rotten, 1836

Locust tree-nails....
-- Good, and retained their weight, 1833
-- 1/8 inch rottem. time rest, the rest as solid as when put into the ground, 1836

Source: Durability of Various Kinds of Wood. [Manufacturer and builder / Volume 3, Issue 4, p. 74, April 1871]

And yet another report on the durability of various wood stakes when almost completely buried in the ground...

EXPERIMENTS have been lately made by driving sticks, made of different woods, each 2 feet long and 1-1/2 inch square, into the ground, only 1/2 inch projecting outward. It was found that in five years:

-- All those made of oak, elm, aspin, fir, soft mahogany, and nearly every variety of pine, were totally rotten.
-- Larch, hard pine, and teak-wood were decayed on the outside only.
-- Acacia, with the exception of being also slightly attacked on the exterior, was otherwise sound.
-- Hard mahogany and cedar of Lebanon were in tolerably good condition.
-- Only Virginia cedar was found as good as when put in the ground.

This is of some importance to builders, showing what woods should be avoided, and what others used by preference in underground work.

Source: Durability of Different Woods. [Manufacturer and builder / Volume 3, Issue 12, p. 278, December 1871]

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Emerald Ash Borer Update

Coping with the spread of a deadly tree pest

Every time I do a news search for "trees, there are several stories about the spread of the emerald ash borer.

A sampling of recent news:

  • Emerald ash borer continues to spread -- This column by Jim Ramsey in the Wilmington [OH] News Journal states that the ash borer has now been detected in 37 Ohio counties. Substantial fines have been legislated to prevent people from spreading the insect by transporting firewood out of those counties. Ramsey states that there are 4 to 5 billion ash trees in Ohio. All of them are at risk of death from the borer. A preview of the staggering costs -- the removal of 7000 infected ash trees cost Toledo, OH, over $3 million. According to Ramsey, Michigan entymologists have a "first dose" of parasitic wasps ready to release if given the OK.

  • Atlantic (Iowa) bans ash trees as bug threatens -- The city of Atlantic, Iowa, has prohibited the planting of ash trees on public ground, though private landowners can still plant the tree. Through this ordinance city hopes to limit the public cost of removing ash trees if/when the ash borer arrives there. The article also mentions that the Nebraska Forest Service no longer recommends planting ash trees.

  • Trees killed by ash borer live on -- John Seewer of the Chicago Sun Times reports that the lumber of the infected trees removed in Toledo is being put to use. It has been cut into lumber and flooring, and it's also being used for baseball bats. To avoid transporting the insect, the wood must be kiln-dried or fumigated locally before it is transported. This article reminds me of the bedroom furniture my parents bought in the late 60s or early 70s; it was made of "distressed elm" (that is, elm that had died from Dutch elm disease.)

  • City proposes cutting trees to fight bug -- Urban foresters of Columbus, OH, have recommended that the city begin the process of removing and replacing its ash trees, even though the borer has apparently not arrived there yet. The estimated cost for approximately 12,000 city-owned ash trees: $6 million which would be spread out over 10 years.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Amazon Rain Forest in 1920

Old-growth, tropical forests of Brazil in the early 1900s

The following description of the Amazon rain forest is quoted from a 1920 geography textbook. I don't know if the authors had ever traveled to the Brazilian tropics -- probably not -- but they did write quite vividly about the "feel" of the forest there.

The Amazon forest is a good type of the tropical forest, where plants, encouraged by the heat and dampness, grow luxuriantly in the rich soil. Not only is the rainfall heavy, but evaporation is checked by the dense vegetation, so that the forest reeks with moisture. Therefore, at night, when the temperature falls, such heavy dews collect that the plants are wet, as by a rain.

In these woods, there is an occasional giant tree reaching to a height of from one hundred and eighty to two hundred feet, and with a circumference of from twenty to forty feet. The lower limbs may be as much as a hundred feet from the ground.

Between these giant trees are smaller ones struggling to rise out of the somber shade ito the sunlight. There are also many shrubs, bushes, ferns, and vines, the latter twining about the tree trunks, or hanging over the lower limbs.

The woods present much the same appearance throughout the year. There is no time when all the trees send forth their leaves and blossoms; nor is there a time when all the leaves change color and fall to the ground. Some of the trees blossom throughout the year; others have their blossoms at regular seasons; thus flowers and fruits my be seen at all times of the year.

In such a forest there is dense gloom and silence, broken now and then by the crash of a falling tree, or the sorrowful notes of birds, or the howling of monkeys, or perchance, the shrill scream of an animal which has fallen a prey to the boa.

Some of the trees of the forest produce fruits and nuts, others valuable timber or dyewoods. In fact, the word Brazil comes from the name of a dyewood found in the Amazon forests. Another valuable plant is the vanilla, whose beans are of value in making perfumes and flavoring extracts. Many of the Indians near the rivers make long journeys into the forest to collect the products, both for their own use and for shipment down the Amazon.

Source: World Geographies: Second Book (pp. 267-268) by Ralph S. Tarr and Frank M. McMurry. Copyrighted in 1920 and published by the MacMillan Company, New York, in 1922,

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Weeping willow, a weak-wooded tree

One problem after another with weeping willows

One of the first articles I wrote for this blog was titled, "One tree not to plant!" I confessed that I had planted two weeping willow trees, even though I had read plenty of cautions about the headaches the tree can cause for homeowners. And sure enough, one of the trees has been a big problem and is no doubt going to die soon.

Consider this a postscript to that story. A few days ago, we had a prolonged and very strong wind and thunderstorm, as the front edge of a cold front moved in. The next morning I went out to look at the trees. No major branches were broken in any of them except -- can you guess which one? -- the weeping willow that has already broken repeatedly.

A fairly big branch is dangling high up in the tree. I don't know how we'll get it down. Even with the pruning saw that's on the end of a pole, I think it will be out of reach.

I won't tell you not to plant a weeping willow, because I understand how you might love the look of the tree. But I will tell you this -- consider carefully whether you want to deal with broken branches again and again and again throughout the short life of this tree.

Speaking from my personal experience of being a longtime weeping willow lover and now an owner, the joy of seeing the tree in my yard hardly makes up for the problems it has created.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Identifying pines

Some native pines of the United States, listed by the number of needles per bundle

One of the first steps in identifying pine trees is counting the number of needles per bundle. Then, notice the average length of the needles. Look at the type of bark the tree has. Pay attention to the size and shape of the pine cones on or beneath the tree. Observe the height and general shape of the tree. Finally, consider the location in which the tree is growing. These are clues that you can take to a field guide to help identify the tree.

Here are a few of the native pines of the United States, listed by the number of needles per bundle they have. I've also noted their natural range (in very general terms). Their Latin names are linked to a tree identification page at the Virginia Tech Dendrology website.

Two needles per bundle:

Pinus clausa -- Sand pine (Florida, needles 2 to 3 inches long)

Pinus contorta -- Lodgepole pine (Northwestern U.S., needles 1-1/2 to 3 inches long)

Pinus echinata -- Shortleaf pine (Southeastern U.S., bundles of either 2 or 3 needles on the same branch, needles 3 to 5 inches long, sometimes called "yellow pine")

Pinus edulis -- Pinyon pine (Southwestern U.S., needles 1 to 2 inches long)

Pinus elliottii -- Slash pine (Gulf coast, usually 3 needles, sometimes just 2 needles per bundle)

Pinus glabra Walt. -- Spruce pine (Gulf coast, needles 1-1/2 to 4 inches long)

Pinus jeffreyi -- Jeffrey pine, needles 5 to 11 inches long, usually 3 needles per bundle, but sometimes 2)

Pinus muricata -- Bishop pine (California coast, needles 4 to 6 inches long)

Pinus resinosa -- Red pine (Northeastern U.S., needles 4 to 6 inches long)

Pinus taeda -- Loblolly pine (Southeastern U.S., needles 6 to 9 inches long, usually 3 needles per bundle, but sometimes 2)

Pinus virginiana -- Virginia pine (Appalachian states, needles 1-1/2 to 3 inches long)

Three needles per bundle:

Pinus attenuata -- Knobcone pine (west coast, needles 3 to 7 inches long)

Pinus coulter -- Coulter pine (California, needles 8 to 12 inches long)

Pinus echinata -- Shortleaf pine (Southeastern U.S., bundles of either 2 or 3 needles on the same branch, needles 3 to 5 inches long, sometimes called "yellow pine")

Pinus elliottii -- Slash pine (Gulf coast, usually 3 needles, sometimes just 2 needles per bundle)

Pinus jeffreyi -- Jeffrey pine, (California and Oregon, needles 5 to 11 inches long, usually 3 needles per bundle, but sometimes 2)

Pinus palustris -- Longleaf pine (Southeastern U.S., needles 8 to 18 inches long)

Pinus ponderosa -- Ponderosa pine (western half of U.S., needles 5 to 10 inches long, usually 3 needles per bundle, but sometimes 2 or 4)

Pinus rigida -- Pitch pine (Appalachian states and east coast, needles 2-1/2 to 5 inches long)

Pinus serotina -- Pond pine (Southeastern Atlantic coastal states, usually 3 needles per bundle, but sometimes 4)

Pinus taeda -- Loblolly pine (Southeastern U.S., needles 6 to 9 inches long, usually 3 needles per bundle, but sometimes 2)

Four needles per bundle:

Pinus ponderosa -- Ponderosa pine (western half of U.S., needles 5 to 10 inches long, usually 3 needles per bundle, but sometimes 2 or 4)

Pinus serotina -- Pond pine (Southeastern Atlantic coastal states, usually 3 needles per bundle, but sometimes 4)

Five needles per bundle:

Pinus aristata -- Bristlecone pine (southwestern U.S. mountains, needles 1 to 1-1/2 inches long)

Pinus flexilis James -- Limber pine (western half of U.S., needles 2-1/2 to 4 inches long)

Pinus lambertiana -- Sugar pine (west coast, needles 2 to 4 inches long)

Pinus monticola -- Western white pine (western states, needles 2 to 4 inches long)

Pinus strobiformis -- Southwestern white pine (Arizona and New Mexico, needles 2 to 3 inches long)

Pinus strobus -- Eastern white pine (Appalachian states and northeast U.S, needles 3 to 5 inches long)

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Chestnuts may get another chance

High hopes for a chestnut comeback

About ten years ago, my daughter was doing a leaf collection. I used that as an excuse to stop and ask for a leaf from a large white oak that I particularly admired.

The old fellow who answered our knock was pleased that we liked his big old white oak. After we had a leaf from it, he asked if we had any chestnut leaves yet. Of course we didn't, and we could hardly believe our good fortune in stumbling across a chestnut.

He took us to his back yard, and showed us several large chestnut sprouts. A chestnut tree had once grown there, and its roots were still alive and sending up shoots. The shoots would grow for a while, he told us, but the blight would get them sooner or later.

He gave us a few chestnut leaves, and he also gave us a little bag of chestnuts! He commented that he had to pick them up as they fell or the squirrels would get them within minutes. I know why the squirrels wanted them. They were delicious.

That was the only time I've ever seen a chestnut tree or eaten a chestnut, but they were once a common and important tree through this part of Kentucky, and the entire Appalachian area.

The chestnut blight (a fungus) began to take its toll on the American chestnut in 1904. Now a century later, there's hope that chestnuts can be restored as an important tree in their natural range.

Some blight-resistant trees have been found, and they are being selectively pollinated and propagated with the intent of producing a blight resistant strain of American Chestnut. For example, a blight-resistant New Hampshire chestnut was recently pollinated by a blight resistant Tennessee chestnut (with the aid of scientists, of course.)

One group that is working to develop blight-resistant American Chestnut trees from 100% American stock is the American Chestnut Coordinators Foundation (ACCF.) It is a non-profit that is affiliated with Virginia Tech.

I don't know if the scientists who are working with the New Hampshire chestnut are from the ACCF, but that's exactly the sort of work they are doing. They are selectively breeding American chestnuts that have shown resistance to the chestnut blight. Their dream is to replant blight-resistant chestnuts in the natural range of the American chestnut.

Chestnut seedlings and seeds are available from the ACCF, with a small membership fee and an agreement to provide data about their health.

The American Chestnut Foundation (ACF)another non-profit organization, has recently received $100,000 in grants from the U.S. Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation to use in chestnut planting, pollination, and breeding.

Like the ACCF, the ACF is working to restore chestnuts throughout the former natural range of the tree. Their approach to the problem is different, though. They are developing blight-resistant hybrids of the American Chestnut and the blight-resistant Chinese Chestnut.

The chestnut was a valuable lumber tree as well as an important wildlife tree. It is surely just a matter of time until it is replanted on a broad scale. I hope my great-great-great grandchildren of the 2100s will be so accustomed to chestnut trees that they'll be surprised to learn of the problems the tree had in the 1900s.

More Information:
The American Chestnut Page
Growing Chestnut Trees
Reclaiming the American Chestnut's Old Dominion

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Saving trees during land development

The role of tree preservation ordinances

I read an opinion piece yesterday in the online version of the Pensacola [FL] News Journal: "Trees don't have to be sacrificed for development." The author, Larry B. Johnson, wrote about a new supermarket that was under construction in Gulf Breeze, a neighboring city. The developer had fenced off some oak trees so they wouldn't be damaged by heavy machinery during the building process.

Johnson wondered in his article why his city (Pensacola) didn't make a similar effort to preserve trees during land development. He noted that some development projects were coming up in areas with 100-year-old oaks. The trees would be an asset to the community if they could be saved.

The article had several comments from local readers. The following, from a reader who signed himself as Wesmun, caught my attention. Wesmun is responding both to the article and to another comment that the Pensacola tree preservation ordinance needs to be revised.

Let me give an intelligent answer...... On developments where fill has to be brought in (sometimes 10' deep) in order to make the whole development drain into an enviromentally [sic] friendly pond, you have to clear out the trees lest you bury them. Most of you tree huggers have no idea of how complicated a development already is thanks to the DEP and county ordinances, but it is a lot easier to save trees on a flat lot like in Gulf Breeze. (Source)

Let's be clear here. The reason a development has to drain into an environmentally-friendly pond is that rain waters can no longer soak into the ground, due to it being paved over.

Here are a few things about this discussion that I recognize as true:
  • Every tree may not be saved when land is developed.
  • Other environmental ordinances may make tree preservation difficult.
  • Tree preservation may make development more expensive.
  • With effort, more trees could be preserved in most developments.
  • Some tree species could help with stormwater management.

There are many reasons to preserve urban trees whenever possible. It's hard to imagine any single mechanism in a city that would have an equal positive effect. For air quality improvement, climate moderation, beauty, wildlife habitat, and property value enhancement, what can possibly take the place of trees?

Developers should inventory the trees on a potential site and develop a layout that preserves as many significant trees as possible. A trained arborist or urban forester should be part of the site-planning team.

Builders, city planners, and concerned "tree-hugging" citizens should cooperate in finding reasonable solutions that are in the long-term best interests of the city's citizens. These solutions should be expressed formally in a tree preservation ordinance, and its provisions should be enforced.

As another commenter on the Pensacola, FL, article mentioned, tree preservation ordinances need to be revisited occasionally to examine whether they are still meeting the needs of the community.

All of these tree-preserving approaches I've mentioned will require communication, cooperation, and consensus by concerned parties -- developers and builders, city planners, "tree-huggers," and the general public. That's how democracies work.

National Association of Home Builders: Tree Preservation Ordinances
A Guide to Developing a Community Tree Preservation Ordinance

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Is your big tree a champion?

National Register of Big Trees

Is your tree big enough to be a champion of its species? The American Forests National Register of Big Trees website can help you find out.

American Forests, a non-profit organization devoted to preserving forestlands, has been documenting the largest-known American trees since 1940. They publish a biennial National Register of Big Trees. You'll find the current Big Trees register, directions for measuring a big tree, nomination forms, and much more at the Big Trees section of the American Forests website.

Even if your big tree isn't a national champion (or co-champion), perhaps it's a champion big tree for your state.

It is interesting that some species have never had a nomination for a champion big tree. A few examples of species without a champion: large northern pin oak, bigflower pawpaw, and Canada plum.

I read in a newspaper article that nominations for the next edition of the National Register of Big Trees will close on August 1, 2007. I wasn't able to verify that date on the Big Trees website. On the contrary, the website says:

Additions to the species list for the American Forests National Register of Big Trees should be submitted with supporting materials to American Forests for review by the Big Tree Committee by January 1st of every odd year. New species editions will be evaluated by both the committee and experts and added to the official species list no later than April 1st.

Source: National Register of Big Trees: Frequently Asked Questions
At any rate, don't delay! Measure your big tree! If nothing else, it will satisfy your curiosity.


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Friday, July 13, 2007

Visiting from Please read.

Use of copyrighted material by

If you are visiting from, welcome to my blog. I hope you enjoy reading some of the articles here, and I invite you to return often.

I want to make you aware that republished my article, "Principles of good forestry from 1923" without permission. After I made two requests, they removed the article.

When a website states that it is copyrighted with "All rights reserved," it means that republishing material from that site without permission is illegal. A link back to the site the material was taken from is not a substitute for written permission to republish.

While I understand that is a non-profit corporation with a benevolent purpose, it is not above the law, either in the regular world or in the cyber world. was apparently not aware that copyright law applies to the republishing of intellectual property on the internet by non-profit organizations. I received apologies from both Mr. Craig Rawlings and Nora McDougall-Collins.

NOTE: I have updated this post from its original content to reflect the current status of my issue with The offer of assistance in the comment from Jonathan Bailey (thank you, Jonathan!) was made before removed my article. Jonathan Bailey writes the blog Plagiarism Today which deals with copyright and the internet. It is an excellent resource that I have consulted many times.

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Black cherry: A tree for wildlife

Prunus serotina, an American wild cherry

The United States has fourteen species of wild cherries and all of them are important food sources for wildlife. The authors of American Wildlife and Plants mention the following as widespread species of particular importance:

The black cherry (Prunus serotina) is the largest of the American wild cherries, and also the largest member of the rose family in North America. It is a native tree to every state east of the High Plains. Here in Kentucky, it can probably be found in every county.

In the primeval forests, black cherries grew 100 feet tall with long straight trunks, reaching for sunshine in competition with other trees. Large black cherry trees are rarely found today, but they were once prized for their wood which was used as a substitute for mahogany in furniture making and home construction.

Often nowadays, black cherry is seen along country roads where it springs up from the droppings of birds perched on the fence wires. In such open conditions, its height is typically 30 to 50 feet, and it has a short trunk. Its spread may be half its height; it's not a wide tree.

Farmers sometimes eradicate black cherries from pastures because wilted leaves contain hydrocyanic acid (cyanide) which may be fatal to livestock if consumed in quantity. I can imagine this problem happening particularly when the livestock lack adequate forage. Farmers should remove fallen leaves or fence out cherry trees so livestock aren't grazing beneath them. An annual mowing would keep down any seedlings that sprout.

Wild cherries were used in the pemmican of the Plains Indians. Native Americans made teas and other concoctions from cherry bark and leaves to treat various conditions, including childbirth pain, coughs, bleeding, diarrhea, lung problems, and nervous conditions. I remember Smith Bros. Wild Cherry Cough Drops from my childhood. I suppose that recipe drew upon folk-medicine uses of wild cherry.

In the backyard, a black cherry tree is a nature-lover's delight. When the clusters of black fruit are on the tree (and on the ground under the tree,) it will be visited by a large variety of songbirds, gamebirds. small mammals, and possibly even foxes, beavers, raccoons, possums, deer, elk, moose, bears, or mountain sheep (depending on where you live, of course!) If you want to make cherry jelly or wine, you'll have to compete with the wildlife for the fruit.

Prunus serotina is called "intolerant" in Enjoying Our Trees, a publication of the the American Forestry Association. It will not grow in the shade of other trees. If it is to grow with other trees, an opening must be created for the little black cherry so it receives enough sunshine. It also does not tolerate poor drainage; though it enjoys moisture, standing in water or growing in a permanently saturated soil will injure or even kill it. It will not do well in compacted soil, either.

According to Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America, black cherries are resistant to wind and ice damage, and they will tolerate occasional dry spells. The tree grows fairly quickly. In good conditions, you can expect it to gain at least two feet in height most years, sometimes more. Prunus serotina usually lives well over a century, perhaps even 175 years.

If you can't find a black cherry at a garden center or mail-order nursery, you can plant your own with seeds collected from the wild. (Birds do this all the time!) Plant them 1/4 inch deep in the fall in the site where you want the tree to grow. When the seedlings come up, select the best one and pull out the others.

I've mentioned some books in this article. You can find their bibliographical info at the bottom of this column.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Waverly (Waverley) Oaks

Some of the biggest white oaks ever known in America

The Waverly (or Waverley) Oaks were a group of very large and very old white oaks that grew near Boston, in a corner where the towns of Watertown, Belmont and Waltham meet. I use the past tense because the last of these big old oaks has apparently died. A monument has been erected in their memory.

About 8 years ago, I first read some articles about the Waverley Oaks in turn-of-the-century periodicals in the Library of Congress (LOC) American Memory website. Two of the most extensive and informative articles were:

The poet, James Russell Lowell, was particularly fond of Beaver Brook and its small waterfall near the ancient oaks. He spoke of the grove of oaks as the "Beaver Brook Oaks," and somehow wrote a poem about Beaver Brook without even mentioning them.

Recently, I've enjoyed reading more about the Waverley Oaks in some of the old books that Google has digitized. In the pieces I've read, there's little agreement about how many trees there were. An 1881 account of the trees, included in a Harpers Magazine article about James Russell Lowell said there were only seven or eight oaks at Beaver Brook and one elm which was dying.

A year later, The Massachusetts Horticultural Society specifically states that the Harpers Magazine article is wrong -- there were twelve or fourteen oaks, not just seven or eight.

I feel sure that Professor C.S. Sargent of Garden and Forest did an accurate count. He was a scientist. He reported in his 1890 article about the Waverly Oaks, "There are in this group, twenty-three large oaks and one large elm growing on an area of two or three acres. The Oaks are all White Oaks with the exception of a single Swamp White Oak."

Similarly, there is much disagreement over the age of the trees with estimates from 100 years to 1000 years and a reported tree-ring count of over 600 on a stump. I don't know who to believe, but I'm inclined again to take the word of Professor Sargent, who wrote that the trees were at most 500 years old.

You can read reports of the enormous size of the trees at the various links I've included here.

Professor Sargent probably wouldn't have liked this sentimental description of the Waverley Oaks, but it's within the age parameters that he granted them.

The magnificent Waverly oaks were mature trees when the keel of the Mayflower touched the gleaming sands of Plymouth harbor.

The south wind played the same soothing melodies through their branches then as now, though the Indian, whose moccasins noiselessly trod the sward at their feet, has vanished from the face of the earth and the humble Pilgrim from Leyden has inspired and created the greatest nation of the civilized world.

The old trees saw the Red man and the Englishman play their parts and are still sturdy—as well they need be— while they listen to the polyglot tongues that now babble around them.

Seasons come and go, leaves ripen and fall, buds unfold into leaf and blossom, but the tree grows on and on and recks not that the white headed old man who thoughtfully reposes in its shade is the same person who sported beneath its limbs in childhood's merry hours.

Source: An 1893 speech by Nathan Mortimer Hawkes

I read in 2001 that the State of Massachusetts was collecting acorns to propagate the last tree of the Waverly Oaks. I can't locate that information on the internet anymore, but I hope the project is still being pursued.

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Friday, July 6, 2007

Principles of good forestry from 1923

Increasing the productivity of woodlands

Visiting from Please read this.

The following forestry practices are recommended in a 1923 agriculture textbook. They still seem valid today, though I've added a few notes.

1. Only the ripe [mature] trees should be selected when cutting the crops.

2. Injury to small seedlings and saplings should be avoided.

3. Diseased and misshapen trees should be removed and used either for the market or at home. [NOTE: You should ask your state forester or county extension agent how best to remove a diseased tree. Felling the tree may puff disease organisms into the air and spread the problem.]

4. The inferior trees should be removed if the space is needed for better ones. [NOTE: Avoid monoculture.]

5. A few large trees should be left to reseed the woodland.

6. Pasturing with animals that will injure the young seedlings should not be permitted.

7. Fires should be excluded and notices calling attention to fire damage to forest growth should be posted. [NOTE: I really don't know what to say about this. Fire has a role in forest ecosystems, and foresters frequently do "controlled burns." On the other hand, do you really want to have a fire in your woodlot? If you do decide to introduce fire, get some advice!]

8. The stand should be thinned so as to secure the best growth, but heavy thinning is not desirable.

9. Sprouts from stumps form stands called coppice. These should also be thinned, leaving the best sprouts.

10. Trees damaged by storm should be removed before they are attacked by insects and disease, which would spread to others.

11. Brush and waste after all cuttings should be piled and burned. [NOTE: It would be a good idea to check local burn laws before lighting up the pile.]

Source: From the chapter titled "Woodland Projects" (p.322) in The New Agriculture for High Schools by Kary C. Davis, Ph.D. Published in 1923 by J.P. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Related post: When logging, get some guidelines!

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

The benefits of forests, as seen in 1923

Why forests are important

The following passage is quoted from a 1923 textbook, The New Agriculture For High Schools. The author, Dr. Kary C. Davis, advises students that some woodlands should be preserved on farms. Here are the reasons he gives:

Forests benefit regions in a number of ways:

1, They greatly modify and improve climate.

2. They greatly equalize temperature.

3. They break the force of the wind.

4. They check evaporation.

5. They prevent floods or make them less serious. The forest itself and its floor of leaves and trash absorbing the rainfall, retard the rush of water to streams.

6. Water power for mills and factories along streams is more uniform because of a steady supply of water coming from a stream through a well-protected forest watershed.

7. Wells and springs are more continuous in their flow because more water enters the soil and gradually seeks the underground currents.

Source: From the chapter titled "Woodland Projects" (p.322) in The New Agriculture for High Schools by Kary C. Davis, Ph.D. Published in 1923 by J.P. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

It has been 85 years since the above points were listed.

We probably don't use as much water power today to run mills and factories (see #6 above,) but we depend on our rivers to produce electricity and to provide water for cities, agriculture, and recreation.

If we were rewriting this list today, we might also add that forests help reduce air pollution and serve as carbon sinks.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas at Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky

Restoring a lost ecosystem

Land Between the Lakes (LBL) is a long narrow strip of land that lies between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake in western Kentucky. This inland peninsula was formerly owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) took over ownership, and LBL is now a National Recreation Area operated by the U.S. Forest Service.

Boating, fishing, camping, and hunting (in season) brings many visitors to LBL. LBL also has an elk and bison reserve, a telescope and a planetarium, an 1860's farm ("The Homeplace"), a nature center, historic sites, and more. There is a significant bald eagle population.

Oak-grasslands restoration planned

Two Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Area (OGRDA), are now being planned and developed. Over 8000 acres will be restored. One area will be located in Tennessee near The Homeplace and the other area will be in Kentucky near the elk and bison range.

When restoration is complete, the oak-grasslands will "create habitat for wildlife, improve forest health, and provide recreational and environmental education opportunities." This promise is quoted from an informational pamphlet published by the USDA Forest Service: Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

The open forests of the past

Today, the upland area included in Land Between The Lakes is mainly a dense, solid-canopied forest. It was not always so. According to old writings and other ecological evidence, the forest was much more open at the time Europeans came to the area. The canopy admitted enough sunlight that a wide variety of grasses and wildflowers covered the ground between and beneath the trees. Areas of open forest were interspersed with grasslands.

Fire was the primary agent that kept the forests open. The American Indians and early settlers deliberately burned the woods on a semi-regular basis.

How the oak-grasslands will be restored

In OGRDA, LBL will re-create the following pre-European conditions:

On upper slopes and ridges across the area, grasslands (less than 10 percent canopy closure) and open oak woodlands (10-60 percent canopy closure) are interspersed in variable mixtures. Understories are dominated by native grasses and wildflowers. Most mid- and lower-slopes support open oak forests (60-80 percent canopy closure), with understories containing regenerated oaks in sufficient numbers to provide for sustaining oak on these sites over time.

Source: PDF document: Abstract for an oral presentation, Tennessee Native Grasslands Workshop, January 24, 2007

First, the trees will be thinned to re-create an open woodland where grasses can flourish. Timber will be harvested with the goal of leaving behind scattered trees of various ages, especially oak and hickory trees. Some trees will be cut and left, to simulate the natural treefall that would occur in a oak-grassland.

Foresters will burn the oak-grassland areas on a regular schedule (every 2 to 12 years) to maintain the balance of trees, grasses, and other plants.

Benefits to plants, animals, and people

As the restoration procedes, it will help up to 40 species of native plants and animals that require a grasslands habitat.

These open conditions will benefit rare of declining species such as Barbed Rattlesnake Root, Barn Owl, Prairie Warbler, Northern Pine Snake and Northern Bobwhite Quail. Other species that will benefit include White-tail Deer, Fox Squirrel, and Wild Turkey.

Source: An informational pamphlet published by the USDA Forest Service: Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

It would be nice if a population of prairie chickens could be re-established in the OGRDA.

The White-tail Deer in LBL don't need any help, in my humble opinion. The area is overrun with them. At one campground where we spent several days, young deer lurked in the woods near the campsites, apparently hoping to find food. At night, big herds of deer milled around the picnic tables and restroom facilities beside the lake.

Hiking, birding, and interpretive trails through the oak-grasslands have been promised. The trails will be an excellent educational and recreational resource.

Partners of the Oak Grasslands Restoration Demonstration Area

The following agencies and organizations are working together on the LBL oak-grasslands restoration project:

Read more about LBL and the oak-grasslands restoration

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (official website)
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (Wikipedia entry)
PDF document: A 2006 informational letter about the proposed oak-grasslands project in LBL

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Top 14 Invasive Species in Kentucky

Exotic plants, diseases and pests are a problem in the Commonwealth.

  • Bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii)
  • Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
  • Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)
  • Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima)
  • Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora)
  • Kudzu (Peuraria lobata)
  • Musk-thistle (Carduus nutans)
  • Poison hemlock (Conium macalatum)
  • Sudden oak death (Phytophthora ramorum)
  • Hemlock wooly adelgid (Adelges tsugae)
  • Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense)
  • Gipsy moth (Lymantria dispar L.)
  • Fire ant (Solenopsis invicta)
  • Emerald ash borer (Agrilis planipennis)

This list was compiled by members of University of Kentucky's Invasive Species Working Group, and published in the Summer, 2007 edition (Volume 8, Number 2, page 11) of The Magazine, (College of Agriculture, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 40546)

It is noted at the bottom of the list that soybean rust is also an invasive species that causes a lot of trouble in Kentucky and all of the United States.

Emerald ash borer is certainly an imminent threat because it has been found very close to Kentucky borders, but according to, the UK's official emerald ash borer website, it has not yet been discovered in the commonwealth. This sad event will almost certainly occur -- but I don't think we're quite there yet. Monitoring for it is already taking a toll in resources, though.

The fungus that causes sudden oak death was not found in a 2006 Kentucky nursery survey, though other fungi in the same phylum were identified. We are at high risk for widespread damage from sudden oak death because of the species that make up many of our forests, most particularly red oak. Currently, we have a quarantine against all California-grown nursery stock.

In my own yard, I battle with Johnsongrass, Japanese honeysuckle, and Musk thistle. I have a personal understanding of why these invasive plants are a big problem wherever they grow. If I had written the list, I would have cited Bermudagrass also.

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Five Tall, Narrow Deciduous Trees

Narrowest of the Tall, Native, Deciduous Trees

These trees can reach 75 to 100 feet in height at maturity, in optimal conditions. They are among the tallest native trees.

At maturity, their spread is generally about 1/2 their height -- that is, roughly 35 to 50 feet at most. They won't be as narrow as the narrowest of the tall, native conifers, but they're narrow for deciduous trees.

The names are linked to more information about the species at the USDA/NSRC Plants Database, the North Carolina State University's Urban Horticulture website, and the University of Connecticut Plants Database.

Pignut Hickory -- Carya glabra

Shagbark hickory -- Carya ovata

Mockernut hickory -- Carya alba, or Carya tomentosa (depending on which naming system you are using, I guess.)

Northern catalpa -- Catalpa speciosa

Tuliptree, often called tulip poplar -- Liriodendron tulipifera

The hickories will be slow growing trees. If you can offer a site that doesn't have compacted soil or salt splashing in from a roadway in winter, the mockernut (mocknut, white) hickory is a nice tree that should do well -- long lived, resistant to some diseases that bother other hickories, not susceptible to weather damage, has some wildlife value.

If you're looking for faster growing trees, the catalpa or tulip poplar will do that. The catalpa is the shorter-lived of the two. It may not last 75 years; rarely would it last a century. The tulip tree will live up to twice that long --150 years or rarely two centuries. Both will probably suffer some wind and ice damage, due to their weak wood. The tulip poplar will need a moister site than the catalpa.

The next narrowest tall tree after these would probably be the Cucumbertree Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata). It tends to be a bit wider, with a spread 1/2 to 3/4 of its height.

These are listed particularly for the consideration of Xris at Flatbush Gardener, who gardens in Brooklyn. He said he needed some tall narrow deciduous trees, not just tall narrow conifers.

An old, giant tuliptree grows in Queens. (Both Queens and Brooklyn are part of New York City.) The Queens Poplar is described in the article, A Rendezvous with Two Giant Trees.

Related posts:
Five Tall Narrow Trees
Narrow trees for small spaces
Ten Tall-Growing Trees

Lirodendron tulipifera (tulip poplar). From Wikimedia Commons by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT. This tree grows in the private park of the Louvignies castle in Belgium. See another image here.

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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.

Photos and text copyright © 2006-2010 by Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Do not republish without written permission. My e-mail address is