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

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Reader Asks for Tree Identification

Mysterious trees on Oak Island

I've always said that one of the most interesting things about blogging is the comments, both on the blog and via e-mail. Here's one I received a few days ago.

Dear Genevieve,

I am studying a species of Oak which is non-native to Eastern Canada. To date, my colleagues and I have been unable to identify which species of Quercus it is. The last tree disappeared sometime in the late 1960's, so all that we have to work with is the pictures of these trees. Do you think that you could take a look and render an opinion for us?


I wrote back:

I will be glad to look, but please keep in mind that I am just an interested amateur, not a trained professional!

Robert sent the following image and a little more information about it:

Many thanks, Genevieve. These Oak trees were found on Oak Island, off of the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. They are not native to the region and are not found anywhere else, but on this island up to about 1969 or so, when the last ones disappeared. I suspect that they were planted there specifically by early visitors, perhaps between 1560 and 1670. They are unusual because of their broad canopies. Image attached. Thanks again and I surely hope that you recognize them!

I didn't recognize the trees, and I wrote back:

I am not able to identify them, I regret to say. Their shape is curious, not so much because of the broad canopy, but because of the apparent lack of foliage below the canopy. I wonder if that might have been a phenomenon caused by the stress of growing in an environment that wasn't its natural home?

If you'd like, I can post the image on the blog and see if anyone else has any comments.

Robert replied:

Many thanks for taking a look, Genevieve. I would be grateful to learn anything else about them, so a post on your blog would be great. We thought that we had a sample of the trees from a log found on the island. I sent a sample for analysis to the Center for Wood Analysis Research and it came back as a species of Maple. I suspect that we had the wrong stump, as the common belief was and is that they are a species of Oak...

Your insight regarding the environment is probably correct. The unusual shape of the canopy, etc. is likely the result of the North Atlantic seaboard environment, which is known to be harsh as a result of the Nor'easters, as well as perhaps the soil and other conditions. In any event, they apparently thrived there for a number of centuries and of course, is why Oak Island is so named. We believe that they were planted there specifically for timber used in the repair (careening) of ships, but this is just a theory. Hopefully, someone will recognize them from the image, so I will keep my fingers crossed!

Robert is a member of an Oak Island research group. If you're not familiar with the story of Oak Island, it is fascinating. The story was new to me, but my son was well-informed about the mysterious treasure hole and the many attempts that have been made to explore it, having read about it in his some of his "mysteries of the unexplained" books.

Readers, do you recognize the tall trees in the image above, or do you have any comments about them? If so, please post them, or let me know by e-mail. Thanks.

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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