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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tree Planting in the Amana Colonies

Useful trees cultivated by the Inspirationists

The Amana Colonies of east-central Iowa were one of the most successful communes in the United States. The colonies were established by a group of like-minded Pietists who immigrated from Germany in the 1840s and settled briefly in New York. In the mid-1850s, the group moved to the prairies of eastern Iowa, where they lived communally through the early 1930s. In 1905, the group held over 26,000 acres and the population had grown to over 1800.

A shared religious faith was the basis of the commune and the glue that held it together for over 70 years. The settlers of Amana called themselves "The Community of True Inspiration," believing that God speaks to His followers through inspired prophets, in modern times as in olden times. However, they also believed that the words of the Werkzeuge (prophets) should be carefully tested to see if they were true inspirations -- thence, the name of the group.

One of the Werkzeuge who had a great deal of influence over life in the colonies was Barbara Heineman (1795-1883). The hundreds of inspirations she received included one, late in her life, that dealt with the types of trees that should be grown in the Amana villages. Trees that had been planted for shade or beauty were to be removed, for only fruit-bearing trees should be planted at the homes of the Inspirationists.

There is in the Jahrbuch for 1880, a testimony by Barbara Heinemann, given three years before her death, in which the planting of ornamental trees is severely denounced by the Lord.  "Wilt thou, then," it reads, "prove that it is a beautiful custom to plant trees not bearing fruit? Know then, that the pleasures of the eye and of the flesh and the over bearing manner are a mark of worldliness, and that the spirit of the world has created in you the desire for such a beginning. Alas, away with this idolatry. See ye to it then, that all trees not bearing fruit be removed from the house, for they belong to the pleasure of the eye. You indeed have the opportunity to plant a fruit tree instead, in which the Lord and all sensible people take pleasure."

Source: Amana, the Community of True Inspiration (p. 97) by Bertha Maude Horack Shambaugh. Published in 1908 by the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

The effects of this proclamation are still visible today, according to Jeff Meyer, author of The Tree Book, who notes that the tree population of the seven Amana villages still contains many hickory trees, planted in acquiescence to Heinemann's inspiration.

The Amana Inspirationists, as the Iowa State Horticultural Society reported in 1898, cultivated a superior wild red cherry through careful selection of the seed.

In the German or Amana colonies on the Iowa River in Johnson county, Iowa, which moved to their present place from the State of New York, Mr Budd tells that there is grown in quantity in each of their seven villages a variety of the bird cherry which bears young and abundantly, a fruit which they value for cooking. It has dark foliage and pendulous branches and does not sprout after it commences to bear heavily. The fruit is about as large as a good sized black currant, with a stone no larger than an ordinary bird cherry. It is a pleasant acid, rather too acid to eat raw, but so valued for pies as to be grown largely.

Source: Fruits for the Cold North (p. 35 ) by Charles Gibb. "Reprinted from the Report of the Ontario fruit growers association for 1883."

They also grew groves of catalpa trees, probably for fence posts and as a cash crop for railroad ties.

The National Park Service describes groves of pine trees, planted throughout the Amana farmland. Pine trees lined the borders of cemeteries. The schoolchildren of the colonies also planted and tended several large groves of pine trees called schulwälder (school forests). The pine groves were much enjoyed by the Inspirationists as places to walk and to picnic.

The pine groves of the Amana Colonies were commended in a 1908 U.S. Forest Service bulletin :"The Amana colony in Iowa County has several large groves of white pine and other pines which have proved very successful. Soil of this region is usually a rich sandy loam."

One large schulwäld of Austrian pines was harvested during World War II, and its wood given to the war effort. At least one schulwäld is still standing on private property in the area, according to the National Park Service.

Wikipedia image of a historic home in or near
the village of Middle Amana

2 comments -- please add yours:

william said...

This is a very interesting piece of history. Only on "shuwald" still exists? Still a very nice legacy to an interesting group of people. Any idea what happened to these folks descendants?


Genevieve said...

Bill, thanks for visiting. As I was researching this article, I read on several websites that a large number of descendants still live in the seven Amana villages, along with other residents who are not descended from the Inspirationists.

The Amana Church Society still has active congregations, and the land holdings and economic enterprises of the original colonies are still under operation by the corporation that was formed in the 1930s. This site and its links offer a good deal of information.

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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