American Chestnut — Questioning Its Former Status As A Dominant Tree

What did the land look like before you were born?

This is a good question to ponder, but it’s a difficult question to answer unless clarification is provided.

How much land are we talking about?  And what is the time frame in question?

Even with such clarification, answers do not come easy.  The original question often persists and we are prompted to further refine our inquiry.

What did the eastern forests look like 300 years ago?  Which trees were present, and what was the composition of the trees in these earlier forests?

American chestnut, it turns out, can help us answer those questions. 

American chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a tree whose numbers have dwindled over the past 100 years.  A fungal disease known as chestnut blight has been the major culprit, but other factors have contributed to the decline of mature American chestnut trees in eastern forests.

When we study accounts of American chestnut, we routinely hear the same thing:  “American chestnut was a dominant tree in eastern North America prior to the introduction of chestnut blight.” 

We also hear this: “One in every four hardwood trees in eastern North America was an American chestnut.”

Believing both statements to be true, we might imagine an unbroken expanse of chestnut trees in eastern North America.  The proverbial squirrel might have been able to travel from Maine to Florida on chestnut tree limbs without ever touching the ground.

But was that ever the case?  Was American chestnut really the most dominant tree in eastern North America? 

Or, have the claims been exaggerated?  Could it be possible that American chestnut was not so dominant of a tree in these earlier forests?

That’s the topic of this week’s brand new video.  If you are interested in learning what the land might have looked like in the not too distant past, check it out!

Most maples are leafless this time of year in eastern North America. Fortunately, bark features are still available and very useful for proper identification. Check out these side-by-side images of 8 different maple trees to assist you with your winter identification skills.Click to view post

If you are eager to pursue educational opportunities during the winter months, check out Foraging Wild Mushrooms.  This 4-season online course is designed to help you safely, successfully, and confidently forage wild mushrooms from the forest, from the field, and from your own backyard.Click to learn more

Thanks for reading and watching, and thanks for your continued support!

-Adam Haritan

Sacred Trees in the Americas: American Holly (Ilex Opaca) – Magic, Meanings, Ecology, and Divination

The Druid's Garden

American Holly is one of the most wonderful trees for getting us through dark times.  And as the season of darkness is upon us once more, it is a good time to consider the magic, meanings, and mystery of this incredible holly tree!

American Holly has many names including white holly, prickly holly, Christmas Holly, Yule Holly and Evergreen Holly.  It is quite similar to European Holly (Illex Aquifolium) with similar leaves, berries, and an overall growth habit. The American Holly has larger, brighter leaves and berries, but the trees are otherwise quite similar. While I often argue against importing meanings and uses of European trees into American contexts (with Ash being a great case in point), in this case, I think that the myths and old-world understandings of Holly apply!

This post is part of my Sacred Trees of Eastern North America series–here you can learn about the…

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A Massive White Oak In The Woods

Seeing big trees in the woods is its own reward. 

Nothing really needs to be said.  Nothing more needs to happen.  The fact that such an encounter occurs at all in the 21st century is enough. 

But occasionally something else does happen, and silence is broken not by statements or declarations but by questions and inquiries.

A few years ago, I encountered a massive white oak (Quercus alba) in the woods.  With deeply furrowed bark and a wide-spreading canopy, the tree was certainly the largest forest-dwelling white oak I had ever seen.

Since that first encounter, I have returned to see the massive white oak on numerous occasions.  In every instance, curiosity has prompted my meddling mind to ask questions.

During the most recent encounter, I decided to wonder aloud (and on camera) about Quercus alba — a species that was once regarded as being the most common tree in many forests.  Over the years, however, white oak has slipped in status.  No longer does it hold the title of being the most common tree in many forests.

How did this happen?  And which trees took its place?

If you are interested in seeing a massive old growth white oak, all while learning how an incredibly common tree became less common over time (despite a relative increase in forested land), check out the brand new video!

Conifers display huge variation in bark features.  If you are interested in identifying conifer trees by bark alone, check out these side-by-side images of 15 different conifer trees that grow in eastern North America.Click to view post

Thanks for reading and watching, and thanks for your continued support!

-Adam Haritan

Druid Tree Workings: Witnessing the Death of an Old Tree

The Druid's Garden

Oak friend - one of my first interactions with this incredible friend Oak friend – one of my first interactions with this incredible friend and mentor

Many of us on the path of nature spirituality grow close to trees–so very close.  What happens when a tree that you love dearly, who is a good friend and mentor–tells you that it is time to go?  In this post, I share the story and passing of one of my dear tree friends, a White Oak with a giant burl. After I share the story, I offer some general thoughts about how we, as humans, can support and honor the natural lifespan of our tree friends. This post is meant to be a compliment to my earlier post: Holding Space and Helping Tree Spirits Pass.  My earlier post talked about trees who were cut before their time–while this post honors those who have the privilege of living a full life and dying naturally.

The…

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Sacred Trees in the Americas: Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) Medicine, Myths, and Meaning

The Druid's Garden

PawPaw leaf - as big as your hand! PawPaw leaf – as big as your hand!

The PawPaw is a tree that is so wild and unique and wonderful, and yet, is often quite unknown–it is the only native citrus tree we have in the upper east East Coast and midwest areas. Like some of the other trees I have recently shared in this series, Paw Paw is an underappreciated and under-recognized tree. Within the bushcraft and permaculture circles, it is quite well known as an amazing tree to find, plant, and tend. One of the reasons that PawPaw is probably not more well known has, unsurprisingly, everything to do with the commercial viability of the fruits. PawPaw fruit is absolutely delicious but it only stays good for a few days after picking–so it would never survive the rigors of modern industrial agriculture.  You can occasionally find it at a good farmer’s market, and it is well worth…

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Sacred Trees in the Americas – Black Willow (Salix nigra) – Magic, Mythology, Medicine and Uses

The Druid's Garden

Me under a giant fallen, but yet living, willow tree! Me under a giant fallen, but yet living, willow tree!

One of my earliest memories was of three ancient black willow trees that were down by a little creek where I lived.  Although we lived on a busy crossroads in town, the stream and willows in the backyard were a quiet place, guarded by those three old willows. They looked like gnarled old women, sitting by the edge of the stream, their long branches swaying gently in the wind.  When the stream waters would rise, sometimes they would look like they were wading there, branches swaying in the current.  The Black Willow is an incredible tree, the largest Willow native to North America, and a great tree to get to know.

The Black Willow is also known as the Swamp Willow, Sauz, Dudley Willow, or the Gulf Black Willow.  It is native to all of Eastern North America, from the…

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Sacred Trees in the Americas – Eastern Sycamore (Plantaus Occidentalis) – Magic, Medicine, Ecology and Uses

The Druid's Garden

The glorious sycamore tree! The glorious sycamore tree!

Here in Western Pennsylvania, we have a wonderful set of scenic rivers that lend themselves to kayaking, whitewater rafting, and overnight kayak camping trips. This is one of my favorite pastimes, especially as climate change has had the tick population skyrocket in the last 10 or so years and pushed us into more heatwaves. One of the quintessential features of our waterways here are the Sycamore trees. Sycamores are easy to spot even at a distance: the mottled bark, dark on the bottom and giving way in patches to light white tips; the craggy and interesting growth formation, making the trees appear whimsical and distinct. As you kayak through many parts of Western PA on our larger rivers, you will encounter these little islands that are held there by many old, weathered and small sycamores.  As you drive through the countryside, you will find many river…

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Sacred Trees in the Americas: Juneberry Tree (Amelanchier spp., Serviceberry, Shadbush, Sasakatoon) Medicine, Magic, and Divination — The Druid’s Garden

Juneberry Tree in Abundance We are now at the time when it is at peak throughout the Eastern US and thus,it is a great time to learn about this wonderful tree. Juneberry, also known as Amelanchier, Serviceberry, Saskatoon, or Shadbush is a grouping of 20 deciduous small trees or large shrubs. Juneberry is a delightful understory […]

Sacred Trees in the Americas: Juneberry Tree (Amelanchier spp., Serviceberry, Shadbush, Sasakatoon) Medicine, Magic, and Divination — The Druid’s Garden

Druid Tree Workings: Exercises for Deepening Tree Relationships

The Druid's Garden

A wonderful tree to get to know! A wonderful tree to get to know!

Trees are wonderful and amazing beings, true teachers, friends, and wonderful introductory guides to nature’s mysteries.  Sometimes though, we don’t realize what a powerful impact different trees have had on our lives.  As one step towards cultivating a deep relationship with trees, this week I offer a series of exercises that can help you explore your memories of trees and see what existing connections you may already have.

These exercises and meditations can help you develop relationships with trees or deepen relationships that you’ve already started. You can do them either as meditations or as freewriting activities.  Discursive meditation or journey work would be appropriate if you wanted to use these as meditation tools. In a discursive meditation, you might meditate on the question or theme given (in each exercise) and work through your thoughts. In a journey meditation, you would use the…

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Sacred Trees in the Americas: Tamarak / Larch – Larix laricina – Magic, Medicine, and Mythology

The Druid's Garden

I remember when I first saw a Tamarack tree.  It was growing in a bog where I was hiking in late fall.  I looked at the Tamarack tree in its golden splendor and wondered if the tree was sick or had gotten too wet–was this confier dying?  It had knobby cones and branches, sitting there looking like it was in its death throes.  When I commented on it to my friend, she responded, No, that’s just the tamarack tree, a friend of mine said, and we examined the tree growing on the edge of a beautiful wetland.  Sure enough, a few weeks later, the tree was bare for the winter and only grew back in the spring. The Tamarack tree has a special place in the ecology in North America, especially as a mid-succession tree in very wet and swampy areas.

The Tamarack tree is known by many names: the…

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