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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The Other Quince

The Herb Society of America Blog

by Matt Millage

PXL_20210402_173312198After a brief email exchange with a colleague last fall around this same time, I set off to collect some fallen treasures from the forest floor from a tree I had never collected from before. The fruit was large and aromatic, but I was unfamiliar with its culinary use. Suddenly the sweet scent of ripening flesh let me know that the bounty was close, and true to smell, the six-inch long, bright yellow fruits of the Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis) were scattered beneath a tree. Much larger than its cousin, the common quince (Cydonia oblonga),which is used often in fruit production and tree grafting, the Chinese quince has a reputation for being rather astringent, and I had never thought of cooking with it. 

After informing my colleague that the harvest was complete, I inquired as to how he planned on using the crop. He explained…

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Old Growth Red Pine — An Uncommon Sight

Among the common, the uncommon exists.  Learning the uncommon among the common helps us see in new ways what has been in front of us all along.

Take red pine, for instance. 

Where I live in western Pennsylvania, red pine (Pinus resinosa) is a common sight.  Many county and state parks contain large tracts of land that host nothing but red pine plantations.  These plantations, believe it or not, are considered by fundamentalists to be “ecological deserts” — a category that also includes parking lots and golf courses.

Red pine, it seems, can’t catch a break.  Because of the bias against its ubiquity and against its purported ecological disservice, it’s no wonder that people rarely take any time to marvel underneath a red pine tree.

But there is something that we should know about red pine.  Among the common, the uncommon exists.

Red pine is not common in every context.  To provide two examples — “natural” stands of red pine are quite uncommon in my home state of Pennsylvania, and across the entire range of red pine, old growth red pine forests occupy less than 1% of their original range. 

What’s more, old growth red pine forests are far from ecological deserts.  Researchers consider these forests to be critical for maintaining biodiversity at stand and landscape levels.

To gain some insight on the matter, I decided to visit a “natural” stand of red pine.  Not too surprisingly, I did not discover an ecological desert.  Instead, I encountered a diverse ecosystem containing red pines that were approximately 250 years old and approaching old growth status.

If you are interested in learning the uncommon among the commoncheck out the brand new video!

Speaking of uncommon (or very common, depending on where you live), I recently encountered this melanistic eastern gray squirrel foraging for acorns.  The presence of melanism across the range of gray squirrels is really low (less than 1%).  In some areas, though, it can be higher than 50%.  To learn more about black squirrels, check out the latest Instagram post!Click to view post

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

-Adam Haritan

Druid Tree Workings: Intuitive Tree Sigils and Tree Sigil Magic

The Druid's Garden

Nature provides incredible opportunities for us to work with her magic, through symbolism, sacred geometry, and meditation.  Today, I wanted to share a technique I’ve been developing for land healing purposes–tree sigil work.

beech tree rising up with interesting patterns A potential tree to work with for tree sigils

Sigils have many different purposes.  In classic Western Occultism, some of the most well-known sigils are found in the Lesser Key of Solomon and are used to identify and evoke a particular spirit or entity. Another more recent use of sigils is through the practice of Chaos magic, where sigils are often used to set an intention and use the image to focus on that intention.  I covered bardic intuitive sigils some time ago on this blog; this use is in line more with the second intention. Sigils can be meditated upon, carved into wood or stone, energized and blessed, burned or buried, or placed in key areas…

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Healing from the Trees: Spruce Resin Salve Recipe

The Druid's Garden

The completed salve! The completed salve!

Since moving to our new homestead a few years ago, I’ve been working to build a local material medica–that is, learning about all of the medicinal plants, herbs, and trees here on our 5-acre property.  This also, of course, means growing a lot of my own herbs but also learning everything I can about the uses of the plants/trees already present on the land.  This post is a follow-up to my Spruce post from a little while ago to share some primary ways of working with spruce: A Spruce Resin Salve (also known as a Spruce Gum and Spruce Resin salve) with bonus fire-starters from the process!

Many conifers produce a tarry, sticky resin or sap that has a range of uses: as a binding agent or glue, as a medicine, as gum you can chew, as incense, as a fire-starting tool, as a waterproofing agent…

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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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