Surveying Historic Trees

 

Locations of large trees and modified trees documented on the landscape survey of the Williams Farmstead. Ranging in age from 100 to 300 years old, many of these trees were present during the time the Williams family lived at the farm.

 

In the wooded areas of the site, we observed many oaks and other trees that were large enough to have been present when the Williams family lived on the farm. As part of the landscape analysis, a substantial effort was made to map the locations and document the trunk diameters of these larger trees (those with a trunk circumference of 37 inches or more).

The map above denotes locations of 85 large trees, shown with gray and green symbols. Their trunk diameters range from 12 to 40 inches, and the ages of 44 big live oak and post oak trees were estimated using a growth rate formula developed by forestry experts. The age estimates for these trees range from 100 years to more than 300 years, and seven of the trees are probably over 200 years old. Based on their size, location, and some evidence of human modification, it is clear that many of these big trees were indeed important parts of the Williams farmstead landscape.

Ten of the large modified trees are denoted on the map with a green symbol and number. Most of these are trees with barbed or smooth wire embedded in their trunks, indicating that they served as fence posts. These include one dead tree, one unidentified tree, three cedar elms, and three live oaks. The other two tree features are a large oak tree with a rock pile around its base (Tree 84), and a giant oak tree with a modified cavity (Tree 1).

One of the largest modified trees was Tree 76, a giant oak tree located near the southeastern corner of Williams’ property. It had two strands of barbed wire protruding out of the trunk at 27 and 35 inches above ground. This tree was used as a fence post many years ago, and the tree grew around the barbed wire. This tree is estimated to be about 222 years old, and it is likely that the barbed wire was probably added to the tree around or after the turn-of-the-century.

Another example of a tree utilized in fencing is shown in the photo at right. Tree 51, a small cedar elm growing had barbed wire embedded in its trunk. This tree has a small trunk diameter of only 11 inches (note the 6-inch ruler), and its age cannot be estimated accurately. However, it seems likely that this strand of barbed wire was added to the tree in the early twentieth century.

 
photo of an ancient oak (Tree 76), one of the largest modified trees recorded on the property
At more than 200 years old, this ancient oak (Tree 76) was one of the largest modified trees recorded on the property. Used as a fence post, the tree grew around the barbed wire as it aged.
photo of barbed wire was embedded in the trunk of this small cedar elm tree (Tree 51)
Barbed wire was embedded in the trunk of this small cedar elm tree (Tree 51).
photos of large oak (Tree 38) with barbed wire, part of a rock wall fencing system.
Large oak (Tree 38) with barbed wire, part of a rock wall fencing system.

This large oak tree (Tree 38), had a long strand of barbed wire embedded in one of its three trunks. The overview at left shows the trunk with the barbed wire growing at an angle over the top of Rock Wall F1. The closeup  shows a barbed wire strand coming out of the tree trunk. This wire, and other segments of identical wire, ran east to west over the top of the rock all. This tree trunk is estimated to be about 129 years old, and it is likely that the barbed wire was added when the tree was very young, probably around or after the turn-of-the-century. The photo scale at right is in 10-cm increments.

Four photos of Tree Feature 1, one of the oldest and most unusual trees on the property
Views of Tree Feature 1, one of the oldest and most unusual trees on the property. This huge oak provided shade for the cabin area and also may have harbored honeybees at one time. The scale in these photos is 1 m (39 inches) long in 10-cm increments.

The four photos above depict the most unusual tree feature observed at the Williams farmstead. The first photo is looking southeast at the chimney firebox with the giant live oak Tree 1 in the background. Its age is estimated at more than 300 years, and the tree is located at the southeast corner of the yard area. Being perhaps 170 to 200 years old, it would have been a large tree when the Williams family lived there, and it certainly would have provided a nice shady area for outdoor activities.

The bottom two photos are closeup views of a large tree cavity on the north side of the tree. The 10x24-inch tree cavity is natural and contains a large knot that is extensively modified. The knot has numerous cut marks made with a straight-bladed metal implement such as an axe or an adze, and this modification appears to be very old. There is no definitive evidence of why someone would modify the tree in this way, but we do have one theory. In the summer of 2009, a large honeybee hive was present in a large oak tree nearby (Tree 2). Honeybees establish new colonies regularly, but they tend to live in one area for many generations. We speculate that there may have been a honeybee hive inside the Tree 1 cavity and that someone in the Williams family chopped away part of the tree knot to widen the opening so they could gather the honey. A source of free honey would have been an important resource on a rural nineteenth-century farmstead.