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The Time Forgotten Tree

October 23, 2018

The Morton Arboretum has some proud examples of the black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia). Nevertheless, invasive tendencies raise concern about future applications. Apparently, society no longer sees value in this tree.

It wasn’t always this way. A black locust resided in the corner of the Pennsylvania property of our first home. Probably, no one planted it. Like the invasive white mulberry now pervasive in Naperville, it just popped up. No one bothered or even thought of cutting it. 

And why not. Because of lawn mowing, there was not an issue with suckers. Honey bees loved the showy white flowers of spring and early summer. Literature cites black locust as a great source of firewood. And I recall its usage in fencing and in support for pole buildings. In that regard, a charred-in-fire black locust fence post outlasts the barbed wire attached to it. I used to see this on forest-reclaimed abandoned farms, near my family’s home. Also, the long straight-grained wood splits easily into fence rails. (Abe Lincoln would have loved it). Insofar as firewood is concerned, like old applewood, a lower hardness recommends cutting while still green. In low light conditions, it is fun to see the sparks while cutting hardened cured logs, but one may soon be sharpening a dulled chainsaw. Finally, black locust trees were often seen as soil-enriching pioneering groves on abandoned coal strip mines.

Perhaps it is useful to remember that just like our senior citizens, the “old” black locust tree enjoys an interesting and productive history.

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