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Our Favorite (Crooked) Trees

Brenda Charpentier

It's the most unusually-shaped trees in the forest that fire the human imagination. After all, the misshapen, warped, multi-trunked, split and hollowed trees have long been favored as homes by woodland cartoon figments: elves, dwarfs and ogres - not to mention Pooh bears, Piglets and wise old owls.

Most forestland owners prefer to grow valuable "saw-timber" - tall, columnar standing trees which are symmetrical cylinders of blemish-free wood. Sawmill operators generally seek the same sawlogs devoid of defects like forks, crotches, knots and hollows to yield high value, clear lumber for millwork and dimension stock for flooring or fine furniture.

But most people who simply admire trees seek more "character" in their favorites. Digital photos people send of their favored backyard trees would make a lumberman cringe. The most beloved backyard trees will never become lumber.

Multi-trunked “wolf pines” may attract a crude wooden ladder to access a tree-house platform, custom-made for childhood memories and are good landmarks for hunters or hikers. Large-diameter, multi-branched “pasture pines” and old open-grown sugar maples are often surrounded by a matrix of younger forest. Old trees grow along once-sunny stonewalls delineating pasture and hay meadow boundaries. They escaped grazing cows or the clatter of the tractor’s sickle-bar side-mower.

These relict trees have zero value for lumber but they’ve got character. They tell a good story. From feedback I get, people like good stories of old New Hampshire.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.
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