Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Marker Tree

Have you ever been on a guided walk and had the guide explain that the misshapen tree you are looking at is the result of an early explorer bending the tree into some kind of directional marker and road sign. It’s happened to me a lot and I’m sure there are some old trees around that actually have this type of history, but the last time someone pointed out a marker tree, it couldn’t have been more than 60 years old. I really don’t believe we had that many explorers passing through Southern Ohio in the 1940’s. When I innocently asked if there were other possible causes for the condition of the tree, I was told NO.

If odd shaped trees are all caused by explorers, then Blue Jay Barrens must have been a major traffic hub. I find trees in various twisted shapes that point in all different directions. I’ve found several factors that can create these Marker or Direction trees.

The trees are usually small, 10 to 30 feet tall, when something diverts them from their upright position and leaves them with some combination of twists, turns, bends and breaks. Once the catastrophic event has ended, the tree does its best to resume normal growth. The dead stub shown here is what’s left of the original tree top. This gives you some idea of the diameter of the tree when it went down.

Trees generally grow in an upright direction. The dominant upward growing branch is known as the leader. The leader produces a chemical that inhibits the growth of other branches, so on a typical tree you would have a tall growing leader producing a central trunk surrounded by shorter and smaller lateral branches. If a tree gets pushed over, the leader loses its dominance and all branches scramble to become the new leader. On the arched section, a new leader emerged and the growing tip is now controlling the pattern of development.

But another leader also formed. Each branch growing from a fallen trunk can function almost as a separate tree. This other leader, growing from the base of the dead stub, has had a time finding a path to the sunlight. From the size of the branches, it appears that this leader has a weak dominance at best.

How did the tree reach this condition? The roots look like they were pulled from the ground and stretched as the tree fell. That means the ground was saturated with water at the time.

The downward bend is most likely where something fell and pinned the tree to the ground. I’m guessing the event took place about 25 years ago. We had a wet April snow that produced 18 inches in 12 hours. The tree, being tall and willowy from of its life in the cedar understory, began to lean because of the snow load. It wouldn’t have taken much snow to cause the tree to lean, and as it leaned, more trunk area was made available to capture more snow. As the process continued, the trunk probably became quite arched. The cedars were accumulating their own snow load and hundreds of cedar tops broke out of the trees during that storm. I’m betting that one of those tops caught the leaning tree and took it to the ground. The top of the tree was supported by its lateral branches and remained curving upward. The cedar top, being mostly young branches, needles and a huge mass of snow, decomposed quickly. The result is this odd shaped tree that really points to nothing. Or it could be marking buried treasure.


  1. Ah, the mysteries of the forest. Wouldn't it be interesting to not only see how that tree became bent, but the people who walked through your property and how they were dressed years ago?

  2. Hi must have been a parents worst nightmare when you was a an conjure up a mystery in anything!!
    All kidding aside your post always makes me think about all the times I spent in the woods back home and the curiosity I had about such things as this!!

  3. Hi, Lois. That would be interesting. Historical accounts describe the small area around me as being barren and unproductive, so anyone going through was probably in a hurry to get some place better.

    Grammie g, I'll have you know that I was a perfect little angel as a child. It's not my fault that the fact was so well hidden from adults.