Tuesday, February 19, 2013

President's Day Cherry Tree Ramble

Climbing to the top of The Peak, a local topographic high point
It's become an annual tradition that I lead a President's Day Cherry Tree Ramble to entertain and educate folks who have President's Day off work.  My goal in leading the walk is to enlighten the hikers about the myth of George Washington's chopping down a cherry tree and confessing his transgression to his father, and to show the participants how to distinguish between the native black cherry (Prunus serotina) in the Preserve's woodlands vs. the introduced bird cherry (P. avium).

Washington's exploit was fabricated by an itinerant preacher and Washington groupie named Mason Locke Weems who published a book called The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington in 1800.  In the fifth edition (published in 1806), Weems inserted the story about Washington's vandalism to demonstrate the future president's forthright and honest nature.  In reality, very little is known of Washington's early life, and historians are sure this story (among many of Weems' others) has no basis in reality.

Though the day was cold, the sky was bright blue and sunny.  The three hikers and I were accompanied on our walk by a forestry consultant named Joe who has been clearing invasive vegetation from The Peak Woods in preparation for restocking the forest with new native trees this spring.  It was a convivial group, and the small size allowed us to interact frequently.
Hiker Judy examining the bark of a native black cherry
Native black cherry, when mature, develops a distinctive thick, scaly, dark bark.  The tree can live to be 200 years old, and produces lots of drupes that attract birds, which spread the seeds to new locations.
Forestry consultant Joe and hiker Karen atop The Peak with a bird cherry
In contrast, bird cherry (also called European, sweet, mazzard, or gean cherry), has a smooth bark with distinctive horizontal corky sections called lenticels.  Bird cherry is a short-lived tree (about 50 years) and has inferior value as lumber compared to the native species.  Like black cherry, bird cherry also produces numerous drupes that are consumed (and spread) by birds.  Bird cherry is the species that was cultivated to produce the edible cherries we use in pastries.  Though it was introduced by colonists from Europe, it is native to western Asia.
Consulting forest restoration expert Joe and the hikers looking at invasive vines in the forest canopy

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