Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/May 1882/Methods and Profit of Tree-Planting
By N. H. EGLESTON.
THE recent calamitous fire in Michigan calls attention afresh to the rapid consumption of our forests, and occasions renewed inquiry as to what may be done either to check that consumption or to make good the loss thereby sustained. More than fifty townships of land, covering an area of about two thousand square miles, or a territory nearly half as large as the State of Connecticut, were swept over by the flames. "Scarcely a green sprig," says a reporter, "was left in the track of the fire." This fire was, indeed, exceptional in extent, as well as in the loss of life occasioned by it; and yet it was only the emphasized form of a very common occurrence—one so common that we fail to notice it as we should, or become sensible of the aggregate losses resulting therefrom. The destruction of the great pine-forests of the Northwest, of Michigan and Wisconsin, rapidly as it is carried forward by the lumberman's axe, is hastened by the fires lighted, in some cases, by the lumberman's carelessness or that of others, and in other cases as the speediest way of clearing the ground for agricultural use. There is no part of our country exempt from the destructive effects of forest-fires. The mountains and hill-sides of New England frequently show blackened spaces on their verdant flanks. The same is true of the great wooded regions of New York and Pennsylvania. The vast Adirondack forests are visited by fires, the frequency and extent of which are known to hardly any but the wandering trappers and hunters whose campfire's, left unextinguished, may have lighted them. New Jersey has suffered severely from the burning of her woods. Ten thousand acres, covering a space seven miles in breadth, were swept over, at one time, in 1866. In 1871 two fires in Ocean County consumed over thirty thousand acres, and it is said that this whole county is overrun by fires as often as once in twenty years. In the southern part of the State, so frequent are the fires and so wide-spread, the risk has made woodland less salable than formerly. Though nine tenths of this region is wooded, there is little large timber to be found, and lumber is largely brought from distant places. Droughts are becoming more frequent, and these increase the exposure to fire. Thus the partial consumption of the forests makes their further consumption the more certain and rapid.
And what is true in this limited area is measurably true throughout the country. That our forests are being destroyed with alarming rapidity admits of no question, and it is probably true that fires consume more than are cut down by the axe of the lumberman and the wood-chopper.
Our neighbors in Canada keep themselves better informed in regard to the condition of their forests than we are in regard to our own. The Commissioner of Crown Lands, in the province of Quebec, in his report of 1871, speaking of the preservation of timber-lands, says: "The most formidable agent in the destruction of our forests is, certainly, fire. All the most active operations in lumbering which have taken place since the settlement of the country, and all those which are likely to take place for the next twenty years, have not caused, and will not cause, to our forests so much devastation as this one destroying element has effected up to the present time." In a report on forestry and the forests of Canada, by a member of the Dominion Council of Agriculture, in 1877, it is estimated that more pine-timber has been destroyed by fire than has been cut down and taken out by the lumbermen.
The combined effect of fires and the wasteful consumption of our forests in the production of lumber and for other purposes, and the almost total neglect to protect their growth, have resulted in the diminution of our area of woodland to such an extent as justly to occasion alarm on many accounts. In California, for instance, the President of the State Board of Agriculture reported, several years ago, that within twenty years at least a third of the native supply of accessible timber had been cut off or destroyed, and that forty years would exhaust the forests. This estimate was made without taking into account the increased demands upon the forests which would be made by the increase of population and the growth of manufacturing industries.
Similar reports come from other States and Territories, though in those which were originally heavily wooded the destruction of the trees may not have gone so far as to produce a scarcity of lumber, or to increase its price to such an extent as to be burdensome. In some parts of the country, also, particularly in the older States, it is probable that the growth of the woods has kept pace with their destruction. Yet of the country as a whole it may be said, without hesitation, that the supply of desirable timber, both pine and hard-wood, has materially-diminished within the last twenty-five years. As a natural consequence, the price has everywhere advanced, and a further advance is as natural and inevitable, unless effective measures are taken to check the waste of our forests and to restore them to their proper dimensions. The necessity of vigorous action in regard to this matter is beginning to be felt. In the sparsely wooded districts of the West this is particularly true. The Legislatures and agricultural societies of several of the States have already taken important action on the subject. Laws have been enacted for the protection of the existing forests from destruction by fires, and for encouraging the planting of trees. The national Congress has also, within a few years, made enactments both for the repression of timber-thieving on the public lands and to encourage the planting of timber-trees.
The enactments of Congress for the purpose of encouraging timber-planting, while they have marked a step in the right direction, have not been so effective as they might have been. This has resulted in part through evasion of the laws by speculators, who have only made a pretense of planting while their real object was to get possession of land which they could sell at a profit for agricultural purposes, and in part because the requisitions of the law were too onerous to be complied with by settlers without capital. The latter was of course unintentional. But this, as well as other defects of the timber-culture acts, came as the natural result of our ignorance in this country of the whole matter of tree-planting. We know enough to plant apple and peach trees in orchards, and a row of maples or elms, occasionally, along the road-side, for shade and ornament. But of the cultivation of trees on the large scale, in masses, as they grow in the native forests, few among us know anything. A planted forest is a thing almost unknown here. The chances are that, among the members of Congress who framed the timber-culture acts, not one had any practical knowledge of the subject. The whole matter is new to us, and we have hardly any experience for our guide. For our knowledge we must go abroad, where the subject is treated with the greatest and most scientific attention, as we have lately shown ("Popular Science Monthly," July, 1881). In France and Germany, and other European countries, one of the principle bureaus of government is that having charge of the forests and rivers. Its annual reports are looked for and read with interest, as having important bearings upon the revenue as well as upon the health of the people and the agricultural and commercial resources of the country.
It is a happy thing for us that, as we are waking up to the necessity not only of checking the wasteful consumption of our existing forests but of planting new ones, we have the experience and careful study of the subject by European nations to aid us. For, although their physical conditions are in many respects different from our own, so that we can not adopt their methods without modification, yet certain great principles and facts have been established which are as applicable to use here as they are there.
The first, the fundamental point in tree-planting on a large scale, that is, in planting what may be called a forest, is to consider the trees as a Crop, like any other crop, only this requires a much longer time than ordinary crops to come to maturity. This will at once put the subject to many if not to most persons in a new aspect. Accepting the idea that trees are to be planted like corn or wheat, as a crop, there follows at once the necessity of care and cultivation and the consideration that these are the conditions of success. We do not expect to harvest an ordinary crop, and one that will yield a satisfactory pecuniary return, without having bestowed upon it care and labor. No more should we look for success in the larger growths of the forest without a corresponding culture. And when we come to look upon the growth of a forest in this light we shall easily, almost inevitably, regard our ordinary native forests, where the trees are simply suffered to grow up in complete neglect, exposed to injury from the intrusions of cattle and from other causes, as at best only a partial utilization of the fields which Nature has provided for our comfort and profit. It is true that trees will grow and come to maturity in rough places and on poor soils, where nothing else will grow or where the cultivation of other crops is impracticable and unprofitable. It is true also that the growth of these great forest-crops, instead of impoverishing, enriches the soil. Hence there is no use of our poor and what we call waste lands, which abound more or less everywhere, at once so economical and profitable as to devote them to the growth of trees. Left to themselves, as our forests and woodlands generally are, they are remunerative. But they might be made much more remunerative. They would be, if, instead of regarding them as one of the accidental products of Nature, we were to regard them as one of our staple crops, something to be managed and cared for by us.
The proper care of a tree-crop, as of any crop, requires its protection from injury. But we have left our forests unfenced, or, if we have inclosed them, it has been not so much for the sake of excluding destructive animals from them as for the purpose of making them pasture-grounds for our cattle, where they have been free to range and feed upon whatever might please their taste. The tender buds, the green and succulent shoots, the young trees sprouted in Nature's seed-bed and started for the growth of a century, perhaps more, we have put at the disposal of the teeth and horns and trampling hoofs of cat-tie. This has been regarded as a cheap way of feeding these animals. But there is no fodder for cattle so expensive as forest-fodder. Grass is cheaper than trees. Sir John Sinclair, in his "Code of Agriculture," says: "A landlord had better admit his cattle into his wheat-field than among his underwood. In the one case they only injure the crop of one year, whereas in the other, by biting and mangling one year's shoot, mischief is done to at least three years' growth." But he has quite understated the possible if not probable damage. At the Vienna Exposition in 1873 there was a convention of forest managers from most of the European countries, and an extensive exhibition of forest products. Among these there were sections of trees taken from a forest property near Krainburg, and designed to illustrate the comparative growth of trees when properly protected and cultivated and when exposed to browsing animals. There were shown trees which in thirty years had attained a height of only thirty inches, and others of the same age which had grown near them, but protected from animals, that were twenty-eight feet in height. The cubic contents of sixteen hundred trees, exposed and protected, were measured, with this result: in the unpastured woods, three thousand and fifty-six cubic feet; in the pastured woods, eleven. The annual increase of growth was found to be as one hundred to one, or a loss of ninety-nine per cent, of possible results. Here certainly is food for study.
In many of the ancient forests of Europe there has come down, by immemorial usage, the feudal right of the neighboring peasants to pasturage; but so injurious is the exercise of this right felt to be that the owners of the forests make it one of their chief endeavors to extinguish this right, by purchase or otherwise, whenever they can.
Again, looking upon his trees as a crop, the planter will engage in his work with a patient forecasting of the future. His success or failure does not depend upon what he may do, or fail to do, in a single season or a single year. His trees will come to maturity only with the lapse of generations. He may be planting in part for his grandchildren rather than for himself, except so far as they are himself. The pine, for example, is reckoned to come to maturity only after a growth of one hundred and sixty years. All the more need, therefore, for the adoption of a proper method, and that he should
"Learn to labor and to wait."
The European managers of forests, in forming their plantations, allow from one hundred and twenty to one hundred and sixty years as the period of growth, or of rotation, as they call it. In laying out a forest plantation they will divide the proposed tract into six or eight sections, planting one every twenty years, and, when the whole is planted, cutting and renewing a section every twenty years. Meantime there is a thinning process going on all the while, as the trees grow and require more room for their proper development. By this division of a forest into sections, they avoid the evil effects upon water-supply, climate, etc., resulting from the sweeping off of large forests at one time.
European foresters also insist strongly upon the importance of drainage for the best growth of the forest. They urge that this is fully as important for the most rapid and healthful growth of trees as for the growth of the ordinary crops of the garden or the field. For this purpose they construct open ditches at intervals throughout the forest. In our natural forests, filled with the roots of old trees and often with rocks, it would be difficult to make such ditches. But in many of our low and swampy lands it would be quite practicable, and would add greatly to the amount and value of the growing wood. There is no reason why one should not incur the expense necessary to drain the soil for trees as readily as he does that which he considers desirable for his grass or corn; and all who undertake the planting of trees on new ground should bear this in mind.
We are writing now to urge the importance and even necessity of planting trees on the large scale, as well as the preservation and care of our existing native forests; and one of the first questions to be settled is that of the distance which should separate trees from each other at the time of planting. The experience of European planters has satisfactorily proved that they should be planted much nearer to one another than they are to stand when fully grown. In this respect they should be planted not like the apple or peach orchard, but like the corn-field. One reason why the law of Congress for the promotion of tree-culture has not been more successful is that it allowed trees to be planted twelve feet apart. Trees, when young, are delicate things, and need protection. Like human beings, they seem to have a feeling of companionship. They support and encourage one another. They thrive best when near each other. Accordingly, European foresters commonly plant trees at a distance of not more than four feet apart, and some of our Western planters are disposed to place them even closer than this. Such close planting follows the course of Nature.
If we observe a natural forest, from which destructive animals are excluded, we shall see that the ground is thickly strewed with trees—that few large vacant spaces are to be found, especially when the trees are small. As they increase in size and need more space, Nature has her own way of thinning out. The weaker decay, and the law of the survival of the fittest asserts itself. Following her guidance we have learned to plant closely, and then, from time to time, to make room for the growing trees by transplanting a portion to other fields, or by cutting them and devoting them to such uses as they are fitted for. The smaller serve for hoops for the barrel-maker, or poles for various uses. And so, at all stages of growth, there is an available and profitable use for the trees that seem to be crowding their neighbors.
It is found, again, that trees are not only social in their nature, but that they like variety in their society. As a general thing, different kinds of trees grow better when mixed together than when each kind is planted by itself. This, also, is usually Nature's way of planting. It is common, therefore, for the foresters abroad to plant what they call nurse-trees along with those which they intend to make the staple of the ultimate and full-grown forest, the final outcome of their one hundred and twenty or one hundred and sixty years of watching and culture. If, for instance, they propose to raise what shall be at last a forest of oak-timber, they will plant with the oaks successive rows of the pine, the beech, the maple, the larch, or the birch, each at a distance perhaps of twenty feet from its own kind, but each only four feet from some neighbor. After a few years the quickest-growing trees will be removed—those nearest the oaks—and this will go on from time to time till, finally, the oaks are left to develop themselves to their fullest stature and their greatest strength. As a rule, the thinning is made at such intervals that half the trees originally planted will be removed by the time they are twenty feet high. The number on an acre should not exceed eight hundred when they have reached the height of thirty feet, and when forty feet high only three hundred or three hundred and fifty should remain. These successive thinnings, it is estimated, will more than pay for the care and labor, as well as interest on the land, leaving the final forest as clear profit. And it is to be considered that very much more valuable timber is produced on an acre of ground with this careful and systematic treatment than when a forest is left to grow up by chance and in neglect, as is so commonly the case. There is as great difference in the returns, proportionally, as there is between the yield of a vegetable-garden carefully tended and that of one left without proper cultivation and allowed to be overgrown with weeds. Dr. Berenger, head of the School of Forestry at Vallambrosa, Italy, says that "while an uncultivated woodland, taken for a long period, and counting interest and taxes, would yield almost nothing to the capital invested, it is well established that the same land, managed according to modern science, would, in the long run, yield a revenue both conspicuous and constant."
In many parts of our country, on the plains and prairies especially, and wherever tree-planting is undertaken, except for utilizing waste or rough and comparatively inaccessible ground, which would not be profitable for ordinary tillage, the most desirable mode of planting will be in belts or borders rather than in blocks. These belts should be so disposed as to serve as screens from the strongest and most hurtful winds. There can thus be secured an equally abundant growth of timber, while the screen it furnishes will greatly increase the product of other crops, and serve to promote the comfort of all, whether man or beast, who can have its shelter. The variety of products on a farm may be thus greatly increased also. Tender vegetables and fruit-trees readily flourish under the protection of such shelter belts of forest-trees which could not otherwise be cultivated with success, if at all. And the protection of such belts extends farther than many suppose. It is estimated that their beneficial influence reaches, in horizontal distance, about sixteen times their height. It is probable, therefore, that belts of trees might be so disposed, on almost any farm, that the ground occupied by them would not diminish but rather increase the cultivable area, and the forest growth would be a positive addition to its productiveness.
But whatever the particular plan adopted, a prominent question will be with every one, what trees to plant. The multitude offering themselves for consideration is embarrassing. Our country is one of such extent and such varied climate and soil that we have a tree vegetation embracing all the variety of the entire Eastern hemisphere. Our Atlantic coast corresponds, in this respect, with that of China and Japan, while our Pacific-coast region is like that of Western Europe. At the International Exhibition at Philadelphia, in 1876, the wood of nearly four hundred indigenous species of trees was shown, whereas Great Britain has only twenty-nine; France, thirty-four; and all Europe, leaving out Russia, only about fifty. The little State of Connecticut, on the authority of Professor Brewer, has sixty species of native trees. At the Philadelphia Exhibition there were specimens of thirty-seven species of the oak, thirty-four of the pine family, seventeen of spruce and fir, eleven of maples, besides many others.
With such a variety of trees and so many conditions of climate and soil, and the different objects which the planter may have in view, no one can give an answer to the question what to plant, except in a general way. Trees have their homes as well as men, where they develop to the best. And, though they may often be transferred to other regions and be made to form to themselves new homes, the success of such a transfer can not be predicted with certainty. Experiment alone can decide. But, for the general purposes of tree-planting, and for those who are looking for definite and sure results, the safe rule, and the only trustworthy one, is to follow Nature to plant the trees which she has already planted near us or in situations like our own. From these we may wisely make a selection, according to the objects we have mainly in view. If we want the speediest growth of fuel or shelter, we shall choose the quick-growing trees. If we purpose to grow valuable timber we shall make a different selection, or we may select for both results at the same time. Even in those parts of the country most destitute of any considerable masses of trees, the Western Plains, the treeless regions as they are called, there are a goodly number of species showing themselves, if but sparsely, and giving us hints as to what may be accomplished there in tree-planting, if fires and the depredations of destructive animals can be prevented. We have it, for example, on good authority, that the following trees, among others, are natives of Nebraska, one of the so-called treeless States: the buckeye, the red and the sugar maple, the box-elder, the honey locust, the white and green ash, two species of elm, the hackberry, sycamore, black walnut, three species of the hickory, seven species of oak, the ironwood, two species of birch, four of willow, the cotton-wood, the yellow pine, the red cedar, and two species of fir. Besides these trees there are many shrubs, some of which are tree-like and reach a height of twenty feet. One living where such trees are natives will hardly need to look elsewhere for trees, whether for fuel, timber, or the purposes of art and ornament. But one may also be pretty sure that where these grow other well-known and valuable trees can be successfully cultivated.
And there are some trees which are deserving of more attention than has yet been given them in this country. The willows, for instance, have seldom been cultivated in a large way; and yet there are few trees so easily grown, or which will pay better for cultivation. They adapt themselves to a wide range of soil and climate. They grow on high ground and on gravelly soils not less than by the sides of streams, where we most commonly see them. They are of rapid growth and yield a large return. The osier-willow is specially useful, we know, for the manufacture of baskets, chairs, and other articles of furniture, and we import it to the extent of $5,000,000 annually, when we might produce it easily in almost any part of our country. We hardly think of the willow as a timber-tree or for the production of lumber, but only as yielding a cheap, poor sort of fuel. But in England the wood is greatly prized for many purposes. While it is light it is also tough; it does not break into slivers. Hardly any wood is so good, therefore, for the linings of carts and wagons used in drawing stone or other rough and heavy articles. It makes excellent charcoal, especially for the manufacture of gunpowder. It bears exposure to the weather, and boards made of it are very serviceable for fences. Some species of it are admirable for use as a live fence or hedge. On account of its comparative incombustibility, the willow is eminently useful for the floors of buildings designed to be fireproof. It grows to a large size and furnishes a great amount of lumber. There is a white willow growing in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which, at four feet from the ground, measures twenty-two feet in circumference and extends its branches fifty feet in every direction. Tradition says it was brought from Connecticut in 1807 by a traveler, who used it as a riding-switch. The Hon. Jesse W. Fell, in giving an account of experiments in tree-planting, on an extensive scale, in Illinois, says, "Were I called upon to designate one tree which, more than all others, I would recommend for general planting, I would say unhesitatingly it should be the white willow." Professor Brewer says: "In England, where it is often sixty or seventy feet high in twenty years, there is no wood in greater demand than good willow. It is light, very tough, soft, takes a good finish, will bear more pounding and knocks than any other wood grown there, and hence its use for cricket-bats, for floats to paddle-wheels of steamers, and brake-blocks on cars. It is used extensively for turning, planking coasting-vessels, furniture, ox-yokes, wooden legs, shoe-lasts, etc." Fuller says, "It groweth incredibly fast—it being a byword that the profit by willows will buy the owner a horse before that by other trees will pay for the saddle." The basket-willow, well cultivated, will yield a net income of $150 a year to the acre. On the whole, therefore, it would seem that the various kinds of willow, the economic value of which has been hitherto entirely overlooked in our country, are eminently deserving, of attention, and will amply reward those who cultivate them.
The ailantus and the catalpa are also deserving of much more attention than has been given them. They are both quick-growing trees, soon attaining a size fitting them for use as fuel or in the form of lumber, while they are also very tough and durable. They combine solidity with rapid growth in an unusual degree, which gives them great value to the tree-planter. The ailantus is a native of China. It was brought to this country about a hundred years ago and planted as an ornamental tree. It was for a time very popular as a shade-tree in the streets of many of our cities, but the disagreeable odor of its flowers soon destroyed its popularity, and it was cast out of good society. But, although it may not be a desirable tree for the street or the vicinity of houses, it has, as we have said, qualities which commend it to the forest-planter. The French have planted it extensively because its leaves have been found to be a welcome food to the silk-worm. We may find it advantageous to plant it for the same reason, if the silk-culture is to be established in this country. The ailantus, while it grows as rapidly as the cotton-wood, produces a wood of a specific gravity nearly equal to white oak, which it resembles in color and structure, and above that of black-walnut. It has a beautiful grain, takes a high polish, is easily worked, and is an admirable wood for cabinet-work or the interior finish of houses. It will grow on almost any soil, and is easily propagated by seed or from suckers, which it throws up very abundantly. It is quite hardy as far north as a line drawn from St. Louis to Boston, and is well fitted for planting in exposed positions. Professor Sargent, of the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University, says of it: "A careful study of the ailantus from an economic point of view, and as a subject for sylviculture, forces on me the conclusion that no other tree, either native or foreign, capable of supporting the climate of so large an area of the United States, will produce, in so short a space of time, and from land practically useless, so large an amount of valuable material—valuable alike for construction and for fuel."
The Western catalpa (C. speciosa), formerly little known beyond the region of the lower Ohio, except as a few specimens have been grown for the sake of their beautiful flowers, which resemble somewhat those of the horse-chestnut, has lately been found to be one of our most valuable trees. What chiefly commends it, in addition to its very rapid growth, is its remarkable durability. No tree is known to be equal to it in this respect. It seems to be almost imperishable when exposed to moisture, and was formerly much used by the Indians for canoes. It has been a favorite material for fence and gate posts, and posts are now to be seen which have been in the ground from fifty to a hundred years, and show hardly any signs of decay. It promises to be a very valuable tree for railway-ties, and some of our railway companies, especially in the West, are planting it extensively on this account. It is also an excellent wood for the uses of the carpenter and the cabinet-maker. It resembles in color and texture the chestnut, is easily worked, and takes a fine polish. The rapidity of its growth in good soil is astonishing. A specimen from a tree which grew in Nebraska, and shows but four annual layers of growth, measured nine and three quarters inches in circumference, and the growth of the first two years was already turned to heart-wood. The tree is easily propagated from seed, and will grow anywhere south of the forty-second parallel. Specimens of it are to be found as far north as the middle of Massachusetts, and along the sea-coast as far as Maine. Wherever it can be established it will prove not only one of our most beautiful but one of our most useful woods. There are two species of catalpa indigenous* to the United States; the Speciosa, flowering three weeks earlier than the other, a native of the South, is the hardier of the two, and preferable for planting.
As showing how practical men regard the catalpa and the ailantus, we may state that the Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad have made a contract with Messrs. Douglas, of Waukegan, to plant for them in Kansas several hundred acres of these trees. A Boston capitalist has also contracted for the planting in the same way of five hundred and sixty acres of prairie-land in Eastern Kansas. The plantation is to consist of three hundred acres of the catalpa, two hundred acres of ailantus, not less than twenty-seven hundred and twenty trees to the acre, and sixty acres are to be held as an experimental ground to be planted with several varieties of trees to be selected by Professor Sargent. What is even more noteworthy, the Iron Mountain Railroad Company, whose road runs for hundreds of miles through a heavily timbered country, have made a similar contract for planting near Charleston, Missouri, one hundred acres of the catalpa as an experiment. This they do because, while they own some of the finest white-oak timber on the continent, catalpa ties have stood on their road for twelve years entirely unaffected by decay, and the demand for ties and for posts of this wood far exceeds the present supply. It is estimated that the new railroads built in the treeless States in 1879 required over ten million ties.
The Australian eucalyptus, or blue-gum, though an Australian tree, makes itself at home in California. It is a tree of astonishingly rapid growth, yet, like the ailantus and catalpa, it produces heavy, solid wood. In a plantation of it in Alameda County, California, in seven years from planting the trees were generally ten inches in diameter and sixty feet high. Wonderful stories are told, also, of the value of the eucalyptus as a preventive of malaria, and in reclaiming swamps by absorbing their moisture. But, whatever may or may not be true of it in these respects, the rapidity of its growth and the quality of its wood will commend its cultivation wherever it can be acclimated.
A good deal has been expected of the Scotch pine, and it has been somewhat extensively imported for the purpose of planting. In Europe it has a great reputation for the durability of its wood, and for its rapid growth on poor soils and in exposed situations. But time is seeming to prove that this tree is not well adapted to our country. It grows well for a while, and has a promising appearance while young; but, after attaining an age of from twelve to twenty years, it is apt to fail, dying off suddenly, to the great disappointment of the planter. Its most valuable use is as a nurse-tree in very exposed places, where it will shelter other and better trees until they get established and are able to take care of themselves.
But it is hardly worth while to go abroad for the Scotch pine when we have at home such a tree as the pitch-pine (P. rigida). This tree can be produced from seed in this country in the open field with as much certainty as a crop of corn. It has been grown for many years in this way on the barren and wind-swept soil of Cape Cod, and its cultivation has been entirely successful. Large plantations of it are to be found there, and, for the production of fuel and as a nurse for more valuable trees in such exposed and sterile situations, it has proved worthy the attention of land-holders, as it can be planted at a cost of from one to two dollars an acre.
But the white pine is the most valuable of the conifers for our Northern States. No other is equal to it as a timber-tree. The one drawback to its cultivation is the difficulty of producing it from seed in the open field. It is a tender and delicate plant at its beginning. It needs the care and shelter of the nursery. But a tree so noble when fully grown, and so valuable for many purposes, is worthy of all needed care when young, and will repay it abundantly. The tree-planter can well afford to be at the expense of transplanting this tree from the nursery. For timber, when fully grown, for shelter-belts on farms and grounds, as well as for its fine appearance on the lawn as a single tree or in clumps, our American white ]pine stands second to no other tree in its claims upon the attention of the planter. The rapidity with which it is being swept away by the lumberman's axe, together with its great usefulness and desirability in the arts, and especially for building purposes, will give this tree for some time to come an increasing economic value.
The European larch is quite worthy of cultivation, especially in New England. Professor Sargent says, "There is no tree capable of producing so large an amount of such valuable timber in so short a time as the European larch, in countries where its cultivation is possible." Its cultivation has been proved possible in a large part of our country. In the East and West alike it has been planted with success, and has shown itself to be superior to the American larch, or hack-matack, as it is commonly called. It is especially adapted to poor soils, and bleak, rocky situations—emphatically a tree to be planted on waste and comparatively valueless lands. It belongs to the coniferous family of trees, though not an evergreen. It grows to a height of more than one hundred feet, and perhaps no tree combines more valuable qualities. In Europe is is especially esteemed for railway-ties. It is the most durable wood known when alternately subjected to the influence of air and water. Hence it is very valuable for piles for the construction of docks and the support of buildings. Venice is largely built upon piles made of this wood, and, though they have been exposed to the elements for hundreds of years, in many cases they show hardly any signs of decay. The European larch is more durable, as well as stronger and tougher, than oak. For posts it is probably equal to our red cedar. It is admirably adapted for the frames of buildings. Grigor, an eminent English writer on forestry, says, "No tree is so valuable as the larch in its fertilizing effects, arising from the richness of the foliage which it sheds annually." The Messrs. Fay and others have planted it extensively on Cape Cod and with great success. It has been grown all the way from there to Northwestern Iowa, and even beyond, and a village in Iowa bears the significant name "Larchmont."
An important practical question arises whether it is best to start a plantation from the seed or from trees already grown from one to three years—that is, of a size convenient for transplanting. With some kinds of trees there is little difficulty in raising them from the seed sown where they are to grow. But the preponderance of opinion both in Europe and in this country favors planting the young trees. Though so large and strong when fully grown, many trees are quite small and tender at the beginning. The stately pine, that sends its lofty spire to a height of one or even two hundred feet, is hardly visible for the first two years of its life. It is very easily destroyed. It is most economically raised, therefore, in nurseries or seed-beds, where it can have the needful protection and care. Transplanting, also, while in the nursery tends to give trees a furnishing of roots which prepares them to make a more vigorous growth than when they spring from seed on the forest-ground. It will in most cases probably be safer and cheaper for the planter to procure his trees from the professional nursery-men than to undertake himself to raise them from the seed. The European larch and Scotch pine can be imported at a cost of not more than half a cent apiece, all expenses paid. Messrs. Douglas & Sons, of Waukegan, Illinois, and other nursery-men in this country, are now raising them very largely and will furnish them at an equally cheap rate; and there are some risks in importing trees which are avoided by purchasing those which are homegrown.
The Messrs. Douglas are probably the largest and most successful raisers of forest-tree seedlings in the United States; and, while they are sending out trees by the million, for the encouragement of farmers and others of small means who have had no experience in, planting, or find it difficult to procure trees, at the suggestion of Professor Sargent, of the Arnold Arboretum, they offer to send out dollar packages of trees by mail, post-paid, to any part of the country. These packages contain each from seventy-five to a hundred forest-trees. By this means any one who has any interest in trees, or who would like to make an experiment in growing them, may at trifling cost have them delivered safely at his own door. Two years ago seventy-five thousand trees were sent out in this way as a beginning, and not a single one, it is said, failed to reach its destination in a good condition.
It may be well to make one statement in regard to planting a particular class of trees. These are the evergreens, or the conifers, including of course the larches. For shelter-belts on farms and by road-sides, and for ornamental planting near dwellings, no trees are more desirable. They commend themselves also for their bright-green foliage, holding on through the long winters which prevail over so large a portion of the country. They have been less planted than is desirable, because planting them has so often resulted in failure. This has come principally from not understanding the different nature of these trees from that of all others. The sap of the pine family is resinous and hardens whenever the bark of the roots becomes dried by exposure either to the sun or the wind, and when once hardened no application of water will dissolve it and set it flowing again. The tree is death-struck. Nothing can save it. Hence the one important thing in transplanting evergreens, whether from their native woods or from the nursery, is to keep the roots in a moist state until they are safely bedded in the ground again. This is the secret of success. This done, no trees are more easily or successfully managed. We would as soon undertake to transplant a hemlock or a pine as a currant-bush. There is no more need of failure with the one than with the other.
We have assumed all along, if we have not directly asserted, that the planting of trees on the large scale will be pecuniarily profitable, while it is, on many accounts, so desirable. We turn to this point now, however, more distinctly, because, although tree-planting is desirable for the repair of the rapid waste of our existing forests and to maintain a supply of lumber for the various uses of life, indispensable indeed, and most important also in its bearings upon climate, agricultural production, and upon all the industries and comforts of life, it is the argument of pecuniary profit upon which we must chiefly rely for any efficient action in the work of forestry. Nothing can be plainer, to any one who looks at the subject in a comprehensive way, than that there is coming an increased demand for wood, for use as fuel and in the various arts and industries, while the sources of supply will be lessened for a long time to come, whatever may be done to increase them. The existing forests, which we are sweeping off so rapidly with the axe and by fire, have been the growth, some of them, of centuries. They can not be replaced in this generation or the next. In some cases they can not be replaced at all. Meantime the destruction of what are left will continue. It is estimated that the great lumber region of Michigan and Wisconsin will be swept of its timber in ten years more. The increasing millions of our population will make increasing demands upon the forests. With all that we may do in planting there is likely to come a scarcity of lumber and of timber for purposes of construction which will carry the price far beyond anything which we now know, and make woodlands mines of wealth to their owners.
But comparatively few take such a large view of things; or, if they do, have the forecast and resolution to act upon it. It is the consideration of present gain or loss which moves most men to action. And, regarded in this light, the subject of tree-planting is one which commends itself to almost all land-owners. Apart from the rich prairies of the West, there is hardly a farm, we may say, upon which there is not. some portion so swampy, so rocky and inaccessible, or so poor in soil, that the cultivation of the ordinary crops upon it is impracticable or unprofitable. Such portions are now properly called waste-lands. But there ought to be no waste-lands. There need be none. These intractable portions of many of our farms, now bearing only a scanty and often well-nigh worthless growth, may, with little trouble, be planted with valuable trees, which, even in a few years, will yield a profitable return from their proper thinning, while those that may be left will increase in value as certainly and as rapidly as money deposited in a savings-bank or invested in the public funds. The farmer or land-owner can hardly provide for his children so easily as in this way a sure and valuable legacy. A distinguished authority has said, "As a general rule, in the highlands and lowlands of Scotland, land under wood, at the end of sixty years, under good management, will pay the proprietor nearly three times the sum of money that he would have received from any other crop on the same piece of ground."
Nothing is better understood in England and on the Continent than that the forests are among the best and surest sources of income. Governments and great corporations regard them as stable and important means of revenue. In our own country, as yet, we have not become accustomed to look upon the forests in this aspect. Nor have we cared for them as we do for those things which we depend upon for revenue. And yet, neglected as our woodlands have been, and left to take care of themselves, they have yielded a fair pecuniary return. There is no reason why, with good management, they should not be as profitable as the Scotch plantations. We have already sufficient demonstration of this from actual experiment. We have some plantations of trees, both in the East and in the West, which are of sufficient age to furnish reliable data upon this subject. Mr. Budd, a tree-grower of Iowa, and a careful observer, says: "A grove of ten acres, thinned to six feet apart, containing twelve thousand trees, at, twelve years were eight inches in diameter and thirty-four feet high, the previous thinning paying all expenses of planting and cultivation. Ten feet of the bodies of these trees were worth, for making bent-stuff, etc., forty cents each, and the remaining top ten cents, making a total of $6,000 as the profit of ten acres in twelve years, or a yearly profit of $50 per acre." Similar reports come from other places in the West.
But, turning from the rich lands of the West to the poor soils and rough exposures of the East, we have sufficient examples of the profitableness of tree-planting. One of the oldest in date, perhaps the oldest example of forest-planting in this country, is that of Mr. Zachariah Allen, at Smithfield, Rhode Island. In 1820 a tract of land forty acres in extent was bequeathed to him. Professor Sargent, from whom we take the account, says: "It had been constantly used as a pasture for nearly a hundred years previous to its coming into Mr. Allen's hands, and was at that time entirely worn out. The situation was an elevated one, and completely exposed to the wind, the forty acres occupying the summit of a high hill of granite formation. The surface was marked with ledges, cropping out in projecting cliffs, with intervals of loamy soil, covered with a scanty herbage, and supplying nourishment to a few straggling white birches and the other hardy plants which still too clearly mark our barren pastures. It was found impossible to lease the land for pasturage, so exhausted had it become. The owner consequently determined to try the experiment of planting the whole, or that portion where the rock did not come to the surface, with the seeds of forest-trees. The planting was done in 1820, and cost $45. Since then, for fifty-seven years, Mr. Allen has kept a minute account of his expenditures and receipts in connection with that field. He sets down the price of the land at fifteen dollars an acre, that being what it was appraised at in the division of the estate of the previous owner, though the taxes were for years less than two dollars and a half yearly for the whole forty acres. Charging himself with the land and with interest on its valuation, and also on the taxes paid" for fifty-seven years, his debit account stood, at the close of 1877, $3,804.83. His credit account at the same time, for wood, posts, timber, etc., and 320 cords still uncut, stood $6,348.06, leaving a profit of $2,543.23, or 6100 per cent on the investment for the whole term, and the land greatly improved besides."
The experiments of Messrs. Fay and others at Lynn, and on the barren sands of Cape Cod, where thousands of acres, valued at only fifty cents apiece, and hardly worth that, have been planted with the native pitch and white pine, the Scotch and Austrian pine, the Norway spruce, and the European larch, are equally convincing. Mr. Fay planted in 1854, and in 1877 had one hundred and twenty-five acres densely covered with trees. The larches had reached a height of forty feet and a diameter of fourteen inches. Scotch pines, sown as late as 1861, were thirty feet high and ten inches in diameter a foot from the ground. Mr. Fay is abundantly satisfied with the results of his experiments. Professor Sargent says, speaking of the plantations made by Messrs. Fay and others: "When we consider the success which has attended the experiments of these gentlemen in reclothing their property with forest growths, under circumstances, too, as disadvantageous as it is possible for Massachusetts to offer, it must be acknowledged that the attempt to replant our unimproved lands. is a perfectly feasible one; and the only wonder is that the inhabitants of Essex and Barnstable Counties, with such examples before them, have not already planted their worthless, worn-out lands with a crop which would yield a larger profit than any they have produced since the first clearing of the forest."
Taking the results of Mr. Fay's planting, and the average results of the planting of the larches in the Highlands of Scotland, which are nearly the same in like conditions, Professor Sargent finds that, on ordinary soil, larches planted when about one foot high and three years old, will in twenty years average twenty-two feet in height and seven inches in diameter three feet from the ground; and that in thirty years they will be from thirty-five to forty feet high and twelve inches in diameter; and, if thinned out, the remaining trees, at fifty years from the time of planting, will reach from sixty to seventy feet in height and at least twenty inches in diameter. On this basis he makes the estimated profit on a plantation of ten acres of larch-trees, at the end of fifty years, to be $52,282.75, or thirteen per cent per annum for the whole time. The estimate is carefully made, as would be seen, if we had space for the particulars; but with a considerable discount from the figures of Professor Sargent there is left, certainly, a reasonable profit.
It is to be remembered also that trees are not exhausting crops, but that they tend to enrich and improve the land on which they grow. If this be taken into account, the estimate of possible and probable profit from the planting of our many acres of wild, rocky, sandy, and other poor and practically waste land, is to be counted only by millions of dollars, while the benefits that would accrue from extensive tree-planting in the more equable distribution of rain and the flow of our streams in meteorologic influences upon health and comfort, and in other ways, would be simply incalculable.