My earliest memories are from the late 1950’s. Ear aches while camping, bad sunburns on Florida beaches, playing neighborhood football with my brothers, visiting my granduncle’s homestead in Robertson County, TN., going to church a lot, taking in all the things old people talked about, and wandering the forest a lot.
During those days I also began examining trees and trying to figure them out. The following are some of my tree stories some people find interesting, from my early years :
The Nashville TN Sycamore ;
At age 5, I remember a large sycamore in Shelby Park where I played peewee baseball with Gallatin Road Baptist Church (coach Lloyd Pate), next to a baseball diamond, across the drive from the lake ( not to be confused with the beautiful “Sycamore Lodge tree” ). So, the sycamore in my story was 4 or 5 feet through the trunk and very tall. Something happened to its health shortly after, so the city cut it. That first year I, and other children would play on the giant stump and we pretended it was a stage. The next Spring a dozen or so sprouts emerged around the perimeter of the stump. They grew tremendously fast the first year, I’m thinking 8 to 10 feet high. Every future growing season they grew fast, although commensurately slower with time. By 30 years of age the new sprouts were giants, and they all seemed to fuse together and seemed to have the general appearance of one base even though there were many trunks fusing. Many people began noticing the tree. In the 1990’s a local resident named Mark Hackney even nominated it for Tennessee’s biggest champion sycamore, and it won, for a few years. Just to think that I knew it’s full life story, is amazing to me. I discussed this with many people around the neighborhood, including Mark Hackney and Shelby Bottoms Nature Center employees, and nobody knew its history. Also, just think, a 35 year old tree was a giant, and it was really a multi-trunk tree instead of a single trunk tree, and yet it was considered a TN champion. NOTE: Multi-trunk trees from stumps have an unfair advantage over single trunk trees, so they really should be placed in a totally separate category. This fact is well known throughout the arborist world, and is stated on numerous big tree sites such as “ MonumentalTrees.com “
In 2017, sadly, all that remains of this sycamore is yet another stump, or lower trunk mass rotting away.
The 8 year study tree;
About that same time in my life 1961ish at 6 years old, one of the boys on my baseball team and church member friend, lived on Horseshoe Drive in Inglewood, close to my childhood home. He had a tree in his backyard that was intriguing and unique to me. It was strictly pyramidal, neat, with big leaves. I watched and examined it for years. It took almost 8 years to figure out the species. It was a tree that was once more abundant in Nashville forests but are rare trees in Nashville nowadays, the Cucumber-Tree or Magnolia acuminata. I’ll never forget that neat symmetrical crown. I of course have a nice one in my Arboretum now.
The First Dawn Redwood in Tennessee;
Just as a preface, Dawn Redwoods are living fossils that millions of years ago grew over much of North America, and the world, in a prehistoric landscape. It was thought to be extinct until we found some alive in China in the 1940’s.
Back around 1966 at age 11, I push mowed grass for little old ladies and helped them do their landscaping, etc. One lady (born in the 1800’s) on the corner of Matthews Ave and McMahon Ave was named Mrs. Litchfield. I loved cutting her grass for two reasons. 1 ) was that she would always bring me out some ice cold Russian Tea with mint leaves on top. Smile. 2 ) was because of a tree that her neighbor owned. A 60 foot tall Dawn Redwood. Most likely the first Dawn Redwood in Nashville and one of the first in the USA.
The owner told me that Vanderbilt University (where he worked) was given some of the first seeds brought from China in the late 1940’s. I don’t remember the details, but this employee ended up with one seed so he planted it at his home. So from 1947ish to 1966 or 67 it grew to 60 feet tall. Over the next 25 years or so it reached a height over 100’. The Nashville “Ice Storm of the Century“ in Feb 1993 felled a giant white pine over and broke the Dawn Redwood. So they cut the pine and the redwood down. Sad. This tree began my love for Dawn Redwoods. I planted my first, on this same street, in 1979. It’s big now, approx. 90’ tall and 3’ dbh. Smile. I’ve planted many since. Now, in 2019, I believe I am considered the Dawn Redwood Authority of Middle Tennessee.
( More stories later. Smile )