NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2017 • NEBRASKAland 71 PHOTO BY MIKE GROENEWALD PHOTOS BY JEFF KURRUS Burls A Peculiar Wood Oddity By Mike Groenewold, Horticulturist A ll things in nature interest me, especially peculiar oddities that sometimes defy explanation. In my work as a horticulturist, arborist and forester for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's parks division, I often like to think of myself as a scientist, knowing for the most part that there is sound science that explains how, why and where trees grow. And then again, sometimes I like to observe trees, and especially wood, from a purely aesthetic prospective, knowing there might be some unexplainable reasons why trees and their wood are so beautiful. OK, it's true, I can get a little nostalgic about wood. I blame it on my dad, who injected sawdust in my veins at a young age when he taught me how to drive my first nail. Since then I have cut, glued and sanded wood into many useful and not-so-useful objects. I like to think of it as a passion; on the other hand, my wife believes I have a slight addiction. "You just have to make something out of wood every winter, don't you!" As of yet, I have not sought counseling and continue to hoard scraps of wood like my wife does shoes. Burls are one of the peculiar wood oddities that I enjoy observing during my work assisting our park superintendents in managing their woodlands and landscapes. We often see them growing on cottonwood and other species throughout the state. Burls are bulbous protrusions occurring on branches, stems or trunks in many sizes, and some are quite large. A burl develops on a tree undergoing some form of stress such as an injury, virus or fungus. Environmental factors or hormonal imbalances are also possible causes. Burls are always covered with bark and usually contain sound wood. Inside a burl the structure always illustrates contorted growth patterns that give the wood beauty and even value to some species. Wood turners in particular collect burls to fashion beautiful bowls and vases on their lathes. Burls do not appear to harm a tree, and as of this writing, I know of no proven theory for what causes these wood oddities. Recently I encountered one of the largest burls I have ever observed in our Nebraska parks. Tim Boyle, superintendent of Johnson Lake State Recreation Area, called my attention to a particular cottonwood (pictured above) after inspecting his campgrounds for possible hazardous trees. As beautiful and useful as they are, trees, like all living things, decline in old age and their dead branches and stems can certainly threaten the life and property of our park visitors. Upon arrival to examine this tree, I immediately noticed the large, beautiful burl that had swollen the tree's basal diameter to nearly six feet. It was an awesome organism, but unfortunately this one exhibited obvious evidence of decay. Sad to say, after admiration and photos I began to safely fell this tree with our largest chainsaw to safeguard the adjacent campsites. As Tim and Jennifer, his helper, began to haul away the chunks of wood I had cut into loadable pieces, I once again turned nostalgic wondering what I could chisel out of these big hunks of wood. However, I soon returned to my senses knowing the wood was far too large for me to handle and haul away to my tiny workshop, but maybe next time. ■ Mike Groenewold is Park Horticulturist with the Commission. Mike has led the Park Landscape Services Program since 1989 and is an avid woodworker. PHOT PHOT PHOT PHOTO BY O BY O BY O BY MIK MIK MIK MIKE GR E GR E GR E GROENE OENE OENE OENEWALD WALD WALD WALD This large burl was recently discovered on a 65-year old cottonwood at Johnson Lake State Recreation Area near Lexington, Nebraska, and additional burls have been discovered on trees at this park.

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