Oddball Trees of Martha's Furnace, NJ Barry Caselli
February 28, 2009

Today I drove up into one of the easternmost areas of Wharton State Forest where there was once a bog iron furnace called Martha Furnace. I believe it went into blast in 1800, and of course the entire bog iron industry failed in the 1840s. There was of course a village around the furnace, a company town, as all the furnaces had. If you worked at the furnace, you lived in the town. The furnaces were that remote.
Anyway, surrounding the site of the ironmaster's mansion, as well as a few other spots in the old village, you will find old, mangled, sad-looking Southern Catalpa trees (Catalpa bignoniodes). Many of them look so bad that you would think that they couldn't possibly be still alive, yet they are (and very much so, for now). I'm sure they've survived a forest fire or two since the Martha Furnace days.
Among these Catalpas there is the remains of an old buttonwood. It is basically a hollow half stump, but it is still alive! There is a living vertical leader growing from it. I bet it had a CBH of 10 to 11 feet when it was still a complete tree. It's an amazing thing to see. There are also some Black Walnut trees among the Catalpas, but just a few.
So, using the digital camera, I photographed most of the Catalpas from various angles, trying to show the living parts, and also trying to show how bad they look, to show how amazing it is that they are alive. But here's a very cool thing I found: I found one Catalpa that had fallen over, with some of its roots sticking out in mid air. A part of the trunk got forced tightly against the ground. It then rooted, and either an existing branch grew into a new tree, or a new tree grew from that small section of trunk that's against the ground. You can see the base of this new tree growing outwardly over the old horizontal tree. It's hard to figure out exactly what this thing did, really.
Then I found another Catalpa that's even more odd. There is a two-trunk tree that fell over completely (it's still alive though). A new tree has grown up from the former root mass and base of the tree. But several feet away there's a smaller tree that is bent over (not uprooted). This is also still alive. The trunk comes out of the ground, then goes into a curve, ending up going towards the ground again, but somehow part of it ended up laying on top of the root mass of the double tree that fell over. I can't figure out if the new tree growing from the root of the fallen tree has anything to do with this other bent-over arcing tree. It must, because the bent-over arcing tree is alive, but where are its branches and top? This tree growing on the root of the other one must also be the bent-over tree. I can't figure it out. I am unable to come up with a completely viable chain of events that caused what I saw there, since two trees that are near each other
 are involved. It's very, very odd, but very cool.
Nearby I found another oddball Catalpa. There's a tree that was leaning, apparently. Somehow it leaned so bad that it touched the ground in one spot. Try picturing a backwards letter S, laying over horizontally, but with the curves not near as acute as an S. This thing leans over to the ground, and then goes back up, almost vertically. It has grown so much since it fell over that the part of the trunk that is growing back vertically again is noticeably larger in diameter than the part that comes out of the ground where the original roots are. And that part appears dead now, and the part that is laying on the ground, which is a few feet long, is rooted now.
Also nearby I found a beautiful large pine that I think is a Shortleaf Pine. At about 6 to 7 feet above the ground a second leader starts. This tree is quite big so I measured it. I had to measure it at 3 feet above the ground in order to get below the flare from the second leader. At 3 feet above the ground I got a circumference of 6'9". Just to make sure I was getting the smallest possible measurement, I measured again, 4 inches lower, and came up with 6'9" again.
Also nearby, across the sand road, (where the forest is 100% pine trees), I found a smallish Pitch Pine with an unusually long branch on it. It was cool.
Also nearby I found an Atlantic White Cedar that had fallen over, with some of its roots out of the ground. The treetop is in mid-air. But three of the branches of this tree are now growing into new trees. They are evenly spaced along the trunk of the tree.
I took the opportunity to walk down to the bog along the Wading River, and saw lots of Pitcher Plants. I've never visited any of our bogs in the winter before. The Pitcher Plants apparently die back each year and then grow new plants each Spring, just like any perennial I suppose. So it was neat to see all these baby Pitcher Plants coming up. There was no sign of any of the Sundews yet.
Anyway, further away I found a Pitch Pine that had broken and fallen over. The CBH must be at least 5'6". I took the opportunity to measure the tree as it lay on the ground. I came up with roughly 65 to 68 feet. It appears that most of the standing trees there are that height.
And finally, further away still, I found a small PItch Pine that had fallen over and was completely horizontal, with some of its roots in mid-air. Half-way up the length of the tree, it turned upward and started to grow vertical again. But in this case the entire tree is alive, not like the Catalpa described above that fell over and rooted before growing upward again.
This bit of forest is so cool. I wish some of you guys could have been there with me to see all this. I have visited this site many times, but never surveyed it so carefully before.
Pictures will come later. I want people to see what I saw.
Take care,

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