Pinus strobus forma maximus Colby Rucker
  Jul 26, 2003 04:38 PDT 

[ENTS: Another thought-provoking gem from great friend Colby Rucker, who approaches
the credibility of the big tree reports from an entirely different perspective.
Any thoughts, comments?...Bob]


Your morning comments on the historic dimensions of white pine are entirely
logical. Despite my title for this epistle, I don't think there were
genetically superior trees in historic times. However, as you outlined a month
or so ago, the matter of habitat is definitely correlated to tree height.
Forest profiles show this, as in my Chase Creek study, and the presence of
indicator plants is so valuable that I discovered exceptional trees at Belt
Woods by watching the herbaceous layer, and then studying the overhead canopy
more carefully.

I suppose that many accounts from the past have been skewed somewhat innocently,
as by transposition, diameter for circumference, yards for feet, 3.14 x the
longest diameter, counting logs in a multi-stemmed tree, measurement at grade,
or simply rumor repeated too many times.

I gather that liars were as despised long ago as today, but a talent for telling
tall tales well was looked upon favorably. The same went for photographs, as in
the case of humorous post cards showing a giant ear of corn on a heavy ox-cart.
When less obvious, such exaggeration has caused problems, as in the case of the
Lead Mine oak.

Of course, there was always a strong incentive to exaggerate the productivity of
the soil, with farmers, land speculators, small towns, railroads and even states
carrying things to great extremes, hoping to attract settlers, investment
capital and more profitable land sales. Some of this stuff was completely
untruthful, and some was simply clever, like the American chestnut photograph.

So, what about cants six feet on a side? There's no truth to it, for several
reasons. Mills are built to handle logs of average size for the area. Larger
mills cost more, require more power, are harder to maintain, and don't cut as
accurately. Oversized logs are a headache for everyone. Occasionally some
showoff may transport an oversized log, but it's hard on the animals and
equipment, bottoms out in the stream, and may damage the carriage. Without a
big bandsaw, there are several approaches to sawing such a log, but none are
very satisfactory. Having a huge cant six feet square on the carriage is not an

So, the big cant never existed. Let's be charitable, and say the cant was 2
feet on a side, and someone changed that to yards. That makes for good sized
second and third logs. What about the first log? It may have been unsound, and
was left in the woods, or was split with black powder to fit a typical mill.
Undoubtedly a big tree, but not off the chart, or incompatible with some
standing today.

Even if perfectly round, the size tree required to produce a six foot square
cant simply didn't exist in the east. The closest thing was, if I remember
correctly, a six foot cube of yellow poplar that West Virginia exhibited at the
World's fair of 1907. As a yardstick, that's a measure of exceptional big
trees, even in that era of exploitation.

We might guess the tree was notched and felled above the cube, which was then
cut at grade, wedged up, shaped by hand and transported. Cutting very low was
done at times, as in the case of a local black walnut, where the saw passed
through both nine feet of wood and a core of numerous oyster shells.

Bottom line: Pinus strobus forma maximus never existed.