Friday, March 16, 2012

Cedar- Past and Present

Cedar cones
Eastern red cedar can be a pain in the neck... or the nose.  These misnamed trees (actually a juniper) were uncommon early in the history of the Ozarks.  Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's extensive daily journal from 1818 only documents them 4 times compared to the daily mention of oak and hickory, and other records echo this finding.

Deforestation by the timber industry at the turn of the century and the suppression of fire gave cedars a head start.  Cleared "balds" and fallow fields provided ample space for robins and other birds to deliver their used cedar berries without a lot of growth competition.  By 1900, cedars were becoming well established as a predominate tree.

Cedar Berries- MDC
The clouds of cedar pollen this time of year create a challenge for those of us who have allergies.  Francis Skalicky covered this subject in the News-Leader recently.  Cedars are dioecious, meaning that there are male and female trees.  For the females to produce the berries, they need to receive pollen from the male trees.  The pollen comes from the tiny cones at the end of the needles which are actually leaves.

Cedar pollen is distributed by the wind and doesn't seem to care if it lands on a receptive female branch or a human nostril.  When on a cedar it develops into a berry over months.  When it hits our noses, the reaction is rapid and produces symptoms over several days.

Abandoned fields and glades now are covered with cedars, creating an expense of clearing them to the landowner.  There is still a market for cedar, but a large number of mature trees are needed to make the harvest worthwhile.  There was a time around 1908 when the pencil industry developed an appetite for cedar as told in another News-Leader article.

"Ozarkers had other uses for their timber, though. In 1908 the American Pencil Company of New York built a pencil factory in Branson. The pencils were made from cedar logs. Cedar was another locally abundant tree. Thousands of cedar logs were cut into rectangular slats measuring 3" x 3" x 8". The slats were then shipped across the country to factories to be made into pencils. Eventually, the supply of cedar trees was exhausted and the American Pencil Company Factory was moved to California."
American Pencil Company- George E.Hall

The timber industry was virtually wiped out by deforestation and the Depression, but American Pencil Company continued to operate in Branson well into the 1930s.  With the rollerball pens, email and Facebook, a comeback seems unlikely.  Too bad, as I have a few cedars I would gladly give someone.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree - Eastern red Cedars are great trees. I was a Scoutmaster for 30 years, and our scout camp (in the Finger Lakes region of New York State)is full of Eastern Red Cedars. The camp has virtually no mosquitoes - they don't like the cedars. I suppose that, like almost anything else, some people may be allergic to them, but I have not known anybody who is.