Two old Valley Green tupelos date back to the park’s origin

Posted 10/15/20

By Ned Bardnard

Emilie and Peter Lapham and I clambered up a trail leading from Forbidden Drive to the Yellow Trail. We looked for old trees growing above Valley Green Inn.

We saw a big old …

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Two old Valley Green tupelos date back to the park’s origin

Posted

By Ned Bardnard

Emilie and Peter Lapham and I clambered up a trail leading from Forbidden Drive to the Yellow Trail. We looked for old trees growing above Valley Green Inn.

We saw a big old white oak with balding bark. Bald areas on tree bark are places where the normal scaly bark patterning has worn down. Balding is a sign that a tree is old. We discussed coring this old oak to find out its exact age. We had a tree corer with us which would allow us to withdraw a pencil-thin sample from the tree with annual rings we could count. However, a white oak’s wood is very hard. It would be tough work to get the corer bit in as far as the tree’s core and tougher still to back the corer out.

We kept going and suddenly spotted easier quarry: A black tupelo with a big bald spot stretching up more than seven feet from its base. The tree was tall, tapering slowly and curving sinuously as it reaches up to the forest canopy. It was about 18 inches in diameter at breast height, and its wood is much softer than a white oak’s.

We applied the corer to the trunk and took turns cranking it around. We got lucky and managed to extract a perfect core that reached to the center of the trunk. Often cores will break or come out incomplete. Our procedure left only a tiny hole in the tupelo’s trunk, causing the tree no harm. Older trees almost always have large holes where branches have broken off, gaping cracks, and other significant damage.

We put the core in a plastic straw and sealed both ends. Then we noticed another bigger black tupelo with balding bark only about eight feet away. Its trunk was about 26 inches in diameter at breast height. We wondered if it was older and decided to core it.

We extracted a core from the larger tree that was a third longer than the first. It came out in several pieces. We kept the pieces in order as we inserted them into another plastic straw. Taking the tubes with cores back to my shop, we untaped the ends and let the cores dry out a little overnight.

The next day we inserted them into grooves routed into strips of wood. The grooves were partially filled with Elmer’s glue. We let the glued cores dry overnight. Then we sanded them down, using four grades of sandpaper from coarse to very fine. Next, we scanned the cores at high resolution using Photoshop to create a file showing black dots next to each annual ring and red dots at 10-ring intervals to indicate decades.

We discovered to our surprise that the two black tupelos are about the same age: approximately 150 +/- years old,  even though the large tree’s trunk is 26 inches in diameter and the smaller’s trunk is only 18 inches in diameter.  Apparently both these trees began growing around 1870, just two years after the city surveyed and bought land bordering Wissahickon Creek. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that these trees started life when the land above Valley Green Inn was first protected from logging.

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