Locust Tree Life Lesson

Buckeye Farm Beat

The black locust tree is a prickly, but persistent little cuss that makes itself useful.

Published on: July 17, 2012

The Derecho storm system blew through our farm at 80 mph a few weeks ago and we are still cleaning up the after effects. Two trunks from a cheery tree 85 feet tall, each about 3 feet in diameter, lie like a pair of down telephone poles in the upper pasture. They took out the fence at a brace post. The fence is less than a year old and this is the second time a tree has fallen on it. Thankfully, it missed the new gate by a foot or so.

There is a red oak across the north trail in our woods. It’s a double-trunk tree too with each one nearly four feet across. The second is still standing, but the split runs about 10 feet down the trunk. I wonder if it will survive. There are also numerous branches and tops of various sizes across the paths we maintain. Fortunately, several other trees that fell in the pastures did not hit the fencing.

Most of them are black locust trees. For as tough a tree as the locusts are, they seem to break in the wind way to readily. I would have thought Hurricane Ike had pruned them thoroughly in 2008, but there were still plenty left to bust off. With short spikes along their branches, they are no fun to drag away. I am not sure how it is that our land is so “blessed” with black locust and its thorns. A forester once asked me if the place had once been a locust plantation. I doubt it. There are just lots of locust in our area. They grow naturally in certain groves on the property. Even with livestock grazing around them, they expand the size of the grove each year.

While it is nowhere near my favorite, the black locust might be the most valuable tree we have. No they are not going to garner the timber sale we had from 150 cherry trees a decade ago. And they are not going to generate the cash I hope our abundance of black walnuts might bring the grandkids someday. They will not be sought for timber like the straight and towering yellow poplars in our woods. Even the soft red maples, which don’t grow nearly as tall as the hard sugar maples I remember from my childhood in the Chagrin Valley, are worth more than the locust.

But none of those trees are as useful around the farm as the locust. At one time about 20 years ago, our 80-acre property was entirely fenced with locust posts. They were put in the ground around 1965 by a former owner Darryl Poole. Darryl or “Red” as he was known had gone to a local tavern and hired several patrons who needed some spending money to dig holes and place the posts. “They worked hard because they were motivated to get back to their business,” he told me years later.

Even with rose bushes and young cherry saplings growing through it, the old woven fence stood for years. Not only did it contain our sheep herd, it provided a perfect home for wildlife. The knot holes in the posts had long since been cleaned out to provide nest homes for bluebirds and wrens and the red headed woodpeckers, mice and squirrels.

Some of those posts are still standing and more would be if we had not taken out the barrier to clean the fencerows and make way for the timber sale in 2002. Then, after supporting a few miles of woven fencing for almost 40 years, those fence posts provided the very best kind of firewood you can imagine -- dense and dry and clean. As my wife likes to say, “just the right size around to handle easily without splitting.” I had to pick the staples out of the ashes, but it was worth it.

So here we are in one of the worst droughts in many years. The lawn is fried -- blades of grass brittle as straw. Even the weeds are wilting. We haven’t mowed for more than a month. We are chain sawing and dragging away the storm’s remains. And there in the midst of it all, about two and half to three feet tall, grows a new grove of young locust trees. Green, lush -- sprouting in the middle of the lawn, as if conditions could not be better.

There is life lesson in the ethics of the locust trees.