It’s been a beautiful spring for blossoms in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Most of the fruit
trees’ blossoms are finished and now we are enjoying rhododendrons and azaleas. Another tree most people pay no heed to, is the locust tree which is blooming now and can be seen everywhere in Wyoming Valley.
It used to be that the black locust was considered the strongest timber in North America and helped build Jamestown and was used by the navy in the War of 1812, in ship building. Today, few Americans have heard of it. The nation’s taste in ornamental trees has changed and these are seldom planted along with the catalpas and tulip poplars. We have all three of these growing in our yard and the huge locust tree in the front yard of the home in which we raised our family, has sentimental value to us.
This tree is a century old. It stands over 80 feet tall and to add to its antiquity it has a number of huge burls on its trunk and is 5 feet in diameter. The locust bark makes deep furrows, spines grow on twigs, and it forms seed pods. Locusts would still be considered as valuable timber trees but are now often stunted and diseased by locust borers.
I teased my husband. “Why did your family call you, Burl? Didn’t they know that burls
are formed when a tree is undergoing some form of stress? It’s a malignancy!” He laughed and then reminded me that he was named Burleigh. I found it interesting that tree burls are prized for their beauty and rarity and are sought after by furniture makers, artists and wood sculptors, especially if they are redwood or curly maple. As I was typing this Shirl and You, and my husband walked by I said, “Burl, I want to get your photo by the burl.” He didn’t respond.
Back to why that huge locust tree holds sentimental value to us. When my husband’s grandfather, Charles E. Updyke, decided to leave Courtdale, Pennsylvania, he piled his family of six, including wife, Barbara and four children, (two more were born later) into his horse drawn wagon and made his way out to Sweet Valley where they moved into an old homestead on Main Road. The wagon was backed up to the house’s side porch where their belongings were unloaded. My husband’s father, Fred, one of their boys, was only three years old at the time and remembered that the then, very young locust tree, was bent to the ground under the wagon. If Fred were living today, he would be 104 years old. He died at 79, but the young locust tree still survives.
There is another locust tree, standing tall and erect, nearly as tall as the elder one. And
we often wondered how that one got established, in our side yard. It was just a number of years ago, that we heard the full story. As a young boy, one of our sons, born in 1955, was mowing our lawn when he saw it sprouted there. He mowed around it, and watched it grow taller with each mowing. He grew up loving trees, although I don’t think a locust tree is growing in his yard.
Here’s an interesting twist to the locust tree story. It is said that the tree was named by a Jesuit missionary, who fancied that this was the tree whose fruit supported St. John in the
wilderness. Although there is supposedly a locust tree growing in the Mediterranean basin, it was not the black locust tree, I write about here. Although we may prefer to think that St. John ate the fruit of a tree, rather than the winged, insect, they are mentioned as food throughout the Bible. Awful visitations of them swept over Egypt. The devastation they made and still make in Eastern lands is very appalling.
The black locust is early America. The Indians made bows from them and it is
suggested that they may have exported them here. The colonists wrote that “they found them planted by the dwellings of the savages.” History also tells us that only little hovels were built until the strength of locust tree poles was realized and that some of these posts are still standing.
So, how do I end this Shirl and You? When the good qualities of the locust tree are listed, it’s beautiful, scented blossoms are left unmentioned. They were the whole reason for my writing about this tree. I decided to end with these words, “Bloom where you,” rather it be in Pennsylvania or the holy lands. God had reason for creating trees or flying insects and for creating YOU.
I’d love to hear your comments on this Shirl and You. Look for the photo of Burl standing by the burl!