Old Black Locust (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.) SOLD!

9 September finds us at Round Hill, Nova Scotia, appreciating Bev Wigney's old Locust trees. Bev reports that three or four Pileated Woodpeckers have been coming every day in the late afternoon to search for beetle larvae in the crevices of the deeply grooved bark, bright red heads glowing in the evening sun high among the branches as they propping their stiff tails against the bark. I haven't been very successful at photographing them today, as they are constantly on the move.

Now they are gone again and I'm sitting on a stool between the van and the trailer to paint the eldest of the Black Locusts that surround the yard. Its hard corky bark flares like the edges of fabric, and criss-crosses in places as if braided. In mid-trunk it looks as if the tree has pulled both sides of a shawl around itself.  We have two Black Locusts at home in Bishops Mills, but none large as this one. Around the base of its trunk the ground cover is Goutweed, or Bishopweed, which also grows beside our house in Bishops Mills, and which we eat in spring. Chokecherries, Bird Cherries, Black Cherries and Sour Cherries grow with the Locusts in this fencerow. At home Cathartic Buckthorn would have crowded all of these out long ago. 
Arriving at Bev's place yesterday was much like driving into her blog - in addition to actually being able to hear the high-piched voices of her collies from the house, and feel the cool soft grass of her lawn, and stand in the shade of the towering Locust trees.

We established the van and trailer on the afternoon-shaded side, and took a tour of the path down to the brook, noticing the berry-filled droppings of a small Ursus americanus (Black Bear) on one of the stones in the creek (now at low-water because it hasn't rained for a while) and a Procyon lotor (Raccoon) skull at the base of a bush coming back up. Bev introduced us to the odd stones that turn up in the brook, and picked up another one for herself - a small ball within a ball of reddish conglomerate, the outer one eroded away on one side to reveal the inner one. 


  1. A week later, we found a huge Cathartic Buckthorn on Bev's land, the only one we saw in Nova Scotia, which we hewed down and girdled with a brush axe, in the hopes of slowing the spread of this particular invasive species in nova Scotia, so over-run by invasive species other than those we're perplexed by at home. Black Locust seem equally enthusiastic in both areas, but since it's a North American species, there is the question of whether it's invasive, or whether we've just changed conditions to favour it.

  2. Part 1:
    My house at Round Hill has several very large old Black Locust in the
    front yard. They are on the property line, so I assume they were
    planted there quite some time ago. The house dates from around 1840
    or so. Several of the trees were cut down many years ago and were
    already very large. The stumps of those trees are still in my yard as
    they are like rock. A neighbour who has a bush lot and sells timber,
    sawed down a snag for me and said the wood was really hard cutting.
    Something I have noticed here and at other locations is that these
    trees become very tall and often lean, seeming to reach for light.
    Still, they seem quite secure in spite of looking a bit precarious.
    The snag in my yard had probably been standing for decades - barkless
    and with the wood hard like steel.

    There are a few similarly large Locusts on my neighbour's lawn, and a
    couple growing down on the hillside below my place. A house that was
    abandoned (now being restored) down the road from me, also c.1840 has
    a few old ones around it as well as a grove of younger ones that
    probably grew up from the roots. My neighbour (now deceased) who
    lived in the house with the Black Locusts in the her yard told me
    that, when she was a young girl growing up at Lake Munro in the 1930s,
    there were Black Locusts on either side of the lane planted many years
    before by a relative. She also mentioned that the famiily was a bit
    ticked off as the trees became so large and sent out roots growing
    more trees. That's probably their main downside -- the roots extend
    very far and then new trees pop up here and there. I had to be away
    from my place for awhile a couple of years ago and returned to find
    many 3 to 4 foot tall trees in my perennial garden where there had
    been none a year before.

    The young trees have razor sharp thorns. When I'm weeding my
    perennial beds, I have to watch that I don't grab a shoot coming up
    among the weeds. They really cut. There were Black Locust at my farm
    in Ontario as well - at the very back of my land around the ruins of a
    log cabin on a homestead said to date from around 1850 or so. What
    probably started off as a few Black Locust trees a century ago, had,
    over time, turned into a dense grove of them that was probably about 3
    acres in size. This consisted of several old trees surrounded by
    legions of young ones. The ones about 2 to 5 metres in height have
    very scary thorns -- the branches are long and supple and will snag
    you with the thorns. I always joked about how we didn't have to worry
    about anyone sneaking in through the back of our farm as they would be
    entangled in the razor-wire. So, that's the downside of them. Well,
    actually, the other downside is that they are rather messy trees when
    they start dropping leaves in the autumn. You can't rake them up as
    the fronds disintegrate into small pieces.

  3. Part 2:
    On the good side, the birds love the Black Locusts in my yard.
    Warblers and other birds are attracted to them as it seems that there
    are always many insects and caterpillars on the leaves. Some birds
    also eat the flowers and the young leaves. Some years, the flowers
    hang in great clusters and attract so many pollinator insects that the
    whole yard hums to the point that I can hear the humming from indoors.
    It's quite remarkable. Last year, there were very few flowers as we
    had that unusual freeze after the flowers had almost bloomed. The
    flower buds and leaves completely dropped off -- even at the top
    canopy of these very tall trees. I wondered what might happen -- if
    they would get new leaves or if they were done for the year. They did
    send out new leaves about 3 weeks later, but only a few scant flower
    clusters appeared.

    As the trees on my property have aged, the upper branches have become
    heavily encrusted with lichen. I had a flock of about a hundred
    Bohemian Waxwings show up in my yard in early March and many of them
    picked at the lichen in the treetops for about a half hour and then
    the flock moved on. I think they were after the lichen, but maybe
    there were some springtails or other creatures in the lichen. I
    posted a photo of this on iNaturalist:
    The bark of the older trees reminds me a little of Shagbark Hickory --
    being almost like armour plates, and deeply fissured. I've seen birds
    go inside of some of these plates of bark. I often wonder if bats
    might make use of all the gaps and fissures in the bark. Nuthatches,
    Chickadees, Creeper and Woodpeckers all spend a lot of time digging
    around in the bark.

    It is true that the wood does give off a lot of heat, but I find the
    corky bark sort of unpleasant smelling when it burns. Also, if you
    are going to cut up the wood, it's best done when it is green and
    don't let it dry out or it is like sawing through a piece of iron. As
    the trees have aged, the upper branches have gotten corky and
    sometimes break off in the wind. The smaller branchlets often break
    off in strong winds so that there are often a bunch of 1 to 2 foot
    long bits strewn on the lawn after a storm. These small branchlets
    have sharp thorns, so they are a slight nuisance to pick up. The
    trees have a nice wide canopy -- they grow very tall before branching
    out -- so they provide a huge amount of shade. The branches can
    grow to be very long and are quite flexible, allowing them to bend
    wildly in strong winds. All in all, I think they have many positives
    in spite of the thorns and the rather tenacious habit of sending up
    new saplings in the lawn and garden.

    Bev Wigney
    Round Hill


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