The Hunt for the Eastern White Pine

Pine Point Regional Park

Background

The Eastern White Pine is one of the largest conifers of the northeastern forests. Once reaching heights of over 150′, they now average around 100′ on the tall side (after loggers cut them all down). They mainly range from Eastern Minnesota all the way to the Canadian border of the Atlantic (they are common in the Northeastern part of the United States). They have 5 needles per bunch which makes them distinguishable from other pine trees.

I stumbled upon this beast camping in the Pine Point Regional Park near the Eastern Border of Minnesota. It is by no means a champion tree, but is one of the largest of it’s species that I have ever seen.

Eastern White Pine

Measurements

Circumference: 120in / 10ft

Height: 1,038in / 86.5ft

Crown spread: 563in / 46.92ft

Scores

Points on the National Big Tree Registry: 218.23

Eastern White Pine Rank: 218.23/390 (largest ever recorded): 56/100

Hunter’s Overall Rank: 70/100

Comment on the biggest Eastern White Pines you’ve ever found!

How to Grow a Sugar Maple Tree from Seed

Acer Saccharum

One of my projects this year was to grow enough trees to one day plant my own forest. However, with the current state of my bank account I may be planting these trees on someone else’s property in the dead of night. Is planting a tree in someone else’s yard illegal? Maybe I’ll post about that one later.

While I was driving through the Midwest and into the forests of the Northeast, I couldn’t help but notice that the leaves of the sugar maple (acer saccharum – not to be confused with the Florida maple aka the southern sugar maple) may be the one of nature’s greatest gifts. If you haven’t seen this tree’s leaves turn color in the fall, allow me to show you some examples.

Facts about the tree

Native Americans originally taught settlers how to tap this tree for maple syrup. While all maple trees can be tapped, the sugar maple has the highest concentration of sugar which makes it the best option. Each tree can produce anywhere from 5 to 60 gallons of sap every season which can be boiled down to create maple syrup (conversion rate at about 35 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of maple syrup).

Contrary to popular belief, the Canadian flag is not that of a sugar maple, rather a generic leaf from the maple family.

Rule of 5: The sugar maple leaf has 5 lobes and 5 veins starting from the stem and traveling all the way to the tips of the lobes. It will also change color in the Fall depending on the amount of sunlight it gets; less sun will turn it yellow and more sun will turn it red.

Mast Year

Every few years the sugar maple, along with other tree species, will have what is called a “mast year.” Essentially, this occurs when trees of the same species synchronize to produce thousands and thousands of seeds to safeguard against animals that normally feed off them. It floods the market so to speak and ensures that not every seed will be eaten thus allowing some to be naturally planted every few years to carry on the species. The seed looks like the top of a wine opener and should not be confused with the seeds of the Norwegian Maple. The Norwegian Maple is an invasive species brought over from Europe and due to their fast growth rates, they tend to overcrowd the native sugar maple.

Norwegian maple seeds
sugar maple seeds

This fall (September-October is around the time these “helicopters” will start to fall) was certainly a mast year and I was able to collect hundreds of seeds from multiple states (Collecting seeds from different locations increases genetic diversity which is always a good idea with a species of any sort). I then allowed the seeds a couple of weeks to dry indoors to begin the stratification process

What is Stratification?

Stratification is a process performed on many plant species found in colder climates. It’s a simulation of a winter which activates seeds that would otherwise not grow. Since these seeds fall so close to winter, evolution has allowed them to begin their growing season after the Spring thaw thus lengthening the initial growing season.

Steps to Germinate your Seeds

  1. Collect and dry your seeds for 1-2 weeks
  2. Take your seeds and place them in a plastic container filled with peat moss or damp dirt
  3. Label your container and store it in a temperature-controlled location from 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit. A refrigerator is the perfect place for this
  4. Sugar maples need to be stored anywhere from 45-60 days until they are ready to plant
  5. You may notice some of your seeds have germinated in the container which is perfectly fine. After the 45-60 days, transplant your seeds in a location that gets at least 4 hours of sunlight (but no more than 8) and in well-drained soil. Plant each seed roughly ½ inch to an inch into the soil
3 month old sugar maples

If you are planting these trees indoors to start, the materials list is very small:

  • Topsoil
  • Potting mix (mix together with topsoil to create suitable soil conditions)
  • Growing lamp (any type of light will do. I am currently using a shop light and it works great!)
  • Heating pad (this is optional but should only be used for seed germination)

There you have it; in no time you will have a forest of your very own! Comment on what kind of trees you would grow for your own personal forest.

Featured

Confessions of a big-tree Hunter

Oak Tree in Charleston, SC

My name is Hunter Wilcox, I am 23 years old and I am a self-proclaimed big-tree hunter. Nope, there is no double meaning in that but, in a sense, I wish there were.  

Ever since I found out about the National Big Tree Registry last spring, my life has never been the same. I became obsessed with the idea of finding fame and fortune in our unexplored forests. So, in May of 2020 I quit my job as a self-employed day trader and began a cross-country journey looking for trees that stand above all others. My mission was simple – find, measure, and catalogue the tallest, girthiest and leafiest trees across the country and upload them to an app called Big Trees Near Me. Using GPS technology, this app will allow users to find these documented rare specimens and even upload their own for others to enjoy (more about this app in upcoming blog posts).

What is the National Big Tree Registry and what is a big-tree hunter?

The National Big Tree Registry was created in 1940 by American Forests as a competition to catalogue the largest trees in the United States. This spawned the first wave of big-tree hunters as thousands searched our nation’s forests looking for uncharted beasts of all species. Eventually, it evolved into a detailed list with entrants from all 50 states. Currently accessible on American Forests’ website, the list is separated by species (genus) and is scored on a point system of height, radius, and canopy size. Many states have their own big tree registries which funnel into the national list if deserving of that title. Big-tree hunting is a small part of a much larger conservation effort to preserve and regrow our nation’s forests.

Why become a big-tree hunter?

Some people have never seen a tree before (don’t quote me on this) while others choose to abandon the comforts of human society and wrestle polar bears in Alaska. I think I fall somewhere in the middle but closer to the first guy. At the end of the day, being a big-tree hunter is all about immersing one’s self in nature. Whether or not you find that champion tree, at the very least, you reap the benefits of a walk in the woods. Here are a few benefits of walking in the woods that you wont hear on Dr. Phil:

  • Reduces stress
  • Boosts immune system
  • Improves sleep
  • Lowers blood pressure

Many champion trees require hours if not days of travel through the wilderness to locate, i.e. the white pines in the Boundary Waters (MN) or the western red cedars in the Tongass (AK). The journey is worth the reward; knowing that before you stands a tree older than America or taller than a skyscraper is an immeasurable experience. The best part about this hobby is that it is free! Enjoying nature is free, so go put down the Fortnite sticks, lace up your hiking boots and get after it.

California Redwood

Where do I start if I want to become a big-tree hunter?

The perfect starting point in your quest to land the big one is to choose a specific species of tree. This will lead you to certain regions of the country where climate dictates what grows and what doesn’t. As a rule of thumb, coniferous trees (trees with needles) are found in cold temperate areas, while deciduous trees (trees with leaves) are found most everywhere else. This didn’t narrow down your search in the slightest, however, I am in the midst of creating a detailed interactive map of America’s native trees and where to find them.

You very well may find a champion tree in Timmy’s backyard that survived the 300 years of urbanization, wildfires, disease, and logging, but this is unlikely. Most of the time, the ancient trees will be found in protected areas such as state and national forests or even on old estates (Mount Vernon still boasts trees that were planted by George Washington himself!).

Once I’ve found the tree, how do I measure it?

Minnesota’s DNR page has a much better explanation than I do. Click here for directions on how to properly measure a tree.

Thanks for making it this far in the post! For those still reading, I challenge you to go venture off into the wilderness, whether it be the patch of woods in your backyard, or one of the 154 National Forests spread across the country (state parks are a great place to look as well). What do you have to lose? That Nature Valley Bar isn’t going to crumble in your hand by itself, go out there and find that champion tree!