Chapter XXI - West Virginia's Forest Trees

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

PART 1 State History
Pages 256-268

There are four hundred and twelve species of forest trees in North America, exclusive of Mexico. Of these one hundred and three species are found in West Virginia. The Atlantic coast has two hundred and ninety-two species; the Pacific coast fewer than one hundred. There are not more than thirty species between the Alleghanies and the Rocky mountains which are not also found on one coast or the other. West Virginia, with less than twenty-five thousand square miles, contains in its forests one-fourth of all the species of trees, north of Mexico, in the whole American continent, and its number exceeds those of the Pacific coast from the Gulf of California to the shores of the Arctic ocean, embracing above one million square miles, ranging in temperature from the torrid to the frigid zones. It is usually the case that a certain tree is found over a wide country, but there is always some restricted territory in which it reaches its greatest development. The difference in size and appearance between this tree at its best and at its worst is often so great that a person acquainted with it at one extreme would scarcely recognize it at the other. A number of the forest trees found in West Virginia reach their greatest development in this state. Few territories of the world, so limited in area, can show the fullest development of as many species. The difference between trees and shrubs, as usually insisted on by botanists, is this: a tree has one straight, woody stem, which branches above the ground. A shrub does not have that characteristic. Trees and shrubs are not always distinguished by their size. Some trees are smaller than some shrubs; as, in Greenland, the former may not be six inches high, and in Florida the latter may be thirty feet. There is no well understood reason why a certain species among trees flourishes in one territory and is absent from an adjoining area of similar climate and soil. There is no doubt that trees and plants, as species, migrate the same as animals, but of course much more slowly and in a different way. They spread from one area to another. Yet, from some unknown cause, there are lines which it seems a certain species cannot pass. To this is largely due the grouping of one kind of trees in one part of an area and another kind in another part. In West Virginia may be found a belt of white pine extending across three or four counties. Parts of the adjoining counties have no white pine. The persimmon nourishes in one county, in one valley, in one range of hills, and is not found on similar hills or in similar valleys not far away. The black haw is also select, and seemingly unreasonable as to its habitat. The same observation might be truthfully made of other trees. Sometimes a certain soil is unfriendly to a certain species of plant, while other plants grow upon it. There is a kind of laurel in W est Virginia which will no more grow on a limestone soil than in a gorge of ice.

In this brief chapter little more will be attempted than to present a catalogue of the species of forest trees found in West Virginia. Care has been taken to make the list complete. Some of the species are found only in one or two localities in the state, while others cover the whole area. Perhaps the chief cause for West Virginia's diversity of forest trees is the peculiar topography of. the state, by which its climate and soil are affected. It has a greater average elevation than any other state east of the Mississippi, yet it possesses much low country, the lowest being the district along the Potomac, at and above Harper's Ferry. It has climate and soil peculiar to lofty peaks; to ranges of mountains less elevated; to upland ridges; to narrow valleys and coves; to low hills and wide, fertile valleys. The rainfall on the western slopes of the Alleghany range is very heavy. It is somewhat less westward of that range, and is still less east of it. Thus the climate and soil vary exceedingly within an area of less than twenty- five thousand square miles. The trees suited to each soil and climate have taken possession of such localities as they like best. In the catalogue which follows, the popular name of the species is first given and the botanical name follows for the benefit of those who care to examine the subject more particularly.

  • Cucumber, or mountain magnolia, magnolia acuminata. It grows best along the Alleghanies.
  • Elkwood, or umbrella tree, magnolia umbrella. On western slope of the southern Alleghanies its highest development is reached.
  • Yellow Poplar, liriodendron tulipifera, sometimes attains a height of one hundred and eighty feet. The botanist Ridgway describes trunks ten feet in diameter. It is estimated that four billions of feet of yellow poplar stand in the forests of West Virginia, more than half on Cheat river and its tributaries.
  • Pawpaw, or custard apple, asimina triloba, grows best east of the Alleghanies.
  • Lin, tilia Americana, called also lime tree, basswood and bee tree. Its bloom is rich in honey.
  • Wahoo, or white bass wood, tilia heterophylla. It is somtimes confounded with lin, which it resembles.
  • Prickly Ash, or toothache tree xanthoxylum Americanum.
  • Wafer Ash, or hoptree, sometimes called shrubby trefoil, ptelia trifoliata.
  • American Holly, ilex opaca. This is an evergreen, popular for Christmas decorations. It is not found in all parts of West Virginia.
  • Indian Cherry, rhamnus Caroliniana. The wood is of little value, but the fruit is pleasant to the taste.
  • Fetid Buckeye, or Ohio buckeye, aesculus glabra. This is the best wood in the world for artificial limbs.
  • Sweet Buckeye, aesculus flava. This and fetid buckeye are of the same genus, but this has fragrant blossoms. The nuts, when eaten by cattle, are injurious.
  • Striped Maple, acer Pennsylvanicum. It has other names, moosewood, striped dogwood, goosefoot maple, whistlewood. It is seldom more than seven inches in diameter. There are six species and one variety of maple found in the forests of West Virginia.
  • Mountain Maple, acer spicatum, grows from Georgia almost to the Arctic ocean.
  • Sugar Tree, or sugar maple, hard maple, rock maple, acer saccharinum. Bird's eye maple and curled maple are accidental forms. Black sugar maple, acer nigrum, is a variety of the sugar tree.
  • Soft Maple, acer dasycarpum; also called white maple and silver maple. It is seldom met with east of the Alleghanies in West Virginia.
  • Red Maple, acer rubrum, or swamp maple. The bark is sometimes used with sulphate of iron in making ink.
  • Ash-Leaved Maple, or box elder, negundo aceroides, is one of the most widely distributed trees of the American forests.
  • Staghorn Sumach, rhus typhena.
  • Dwarf Sumach, rhus capallina. The leaves and bark are largely used in tanning.
  • Poison Sumach, or poison elder, rhus venenata. The poison of this tree is due to a volatile principle called toxicodendric acid.
  • Locust, or black locust, robinia pseudoacacia. The wood is durable in contact with the ground. Of late years great ravage has been committed on this tree by the locust-borer.
  • Coffee Nut, glymnocladus Canadensis. The seeds are used as coffee, and the leaves as poison for house flies.
  • Honey Locust, gleditschia triacanthos, also known as sweet locust, honey shucks and three-thorned acacia. There are two or more varieties, one nearly destitute of thorns.
  • Redbud, or Judas tree, cercis Canadensis.
  • Wild Plum, or Canada plum, prunus Americana, has been cultivated for the fruit until it is almost a domestic tree.
  • Chicasaw Plum, or hog plum, prunus angustifolia, is not believed to be a native of West Virginia, but was imported from the west, and now grows wild west of the Alleghanies.
  • Wild Red Cherry, or pigeon cherry, prunus Pennsylvania. It flourishes best near the summit of the Alleghanies. It is sometimes called choke cherry.
  • Wild Black Cherry, prunus serotina. This valuable tree reaches its greatest development in West Virginia.
  • Sweet Scented Crab, pyrus coronaria, so called on account of its blossoms.
  • American Crabapple, pyrus angustifolia.
  • Mountain Ash, pyrus Americana, grows only on high mountains in West Virginia. It extends to Greenland.
  • Cockspur Thorn, or Newcastle thorn, crataegus crusgalli. The long, sharp thorns are occasionally used as pins for fastening woolsacks.
  • Red Haw, or white thorn, scarlet haw crataegus coccinea, is the heaviest wood in West Virginia. The name scarlet haw is misleading, as the true scarlet haw is not found in this state.
  • Black Thorn, or pear haw, vrataegus tomentosa. There are several varieties; that which bears the largest fruit mispilus pometata, dull red or yellow, reaches its highest development in West Virginia. The tree has a wide geographical range.
  • Washington Thorn, crataegus cordata, is found chiefly near the Alleghanies.
  • Service Tree, amelanchier Canadensis, called also June berry, shad bush, May cherry, grows from Labrador to Florida, but reaches its greatest development on the Alleghany mountains. A variety found on the summit of that range has a tree only a few feet high with fruit sweet and pleasant.
  • Witch Hazel, hamamelis Virginica, reaches its highest development among the Alleghanies.
  • Sweet Gum, or red gum, starleaved blisted, liquidamber, liquidamber styraciflua, is exceedingly tough as a wood.
  • Dogwood, cornus alternifolia.
  • Flowering Dogwood, or boxwood, cornus Florida.
  • Sour Gum, or black gum, pepperidge, tupelo, nyssa sylvatica. This is the most unwedgeable wood in West Virginia. There are many varieties with differences so slight that botanists cannot agree on names for them. Marshall groups them as "forest gums," and Wangenheim as "many-flowered gums."
  • Sheepberry, or nannyberry, viburnum prunifolium, emits a disagreeable odor.
  • Black Haw, or stagbush, viburnum prunifolium.
  • Sorrel Tree, or sourwood, oxydendrum arboreum.
  • Calico Bush, or small laurel, ivy, spoonwood, kalmia latifolia, is poisonous to sheep and cattle.
  • Great Laurel, or rose bay, rhododendron maximum, when in bloom is one of the most gorgeous trees in the world. It never grows over limestone.
  • Persimmon, diospyros Virginiana.
  • Snowdrop Tree, halesia tetrapetra, has its northern limit in West Virginia. It is seldom seen growing wild in this state, but is common in cultivation.
  • White Ash, fraxinus Americana, has large commercial value as lumber.
  • Red Ash, fraxinus pubesceus, is sometimes mistaken for white ash, but it is a smaller tree.
  • Green Ash, fraxinus viridis. The wood is inferior to white ash, but resembles it in appearance.
  • Black Ash, or hoop ash, ground ash, fraxinus sambucifolia, is one of the most northern of the species in America, reaching Newfoundland.
  • Sassafras, sassafras officinate. Although this well-known wood is plentiful in West Virginia, it does not reach its greatest development in this state, but in Arkansas, where it attains a height of one hundred feet and a diameter of seven feet.
  • Slippery Elm, or red elm, moose elm, ulmus fulva, is valuable for its mucilaginous and nutritious inner bark, used for medicinal purposes.
  • White Elm, or water elm, ulmus Americana.
  • Rock Elm, ulmus racemosa; also known as cork elm, hickory elm, white elm, cliff elm. The wood is largely used for bicycle rims.
  • Sugarberry, or hockberry, celtis occidentalis.
  • Red Mulberry, morus rubra.
  • Sycamore, or buttonwood, platanus occidentalis. This Is the largest tree of the Atlantic states, sometimes attaining a height of one hundred and thirty feet and a trunk diameter of fourteen feet. The largest specimens are usually hollow.
  • White Walnut, or butternut, juglans cinerea.
  • Black Walnut, juglans nigra. This valuable wood reaches its greatest development in West Virginia, west of the Alleghanies. It is a splendid forest tree, sometimes attaining a height of one hundred and forty-five feet. It doee not form extensive forests in this state, but the trees are scattered.
  • Shellbark Hickory, carya alba, is of the first economic value.
  • Black Hickory, carya tomentosa, is also called kingnut, mocker nut, big bud hickory, and white heart hickory.
  • Brown Hickory, carya porcina, is sometimes confounded with black hickory. It is also called pig nut and switch bud hickory. It is a little heavier than black hickory.
  • Bitter Hickory, or swamp-hickory, carya amara.
  • White Oak, quercus alba, reaches its greatest development in West Virginia, along the western slopes of the Alleghanies. There are thirty-seven species of oak in the United States, of which fourteen are found in West Virginia. There are at least sixty-one varieties, and a full share of them belongs to this state.
  • Post Oak, or iron oak, quercus obtusiloba.
  • Swamp White Oak, quercus bicolor. A tree of this species at Genesee, New York, the largest, perhaps in the world, reached a diameter of ten feet.
  • Cow Oak, or basket oak, quercus michauxii.
  • Chestnut Oak, quercus prinus.
  • Chinquapin Oak, quercus prinoides. The wood of this tree is the heaviest of all the oak family in this state. The chinquapin has a remarkable ability of adapting itself to all sorts of environments, and it changes it shape, size and other characteristics to conform to its surroundings. East of the Alleghanies it is usually a shrub.
  • Red Oak, quercus rubra. There are six well-defined varieties of red oak; not all, however, in West Virginia.
  • Scarlet Oak, quercus coccinea.
  • Quercitron Oak, quercus tinctoria. The bark of this tree is much used in tanning.
  • Black Oak, quercus nigra.
  • Spanish Oak, quercus falcata.
  • Pin Oak, or water oak, quercus palustris, reaches its. greatest development west of the Alleghanies.
  • Possum Oak, quercus aquatica.
  • Laurel Oak, quercus imbricara.
  • Chestnut, castanea vulgaris, variety, Americana. It reaches its greatest development among the southern Alleghanies; specimens as much as thirteen feet in diameter having been measured.
  • Beech, fagus ferruginea.
  • Ironwood, or hop horn beam, ostrya Virginica.
  • Blue Beech, or water beech, carpinus Caroliniana.
  • Yellow Birch, or gray birch, betula lutea, is often mistaken for white birch, betula alba, variety, populi-folia, which is not found in West Virginia. The wood is largely used in the manufacture of pill boxes.
  • Red Birch, or river birch, betula nigra.
  • Black Birch, betula lenta. The fermented sap of this tree is used in making birch beer.
  • Black Alder, almus serrulata, has at least eight varieties. It is often little more than a thick-branching shrub.
  • Black Willow, silex nigra, has several varieties, some of which are divided into sub-varieties. The willow family offers many puzzles for botanists.
  • Sandbar Willow, silex longifolia, is found along the Potomac river.
  • Aspen, or quaking asp, populus tremuloides, is the most widely distributed North American tree, growing from the Arctic ocean to the Rio Grande, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
  • Poplar, populus grandidentata, is seldom more than seventy-five feet high, or two in diameter.
  • White Cedar, or arbor vitae, thuya occidentalis, the lightest wood in West Virginia, is found among the Alleghanies, on the rocky banks of streams.
  • Red Cedar, or savin, juniperus Virginiana, is the most widely distributed of the cone-bearing trees of North America. Its wood is preferred to all others for lead pencils.
  • White Pine, pinus strobus, reaches in this state its southern limit as an important source of lumber supply. There is an area of about two hundred square miles, containing six hundred million feet, of marketable white pine in West Virginia.
  • Pitch Pine, pinus rigida.
  • Hickory Pine, pinus punpens.
  • Yellow Pine, pinus mitis, is sometimes called spruce or short-leaved pine. The wood is much heavier than that of pitch pine and nearly twice the weight of white pine.
  • Black Spruce, picea nigra, has at least three varieties. It is found near the summit of the Alleghanies.
  • Hemlock, tsuga Canadensis, is found in many localities among the Alleghanies. It grows best on steep hillsides facing the north, and in deep and cold ravines.
  • Balsam Fir, or balm of Gilead fir, abies balsamae, is not abundant anywhere in this state, but is occasionally found near the summit of the Alleghanies.

The weights of the woods of West Virginia differ greatly, ranging from red haw, the heaviest, to white cedar, the lightest. To ascertain the comparative weights of woods, the specimens are carefully cut and measured, and are made exactly of the same size. They are then dried at a temperature nearly equal to that of boiling water, and are kept in that heat until they cease to grow lighter. They are then weighed, and a record kept of each. Below will be found the weights in pounds of a cubic foot of each species of wood in this state. Fractions are omitted, and only the even pounds are given. A cubic foot of water weighs about sixty-two and a half pounds. There is no wood in this state that heavy; consequently they all float in water. The weights, from the heaviest to the lightest, are as follows:

Red haw, a little more than fifty-four pounds to the cubic foot; chinquapin, fifty-four; ironwood, fifty-two;, post oak, fifty-two; shellbark hickory, fifty-two; black haw, fifty-two; flowering dogwood, fifty-one; black hickory, fifty-one;, brown hickory, fifty-one; cow oak, fifty; service, forty-nine; persimmon, forty-nine; swamp white oak, forty-eight; black thorn, forty-eight; blue ash, forty-seven; bitter hickory, forty-seven; chestnut oak, forty-seven; laurel oak, forty-seven; black birch, forty-seven; jack oak, forty-six; scarlet oak, forty-six; white oak, forty-six; sorrel tree, forty-six; sheepberry, forty-six; locust, forty-six; wild plum, forty-five; cockspur thorn, forty-five; Washington thorn, forty-five; small laurel, forty-five; rock elm, forty-five; sugar berry, forty-five; possum oak, forty-five; blue beech, forty-five; yellow oak, forty-four; green ash, forty-four; witch hazel, forty-four; sweet scented crab, forty-four; sugar tree, forty-three; black sugar maple, forty-three; coffee nut, forty-three; chickasaw plum, forty-three; crabapple, forty-three; slippery elm, forty-three; Spanish oak, forty-three; pin oak, forty-three; beech, forty-three; dogwood, forty-two; honey locust, forty-two; white ash, forty one; water elm, forty-one; red oak, forty- one; yellow birch, forty-one; sour gum, forty; red bud, forty; big laurel, thirty-nine; red ash, thirty-nine; yellow pine, thirty-eight; black walnut, thirty-eight; red maple, thirty-eight; sweet gum, thirty-seven; red mulberry, thirty-seven; red birch, thirty-six; wild black cherry, thirty-six; holly, thirty-six; prickley ash, thirty-five; snowdrop, thirty-five; sycamore, thirty-five; mountain ash, thirty-four; Indian cherry, thirty-four; striped maple, thirty-three; mountain maple, thirty-three; soft maple, thirty-three; dwarf sumach, thirty-three; pitch pine, thirty-two; wild red cherry, thirty-one; sassafras thirty-one; sandbar willow, thirty-one; red cedar, thirty-one; hickory pine, thirty-one; cucumber, twenty-nine; black alder, twenty nine; poplar, twenty-nine; black spruce, twenty-nine; black willow, twenty-eight; chestnut, twenty-eight; fetid buckeye, twenty-eight; lin, twenty-eight; elk-wood, twenty-eight; white bass wood, twenty-seven; sweet buckeye, twenty-seven; hemlock, twenty-seven; poison sumach, twenty-seven; box elder, twentv-seven; wafer ash, twenty-six; yellow poplar, twenty-six; pawpaw, twenty-five; butternut, twenty-five; quaking-asp, twenty-five; balm of gilead, twenty-four; white pine, twenty-four; white cedar, twenty.

Estimates have been made of the amount of cordwood in the forests of West Virginia, placing the total at six hundred and fifty millions of cords. The counties of this state having the smallest proportion of forest are Harrison and Jefferson; next are Monroe, Mason, Jackson and Roane; third, Preston, Monongalia, Marion, Taylor, Barbour, Upshur, Lewis, Doddridge, Tyler, Ritchie, Wood, Ohio, Hancock and Brooke, The fourth group of counties, the densest forest and proportionately largest area, embraces the remainder of the state. In the first group, the cordwood is estimated at five to ten cords per acre; in the second, ten to twenty cords; in the third, twenty to fifty, and in the fourth, over fifty cords. The fourth group includes more than half the state; so, it is not probably out of the way to estimate the quantity of cordwood for the whole state at forty cords per acre.

When woods are seasoned, their capacity for giving out heat in combustion is proportioned to their weights, provided that the two classes, resinous and non-resinous, are compared, each with specimens of its own class. Weight for weight, resinous woods develop about twelve per cent more heat than non-resinous; but, under ordinary circumstances, resinous woods are not wholly consumed. The smoke carries away much that might be converted into heat, in a proper furnace. For this reason resinous woods are often considered inferior to non-resinous of equal weights in the production of heat. The fault is in the furnace, not in the wood.

A cubic foot of yellow poplar, which weighs twenty-six pounds will develop, in combustion, one-half as much heat as a cubic foot of black hickory, which weighs fifty-two pounds. A cubic foot of green wood develops, when burned, as much heat as the same quantity when dry; but the apparent results are not the same, because a portion of the heat from the green, wood is required to evaporate the water in the wood. The amount is usually about fifteen per cent. The quantity of heat given out when wood is burned is no more and no less than the quantity absorbed (if the unscientific expression may be used) from the sunlight while the tree was growing. Heat given out from burning wood was obtained from the sun; it follows, then, theoretically, and experiments have proved it, that the process of drying adds nothing to the wood, and that the green stick can develop, in combustion, as much heat as the dry.

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