Monday, December 8, 2008


Okay one more tree, amongst many more, but my feet are itching to move into new territory. Before I go on, I want to pay the majestic Madrone tree its due respect.

The mighty Madrone is one of the north coasts most beautiful trees. The Madrone is an evergreen tree, and it’s green year around. I lifted these photo’s off of the ones that are readily available on the internet, to reflect some of it‘s stages. Although the Madrone is an evergreen tree, it reflects the four seasons with true character, and it easily melds the seasons together in its smooth transition from one phase to another.

In the spring, the Madrone forms large bunches of blossoms that look like bunches of white grapes from afar, and close up each blossom looks like a tiny white Chinese lantern. Later the new leaves start to bud and form, then the new bark grows a new green layer under last years cinnamon orange colored bark.

As the new bark ripens underneath the old bark, the old bark splits and peels away in tiny rolls that look like ringlets in a young girl’s hair. The fresh green bark underneath springs from under the old bark, anxious to bask in the young summer’s sun and gain its own cinnamon tan color.
The new leaves ripen and harden, last years leaves start to lose their green, then mid summer, they turn a creamy yellow. Then as if waiting for a clue from mother nature the leaves await a gentle breeze, then they all flutter in majestic unison to the ground. Leaving the tree it’s bright evergreen color.
The bark curls that are shed in the summer are sometimes collected and used as tea. My wife tells me that if you collect the bark before the rain ruins it, it makes a great fabric dye. In the fall of the year the Madrone berries ripen and they become the favorite food of the hungry Robins returning to our moderate climate for the winter. In the higher elevations the berries become the victim of the wild Bandtail Pigeon.

In the winter the tree becomes the umbrella of the deer, that like to eat its low hanging branches. I can safely say that the Madrone tree is one of the deer’s favorite foods. The Madrone thrives in acid soil, with out many soil nutrients. The tree needs to stay dry in the summer. To irrigate it will cause root rot, and kill it.
The Madrone makes beautiful lumber, but it must be cured by someone that really knows what they are doing. The lumber can warp badly, and it is subject to false post powder beetle blight.
The old-timers used it in their forges for making horseshoes and shoeing horses. Madrone burns hot and clean. It leaves little ash. The only wood that burns hotter and cleaner is Manzanita. It is sad that the Madrone tree is used mostly as firewood, and it is the most expensive wood that you can buy.
There once was a Madrone tree in Ettersburg, called The Council Madrone, that was over one-hundred feet tall and over one-hundred and fifty feet wide. The base of the tree was twelve feet through. It was acknowledged as the largest Madrone tree in the world. A windstorm in 2000 twisted it, and laid it open. The remains of the tree are still sitting there on it's hilltop. It's history as a large tree descends back into legend. The Indian people held council under the tree, and it is rumored that is how the tree got it's name.


ben said...

Out Sprowel Crek Road, up the hill past the creek, Barnum Timber has done alot of girdle and squirt herbicide application to kill Tanoak. The weird thing is they have also done it to alot of Madrone. Whenever I see those dead Madrone trees, it pisses me off. The tree has such open foliage that it can't possibly shade out the young fir.

Ernie Branscomb said...

I agree Ben. It always bothers me see waste. Especially when it is something vital and growing. But I was raised on a ranch, and soon learned the difference between a weed and a food plant. I learned which branches had to be pruned out of a tree to keep the fruit bearing wood providing us with the food we needed. I learned which plants had to be thinned and sucker shucked to keep the corn crop growing good. By extension I understand why they thin the Tan Oak and Madrone.

We think of a forest as a wild and growing place, but the timber companies think of the forest as cropland. I understand to a certain extent. Same as raising animals for food. I don’t like killing critters, but I haven’t stop craving the protein that they provide. So until we think of a way to grow timber in a way that allows all the plants to live, we will probably see thinning. Or as the timber companies call it “Conifer release”.

The world is not a nice place.

Anonymous said...

Please, before going on to other subjects, would you care to evoke your knowledge of the manzanita tree/brush? I grew up on next to a rather large patch of manzanita. Perhaps nearly two acres of the stuff. We had the only manzanita for probably 10 miles around.

Like the madrone, the berries of the manzanita also were a favorite of robins. Quite a hearty, gnarled hard wood, it wasn't good for much, but it sure was fun to play in when we were kids.

My uncle made a chair out of manzanita. It looked not unlike the Seth Kinman Elkhorn chairs in style.

Our manzanita patch is gone now. My dad cut it all out to plant 300 peach and other fruit trees. Boy, pulling those stumps with the Willy's truck was quite a bear.

Ok, now you can continue with your conversations with all things madrone.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ernie,
My neighbor in Salmon Creek has a madrone floor, put in in the early eighties. He milled it himself, air dried it, weighted, stickered and tarped, for 2 or 3 years. It has a gloss varithane finish and after a couple of decades is absolutely gorgeous. So, it can be done.

Eel River Ernie said...

The River Lodge in Fortuna has Madrone wainscoting and flooring in the lobby and on the dance floor which is absolutely beautiful. It was supplied by an outfit in Arcata, whose name escapes me right now but it was run by Matt Galt of Fortuna, Matt has since passed away. They are no longer in business.

When I was with CDF I helped obtain a vacuum kiln to experiment with drying schedules for various north coast hardwoods to see if we could help develop a market. The kiln was installed at Alder Camp (near Klamath) and, using inmate labor, they produced some nice products out of madrone, pepperwood, alder and tan oak. Not sure what ever became of the project as I left for greener pastures a couple of years later.

Anonymous said...

best darn tree bark in the world,for a young fellow to carve on!!!

Kirby said...

There are some really expensive cars out there that have a taste of So Hum in them. It turns out that peeled Madrone is used for "wood" dashboards and other interior trim in pricey Euro rockets. A team of Italian buyers came to Miranda some years ago and left a container that was to be filled with Madrone logs . These logs were to meet incredibly strict standards for size and quality. Jim Wheeler filled the order . So somewhere there are Ferraris with SoHum on the inside.

Robin Shelley said...

There are probably quite a few cars around with faint little black dots all over the roof & hood & trunk lids from having been parked underneath a madrone tree, too, Kirby.

AleŇ° said...

Hi - I've found this blog looking for 'madrone ash'.

I'm heating only w/firewood last 5-6 winters (I'm in PDX), and I came across madrone, or madrona how I like it, last fall.

It's by far the best firewood I've had! It last really long; the fire's easily restarted even after 12hrs (with fir I can barely get 8-9hrs).

What's interesting is that the ash get baked together, so it looks like lava rocks. It's heavy and occasionally with bright blue/turquoise spots. Anyone knows where those come from? Thx.