Redwood is a wonder wood. It really does fascinate the creative and inquisitive mind in all its forms. If one isn’t marveling at its astonishing size, life span, or prehistoric ecology, they are drooling over its longevity as a resource, its tremendous regenerative properties, or the amazing grain and color of the wood.
For this blog entry, I am going to discuss one of Redwood’s most astonishing properties: The live burl.
First, I should explain that all burl, no matter whether it grows on the side of a tree, the base of the tree, in the root system or on the moon for that matter, is alive, at least at some point. The difference, really, is that a live burl keeps growing after it has been cut. Root burl, crown burl, stump burl, they can all produce shoots of life, but not usually once they are cut from the host tree.
Live burls are usually spotted growing on the side of the tree, and can grow to amazing size. I have personally seen them as large as a Volkswagen Bug. However, they are usually much smaller, about coffee table size and more commonly the size of an apple.
Once cut, they can grow new Redwood shoots for years and years. They are often sold as novelty items to tourist, and people have reported keeping them alive in every state in the US. Just keep the temperature moderate, not too much sunlight, and plenty of water, thats all they need. Eventually, if you plant them they turn into a tree.
As far as I know, most the burls that are sold in stores are harvested from private lands, where second and third generation forests have produced millions of these small growths, most of which grow around the stump of a former old growth tree or second growth stump. Once cut, they simply heal and start growing again.
That said, the larger live burls take much longer to mature. For this reason, they are far less common, and generally only show up in the market place from loggers who bring them in after a days worth of cutting, or from illegal harvesting, which mostly happens on private land, but makes the news when it happens on public lands, and for good reason.
The live burl is one of Redwoods many ways of natural regeneration, and though scaring the tree is not always a great method of harvesting these burls, it seldom if ever actually harms the tree. Of course, if you remove a massive burl from a tree, the site is not only an ugly one, but will likely cause the tree to have severe scaring and need prolonged treatment to keep healthy and alive.
I have all but stopped buying these burls, and most shops I know of, buy from a responsible source. Even Muri Woods National Monument’s gift shop sells live burls. However, illegal activity is going to happen, it’s just part of the business. This is partially what makes the live burls so rare and desirable, they are real hard to source legally. Yet, they are one of natures most amazing gifts.