Bark Inclusion: What Is It and What Can You Do About It?
Trees are life giving plants. They feed other creatures at all levels of the food chain and modify the local environment in a positive way. Personally, they’ve provided us with wood for the shelter we call our home and firewood to keep us warm by the light of a wood stove in the early darkness of cold winter nights.
So, when we knew we needed to cut down our Maple tree because it was rotting, we intended to extend its life, even after it has been cut down. We are using every part of the tree, from the chipped leaves and branches, to the chords of firewood, to making use of the wood rounds, and even making sure the sunlight that now floods our front yard is put to use providing life for new useful plants. Nothing is going to waste if we can help it.
One project we have in mind is to make some table tops out of the rounds. Some of the stump pieces are really irregular and I like that. It makes them fun, unique, and thought provoking. They will make interesting tables.
These rounds are about 30 inches across, 6 inches thick, and, I swear, weigh approximately 5000 lbs. Once I figure out how to make them into tables I’ll post about them.
Cutting these rounds brings up an interesting characteristic of the tree that we suspected earlier but was only revealed to us after the tree was cut down.
I’m talking about “bark inclusion”. This is when a tree has multiple stems that grow together at some point. From outside it may look like one solid stump. When cutting the tree down and examining the stump we can see quite a different story.
The line you see in the photos is where bark has grown between the two stumps because they were previously two separate stems. There is no ‘real’ connection between the two stumps even though from the outside it may look like they have grown together to form one solid stump.
What’s wrong with bark inclusion? Well when these trees grow up, each stem tends to get lopsided. The branches of each stem tend to grow best on the side opposite the other stump because that’s where the most light is.
This lopsidedness works against that bark inclusion line, especially on a windy day. The wind wants to split the tree in half like a turkey wishbone in the hands of over-sugared children on Thanksgiving Day.
Another problem is this bark line creates a spot for water and debris to get trapped and for rot to possibly start. Rot is definitely what got to this tree and caused it to start falling apart. And that caused us to spend money on an arborist. And that caused the Arborist to chop the tree down. It’s the circle of life.
You can see where one area of rot started in the photo below.
A Bigger Perspective
What should we do to prevent the problem of bark inclusion?
Let’s take a step back for a moment to gain a little perspective. As far as Nature’s system is concerned, a rotting tree is a good thing. A rotting tree that falls down is even better. Some say 90% of a tree’s life begins after it dies. This is because it feeds and shelters all manner of small creatures, micro-organisms, and even the soil, over many decades (if it’s a large tree).
That, my friends, is the bottom of the food chain upon which all higher life depends. That’s us. We’re higher life. Not to be confused with recent efforts to legalize marijuana. We’re higher in the food chain and we need the lower food chain to be healthy.
Fallen rotting trees are ideal for retaining water and providing micro-organisms, insects, small mammals, tree seedlings, and other plants a home. As the tree is decomposed and “lived in”, the decaying wood and the action of the micro-organisms and animals slowly feed the soil all that goodness the tree created and sunlight it captured over the years when it was truly alive and growing.
That’s the perspective of Nature and her optimum system. Nothing is wasted, nothing is ‘waste’. The view is long-term flourishing of life. She is sustainable, living on sunshine energy, always building greater abundance.
On the other hand, we talk about taking care of Nature and Earth Days and such but can you imagine what neighbors would say if you left a large fallen and rotting tree in your front yard? They would go nuts! Nuts: also a delicious and healthy product of trees might I add.
Anyway, before I get too fired up and off track, let’s do something more productive and talk about how to prevent bark inclusion in your landscape trees. It could prolong their life, make them safer to live around, and extend the grandeur of your favorite woody buddy.
Preventing Bark Inclusion
There really is only one way to prevent bark inclusion: it’s like raising children, you need to train your tree when it’s young so it doesn’t grow up to be a problem for those living nearby when it matures. After they’ve grown up, it’s too late, and very hard if not impossible to fix them. I’m talking about trees mostly.
Training a tree means careful pruning to create a strong form. In this case a single stem.
Pruning competing ‘leaders’ when the tree is young is the way to go because it’s something the tree can fully recover from.
- Ideally you’re only pruning stems that are no bigger than your thickest finger.
- Make as clean a cut possible; in the sharpness of your saw, the fineness of your cut, and in terms of sanitary cleanliness as well.
- Place the cut next to (but not into) the host stump or stem. If you leave too much of a stub, the tree can’t heal over that. It will heal around it, but as that stub eventually dies, it will rot out and leave a hole. So cut close to the host stem where the pruned branch comes out without nicking the host stem’s bark or fibers.
When you cut bigger branches off an older tree, the tree can’t heal it over. The result is a spot for rot or bugs to infest. It may be too late at that point. Cutting large branches off older trees, especially leaders (topping) just may be the beginning of the end for your tree.
Now sometimes people specifically train a tree to be multi-stemmed. That’s okay if it’s a smaller tree (lets say less than 25 feet tall when mature), but you’re asking for trouble if your tree is like this Big Leaf Maple, over 100 feet tall and HEAVY.
In closing, hopefully this is knowledge you can use and pass on to others. If it is, then in a way, you’re carrying on the life of this tree. I think that’s pretty cool. I wonder what the maple tree would think.