The Tree in Native America

Good Morning!

Having just arrived home from a trip across country, I thought I’d post about something I saw many, many of on my adventures on the road — the tree.  Now before I say too much more, let me say that I’ll be giving away a book free today to some lucky blogger — so come on in and join in the discussion.

The tree.  One of the outstanding gifts of America to the world was that of the tree — or wood.  Forests were everywhere.  And in Native America, prior to the coming of the European, those forests were kept neat and trim in order to make hunting easier.  Overgrown forests were a myth.  John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) writes of the park-like state of the forests — that one could ride for miles and miles in any direction and never leave the park-like forests of native America.  Using carefully guarded fires, the Indians burned the undergrowth in order to make the forests easy to navigate, to hunt and to “sugar,” or to tap the trees for maple sugar.

Not only did trees provide the settlers with much needed wood for building, it also provided food and medicinal products.  From trees the settlers got pecans, pine nuts, acorns, hickory nuts,walnuts, not to mention fruit.  The settlers knew about honey, but none had experience with maple sugar — or sugaring as it’s called.  Interestingly, maple sugar became a large economy to the settlers, who, unlike the American Indian, needed to profit from the New World, not simply subside.

One of the first products that the settlers were able to export for profit was that of sassafras and ginsing.  To the American Indian sassafras was a medicine and its used was to apply it directly to wounds.  They also used the sassafras root as a dye as well as a flavoring.  The settlers, seeing the many uses for sassafras, looked upon this as a drug that might cure many different ailments, including syphilis.  As early as 1602 and 1603, British ships came to America to export this new medicine, which proved to show a profit on the London market.

Interestingly few people nowadays (unless they are of the older generation) know of sassafras and its many uses.  Ginseng was already well known to the European, but in 1718, Jesuit monks organized the trade for American ginseng, which showed great profit.  However, herbs didn’t prove to be the basis for a growing economy and so the settlers looked elsewhere, and found it in the wood itself.

It was so plentiful that soon the settlers had tapped the resources for such things as tar, pitch and resin, not to mention its use for building ships and homes.  The British had no such trees as the white pines of New England, and so the growing economy of America built and built on something as the tree.

  For the Americans in their early history, wood filled the needs of what most of the world at that time used metal for, such as the basis for industries like brickmaking, liquor distilling, etc.  In fact, wood served many uses including plates to eat on, mugs, boxes — not to mention firewood.

Indeed, the tree served many purposes.  Not only was it a thing of beauty, it helped create an economy that gave the new people to this land a reason to love this land. 

So come on in and leave a comment.  What do you think about these beautiful trees?  Did you know that the forests of America were of a park-like qualtiy?  Little to no undergrowth was permitted.  It made for easy hunting and traveling.  So next time you see a movie with great undergrowth, you’ll know the truth.

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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22 thoughts on “The Tree in Native America”

  1. Hope you had a good trip, Kay. I’m guessing that one of the reasons early forests didn’t have a lot of undergrowth was that the trees were so thick the light didn’t get to the forest floor. Can you imagine how beautiful those forests must have been?
    Another important thing Indians and settlers got from trees was willow bark. The bark contained salacylic (sp?) acid, to reduce pain and fever. Today it’s the main ingredient in aspirin.
    Welcome home and thanks for a lovely blog.

  2. Hi Elizabeth!

    Thanks so much. That’s always possible, but it is on record that the Indians took care of the forests by carefully burning the undergrowth. It made hunting easy and sugaring easy. There was also the Iroquois trail (still exists to this day) that was cared for and before the coming of the white man, one could walk from one end of it (In what is now NY state) to the end (which ended in the Ohio valley) without being molested.

    Of course one can do this today, also, but as the settlers came in more and more and as England and France came to grips with each other, it became unsafe to travel that trail.

    Thanks Elizabeth for the welcome home.

  3. Kay, I think trees were God’s gifts to the world. I love trees, all kinds. They’re just so beautiful. And the more towering they are, the more they take my breath away. And it’s strange that I live in a part of Texas that has few trees. There’s nothing to stop the wind here. It blows and blows. Right now we have wildfires all over the state. If it wasn’t for all the undergrowth the fire would have very little to fuel it. Very interesting.

    Glad you’re home. Hope you enjoyed your trip.

  4. I always learn something when I come hear. I had no idea about the forests and their park-like quality. I agree trees are one of the most wonderful things. They give us so many things as was mentioned and most important of all – oxygen! Unfortunately, like everything else, we don’t care for them like we should. We’ve lost most of our old timber to logging and development. It is the only thing that makes me feel guilty about still loving my print books. (sigh)

  5. Hi Kay, and welcome home! What an interesting topic you choose today! I always learn something from your posts, no matter the subject. I didn’t know that about the Indians caring for the forests like they did–had no idea! Great post and as always, very enlightening and informative.
    Cheryl P.

  6. I read somewhere about the forests and their parklike quality, but had forgotten until you jogged my memory.

    Trees are awesome–I live in the Pacific Northwest, where we still have a few old growth forests.

  7. You have reminded me of one of my favorite poems,
    “I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree” by Kilmer. You have also reminded me of the tortuous treatment a tornado, spawned by Hurricane Ike, gave to the trees in our area of Houston several years ago. I stood at a window as
    the winds tormented the trees, twisting them until
    one pine in particular was no longer there.

    Pat Cochran

  8. Thanks for another interesting post and one close to our hearts. My husband’s degree is in forestry and wildlife management (not that he got to pursue that career thanks to the Vietnam war). Good management of our forest resources is so important and so very misunderstood. Controlled burns are critical to keeping undergrowth down and reducing the overall fire danger. Forty years ago, they did many controlled burns in Florida. As the population grew and people complained about the smoke, it was reduced or stopped. One of the results is the seriousness of the wildfires that have swept through the state in recent years. Leaving all that dead brush and grass is just fuel to make it burn faster and hotter. Natural fires started by lightening are a way for nature to do this on her own. Stopping natural fires too soon prevents nature from cleaning up. It is part of the natural cycle of death and rebirth.
    Man has not helped with the unchecked and unwise logging methods. Clear cutting old and new forests disrupts the natural progression. The mature trees are gone and cannot reseed the area. What does move in is usually scrub brush and “trash” trees. Most logging operations do not clean up their messes. Some trees are downed and left. Trimmed out branches and tops are left. The result is hundreds or thousands of acres of dead wood – a fire danger – and the loss of roots and vegetation to hold the soil, resulting in erosion. Good management guarantees a sustained supply of wood and a healthy environment for man and animals.

    If logging is done wisely, taking trees for lumber and paper should not destroy our forests. It is not necessary to destroy our old growth forests. We cut fire wood in Colorado, but you take the slash, downed and damaged trees, leaving stumps and some logs for animal habitat. We get firewood here now, but mostly from trees cut from peoples yards or when clearing lots. Our son always tries to convince the developers or homeowners to keep as many healthy trees as possible on the lot.

    Trees give us such lovely colors when they are in bloom or in the Fall. They are home to animals which, if we know where to look, we can spend many enjoyable hours watching. Who can resist the cool shade of a tree on a hot summer day. What a great place to sit and read. Trees were key to the economy where I grew up – the paper industry, apple orchards, and maple sugar.

    They are a good reminder and indicator of the health of our environment. Sadly they are under attack from pollution, man, and destructive insects not native to our country. Think how terribly bare our lives and world would be without them.

    Sorry, another soapbox topic. Glad you are back home safely. Great pictures with the post.

  9. Hey Kay, I hope you had a good time. Forests are one of my favorite places to go. I believe the Creator made the trees for all eyes to cherish. Its almost like when the leaves changes colors and brings on its array of beauty, its like the Creator is trying to tell us all something….Wake up and realize you are hurting Mother Earth and soon she will not stand no more.
    Thanks for bringing this to light. I love your photos.

    Walk in harmony,

  10. Hi Linda, Like you I think trees are God’s gift to us. We get so much from them. Fruit, oils, sugar, sap, sassafras, lumber and their kindly influence. I think I spent my youth in trees. 🙂

    Unfortunately today I find I’m allergic to most of their pollen, but it doesn’t daunt my love for them.

  11. Hi Catslady!

    Oh my gosh. You reminded me of yet another post I’m going to have to make soon. Oxygen. Did you know that there are 3 plants that you can add to your house that will increase the oxygen level about 70-80%. I’ve done this in my home and it’s really made quite a difference. Okay — another post. I agree with you on the care of our environment. I just don’t think that humanity is “at fault” for its destruction. There are some corporations that should be called to task — but not people… People should be educated and corporations should either prove their worth (as the Founding Fathers meant it to be) or be broken up. 🙂

  12. Hi Cheryl!

    Thanks so much for coming here today and for your lovely post. You know, on my way home, I came awfully close to Oklahoma. But I didn’t actually touch it — but it was a beautiful part of the world.

  13. Hi Estella!

    Do you really still have some of the old growths of forests? Wow! It’s said you know that in days of old a squirrel could have traveled from one end of this country to the other without ever touching the ground. And of course you live up close to those magestic redwoods. Wow!

  14. Hi Pat!

    I love that poem, also. Interestingly, I read a real life account of — gosh, can’t remember his name right now — but he wrote the book GRANDFATHER — Tom something I think. Anyway, he gives an account of being of being in a storm in a forest and taking refuge not under a tree but in it and in that book he makes mention of the courage and valor of that oak tree as it dared the weather to do its worst.

    Beautiful book. Tom Brown? I think that was his name.

  15. Hi Patricia!

    Wow! I didn’t know all of that. I did think it wise when I read about how the Indians cared for the forests for them to burn off the brush, but I didn’t know why. So it was to make hunting easier, but also it helped to keep the fires controllable by man. So wise.

    Looking through my house here there are so many things here that we have because there was a tree — not only cabinets and furniture and the posts for the house that we live in, but the maple sugar, the palm sugar, the dates, the fruit, the nuts. Not to mention the oxygen. I fell in love with trees in my youth — like I said, I think I spent most of my youth in trees — and I grew to love them and respect them also. They bring us so much. Thanks for your delightful post.

  16. Hi Melinda! I echo your thoughts. Melinda I think you will appreciate this. Did you know that “science” (I put this in quotes because today we see so much “science” that is nothing but lies.) — but anyway, science has now shown something that the American Indians has know since “time out of mind.” That going barefoot is really good for you. Apparently the earth is in a negative ion state and when one goes barefoot, her receives the rewards from the earth by doing so. Something I thought was interesting.

    Thanks for your post.

  17. I really love this post! I have loved forests and trees and feel so sad every time I see another shelterbelt bulldozed down and burned. We have several acres of trees to the north of our home and seldom notice the north wind in winter! For as long as I live here those trees will stay. Traveling around the country, I have been amazed at the beauty of the trees everywhere and saddened when I have seen the destruction of our trees.

  18. Hey Kay, I love your pics. I was born surrounded by trees in a logging camp in Northern Ontario, but I now live on a farm on the prairies.

    Research says back when the railroad first made it way across the distance between Manitoba and the Rocky Mountains, the land was a sea of grass with only some scrub brush near water sources. I live in a small valley and my farmyard is surrounded by trees. When I pass the shelterbelt, I see a copse of trees in every direction. But south of us is more open prairie – flat and prime for wheat – I used to think that was treeless but even then I see patches of trees. Can you imagine those early navvies and settlers looking at this land for miles and miles… climbing on a wagon or train and not being able to see a single tree? Incredible.

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