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Tree burls highly prized masterpieces

Published: Thu, November 30, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m.


OSU Extension master gardener volunteer


I’m sure you’ve seen a tree burl, you might not have known what it was at the time. A burl is a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner.

It is usually found on the trunk, at the base of the tree and sometimes underground in the form of a rounded outgrowth.

They are round to irregular bumps or bulges that produce chaotic patterns growing in all directions unlike the parent trunk or branches, which grow lengthwise in one straight pattern.

Visualize a normal grain pattern as parallel strands of yarn. A burl would be a ball of yarn, it’s as though the tree’s cells went haywire and decided to tie themselves into a knot. Though burls do not kill trees directly, they can reduce a tree’s vigor and reduce the tree’s life span.

Burls usually start out small, but they can grow to be quite large. Burls on redwood trees, for example, can grow large enough for new trees to sprout. Burls are thought to be caused by some kind of stress such as injury, virus, fungus, insect infestation or mold growth.

The outside of the burl, once the bark is peeled off, displays a landscape completely different from the inside.

The insides form a bountiful array of colors, swirls, clusters of eyes – known as birds-eye – and other patterns, depending on the kind of wood.

As the burls age, there is an enrichment of colors, and patterns. The aged burls that begin their decline are sought after, as the pronouncement of shapes, colors and pattern are reflective of age becoming highly prized masterpieces of the natural world.

What makes burls so sought after is the way the grain of the wood is twisted, contorted and deformed, producing what’s called “figure.” This swirling effect makes them prized by woodworkers.

Entire burls are often carved into bowls and art objects. They can be sliced into veneers for furniture, musical instruments and interior trims for cars.

Because of the value of burls, there has been an increase of poachers in our forests. Poachers often cut off burls from the sides of trunks using chain saws, which expose the tree to infection and disease, or fell the entire tree to steal burls from higher up.

It’s encouraged for buyers of burl to inquire where it came from to ensure it was legally obtained. Legal acquisition methods for burl include trees from private land cleared for new development and from lumber companies with salvage permits.

To see some neat pictures of tree burls, go to: http://go.osu.edu/treeburls.

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