Look closely…. What do you see?
Relax your eyes, and allow yourself to “see” the creatures in the bark of this ancient tree.
These wonderful old trees grow in Colonial Williamsburg, near the Colonial Capitol.
Although their trunks are gnarled and in places hollow, these trees are very much alive and covered in leaves.
These trees always fascinate me. I love spending time enjoying them.
Obviously planted intentionally; since they are planted along the street and sidewalk and appear to be similiar in age; I wonder who planted them, and when?
How long must a tree have lived to look this way?
Trees have had a difficult time surviving in Williamsburg, historically. The area was mostly clear cut in Colonial times because wood was such a valuable resource.
Armies swept through this area during both the Revolution and the American Civil War.
Trees were cut during the restoration of the historic area.
So these fascinating trees were planted intentionally for their beauty, and have been protected since…. when?
Again, I’m asking for help in identifying them.
My partner and I have been pouring over our resources, but so far have not found a match.
Sassafrass tress will grow into these beautiful shapes, but the bark and leaves aren’t an exact match.
Tulip poplar trees can also grow into these forms, but these aren’t tulip poplars.
There is no hint of flowers, fruit or seed pods, so they can’t be Redbud trees, which are now growing their seeds. The leaf is similiar to a Redbud leaf, but not identical.
Larry Mellichamp’s Native Plants of the Southeast didn’t offer a match, so I’m guessing these aren’t native trees.
They could have been imported from anywhere.
Whatever their name, I hope you enjoy visiting with them as much as we do.
In searching the internet for information on these trees, I found a post from another Williamsburg blogger who simply dubbed them, “Creepy Trees.” There was some tie in to October holidays and ghost tours and such.
I can tell you these trees, however interesting the forms in their bark, are quite peaceful.
Should you ever have the chance to visit Williamsburg, park in the public lot across Francis Street from the Colonial Capitol. You’ll find them all along your way as you walk towards Duke of Gloucester Street.
These public city streets are free and open to anyone who wishes to walk. Although you’ll need tickets to go into many of the attractions, you may walk around for free.
An important part of our town’s heritage, and we are continuing the research to learn as much about these beautiful trees as we can.
Please send an email or leave a comment if you have information about them to share. I’ll follow up with information as we come across it, and of course will share fall photos as the leaves begin to turn.
What amazing tree creatures!
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Thank you, Laura, for identifying these trees for us as Paper Mulberry trees, Broussonetia papyrifera.
A little research has shown that these trees are native to Asia in warm areas from southern China to India. This tree is also popular on islands of the Pacific.
It earned its name of “Paper” Mulberry because its inner bark has been used for making paper for centuries in Asia. A sort of cloth can even be made from the bark. The leaves are edible if cooked, and there are traditional medicinal uses for parts of the tree. These Paper Mulberry trees were mostly likely imported to Williamsburg as a “useful plant.”
These trees are dioecious, meaning each tree is either male or female. While the female trees form fruits, the males do not. The trees we photographed appear to be male.
Sadly, these beautiful Paper Mulberry trees are an invasive species in Florida. They grow prolifically in a warm climate, and can crowd out other, native species in areas of the United States to our south. They are not a problem in Virginia, so far as I know, and form a lovely small shade tree.
Long lived, tolerant of pollution and compacted soil, and beautiful; I am so glad to now know this beautiful Paper Mulberry tree.
Thank you, Laura!