Remarkable tree versus inherited tree: what’s the difference?


Many of us have a deep fascination and connection with trees that seem imprinted in our genetic code. The first hominids to venture on two legs descended from trees while retaining their arboreal residences. The security of the upper branches and the readily available source of nuts and fruits provided protection and sustenance for our earliest ancestors.

Once upon a time there were forest and wood dwellers. Now we find peace and a sense of well-being in the presence of trees.

In previous columns I have written about some of the beautiful and tall trees I have encountered on my forest hikes here in the Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor, and today we explore the value of those ancient giants. There are two types of old trees that I have come across in both my wanderings and my research in the woods – notable trees and legacy trees – and both are important to the environment.

What is the difference between a remarkable tree and an inherited tree?

There are tree species considered remarkable trees for their remarkable size and age. These conspicuous trees are usually massive in circumference and tower above other surrounding trees. Several are known to us because they are visible in parks or on private land. Then there are legacy trees, old carcasses, usually surrounded by younger trees and found in deeper forests and woods. They live and their legacy is the life they impart to a multitude of other trees and life forms, much like a bequest or legacy from an ancestor to the current generation.

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The first time I encountered a remarkable tree here in The Last Green Valley was in Franklin while visiting a property owned for many generations by the Ayer family. I was there to meet Steve Ayer about an astronomy program he was running on a hillside piece of land on his family land. There, in the middle of the field, stood a towering tree with a wide spreading crown and a massive girth. He called it a pepperidge tree, said it was hundreds of years old and had been added to the state’s list of notable Connecticut trees – a list of more than 4,000 massive trees that have been reviewed and recorded by the Notable Trees Project.

The Ayer tree is actually a black gum tree, Nyssa sylvatica, and is sometimes called a pepper tree. The Ayer family tree in Franklin is a Connecticut champion, the largest of its kind in the state and is 90 feet tall, 156 inches in circumference with an average spread of 75 feet.

The Notable Trees Project collects and distributes information about Connecticut’s largest and most historic trees, both native and introduced. By educating citizens, the Notable Trees Project works to preserve the state’s natural heritage.

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Founded in 1985, it is a voluntary enterprise sponsored by the Connecticut Botanical Society, the Connecticut College Arboretum and the Connecticut Urban Forest Council. A computer database is maintained at Connecticut College Arboretum and provides statistics for 4,452 individual trees in the state, including size, location, ownership, and condition.

You can find more information and an index of all of Connecticut’s notable trees on their website at:

While notable trees may be known to us through the Notable Trees database, legacy trees may be a little harder to find, but should be appreciated not only for their size, but also for the vital role they play in our forest ecosystem.

One of my favorite magazines is Northern Woodlands, a publication of the Center for Northern Woodlands Education. A recent article by Ethan Tapper, “The Importance of Legacy Trees”, caught my eye. He’s the Chittenden County Forester for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, and here are some of the key points he makes about the value of these ancient legacy trees.

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“Legacy trees are trees from an older generation that persist in a younger forest. The ecological benefits of heirloom trees are numerous. Their complex bark provides habitat for mosses and lichens, invertebrates, and bark-foraging birds such as nuthatches and brown creepers. The massive canopies produce enormous amounts of mast as well as unique foraging, nesting and den opportunities for an array of birds, mammals and invertebrates. Below ground, old trees provide complex habitats in the rhizosphere – the root world – and form an important part of the mycorrhizal networks of the forest.

“Old trees often straddle life and death, maintaining a living canopy while other parts of them decline and decay. As these trees age, they provide additional habitats for the community of decomposers – invertebrates, fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms – essential to soil formation and fundamental to forest ecology Woodpeckers feed in their rotting wood, creating cavities that provide even more nesting and laying sites low for a variety of birds and mammals Full article available at:

If you have had the opportunity to walk through some of the vast tracts of state forests in our region, such as Natchaug, Nipmuck or Pachaug forests, you have probably come across a legacy tree still alive but slowly molding in the ground, bequeathing the life itself. to countless other plants and creatures.

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I spent years observing such an heirloom tree in the forest surrounding my grandparents’ old farmhouse in New Hampshire. The “mother beech”, as I call it, is over 100 years old and has deep roots on an east-facing hill. I first encountered it with my father about 50 years ago when we were roaming the property with our forester. The forester pointed out many other smaller beech trees dotting this hill, the obvious offspring of the old beech tree. He indicated that he would not mark this massive old beech tree for harvest because it was too valuable as a seed tree.

Over the years I have made it a point to visit Mother Beech while hiking in the forest. It had developed a cavity you could almost step into. Although the middle of the tree had almost rotted and the central leader had toppled over, it still had side branches that sprouted bright green leaves every spring. Leaves are the work engine of a tree, photosynthesizing sunlight into sugars that nourish the tree and give it life. Today, that mother beech tree is just a rotting black carcass, slowly sinking into the rocky soil of New Hampshire. There are no leaves left, but its crumbling remains nourish the forest floor and support life in the complex forest ecosystem.

The cycle of life is all around us, to be observed monthly and in each season of each passing year. Some wildlife in our area can live for decades, with eagles growing to 30 and snapping turtles over 40. Smaller bird species and most amphibians only live three years or more, and most insects spend only a few months from newly laid egg to voracious larva to breeding adult and eventual death. . Through it all, for hundreds of years, remarkable trees and legacy trees stand in place, bearing witness to the inescapable cycle of life.

We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley. I hope you will join me and together we will enjoy it, care for it and pass it on. Let’s emulate our oldest trees, observing and supporting the vital natural and cultural resources that make this region so special.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of the Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at 860-774-3300 or by email at [email protected]


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