Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Perfect Tree

before cutting
I think I could help our state highway department make hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. They are always wanting to increase gas taxes or do something to make more money. I have an idea. Between Branson, MO and Springfield and between Springfield and Clinton you will find thousands of the most perfectly formed cedar trees to be seen anywhere.

       Over most of the open banks in the Midwest, cedar grows in thickets where competition makes individual trees misshapen and bushy there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll find no perfect Christmas tree cedars in a cedar thicket, but you will find birds and wildlife in those thickets when the cold wind blows and the snow flies parallel to the ground. A cedar thicket is the greatest shelter for wildlife in the dead of winter and where snow is deep. The cedar’s blue berries provide an emergency food.

       Have you ever seen a flock of cedar waxwings in a cedar tree in the winter? It is one of the more beautiful sights in nature when there’s a snow on the ground and in the cedar boughs.  But the surprise is, cedar waxwings are mis-named.  They should be called juniper waxwings, because there actually are no true cedars here.  True cedars are found in the Mideast, and perhaps you have heard of the ‘cedars of Lebanon’.  That’s a different tree.  Our junipers are almost never called that.  We hear them referred to as Eastern Red Cedar, and as years go by, cedar thickets that mean so much to wildlife in the dead of winter, are being cut away and bulldozed away on both private and public land.

Highway department efforts to remove cedars along the highways seems to serve no purpose except to promote ugliness and spend unnecessary money
        I talked to two fellows at a café recently who said they had been contracted to cut and clear all the cedars on Conservation Department managed Corps land on Stockton Lake.  “They say they are a problem and that western cedars aren’t native trees,” one told me.  I explained they were actually not cedars, but junipers, commonly called Eastern red cedar, not Western, but you could tell they didn’t believe me.

       Large cedars, with a base of 8- or 10-inch diameters or better, are worth several dollars now, with Amish sawmills buying tons of them.  And the Highway Department in this state occasionally sends out crews to cut cedars and all other shrubs and bushes on slopes well above the highway right of way… for what reason I don’t know.  Much of what they do seems to meet no purpose except for providing jobs, but it makes scenic highways rather drab. I have photographed much of it, and on one major highway from Joplin over to Poplar Bluff, they have cut away small cedars on steep red clay banks that are eroding badly.

       But on many highways in the Ozarks, you will see hundreds, even thousands of the most perfectly shaped cedars you will ever find, tall and small circumference, the most perfect cedar trees ever.

       The cone-shaped perfect cedars are often 8 or 10 feet tall with the largest part of the lower branches small enough to reach around.  Truthfully, I have selected many of our family Christmas trees from among them, as others are doing.  But I expect that if you are caught doing so, you’d be issued a citation of some sort Along these highways, some cedars grow in perfect shape to 20 or 30 feet tall.  Maybe we ought to use them in our Ozark shopping malls and parks in place of pines. Christmas tree markets sell pines that are not nearly as perfect and pretty, so why couldn’t these beautifully formed cedars be used for trees in homes as well.   Imagine how much better the home would smell.

       They grow so perfectly because they are absorbing full sunlight with good nutrient, not competing with close individual trees which cause branches to reach and turn as they grow.  It makes sense to use them as Christmas trees, and perhaps add to the funds the highway department wants to receive through more taxation.

       I have nice cedar groves on my place that won’t be cut away.  In the winter, with snow on the ground, I walk through them and look at the tracks of rabbits, quail, turkey and deer.  But they aren’t the perfect cedars you can see along our highways.  Even so, I value a place where a wild turkey might shelter her poults during a heavy spring rain, or a bobwhite can go undetected by the hawk.  And when some cedar waxwings come through, I shoot a bunch of them… with my camera.

 To obtain subscriptions to our new magazine, The Journal of the Ozarks, or send one of my outdoor books inscribed to someone as a Christmas gift, just call me at 417-777-5227 or email me at   You can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65

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