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Nature Notebook – Big Tree Hike

“The Big Tree Hike”, a self-guided walk, makes its debut this week. It will highlight some of Sarett’s larger tree specimens. One of these is an unusually large musclewood tree.

The smooth, longitudinal ridges on the trunk of younger trees resemble flexed muscles. As the tree ages the bark thickens somewhat so the resemblance is not quite as obvious.

The name musclewood also speaks to the hardness of the wood. Pioneers used it to fashion tool handles, levers and wood-splitting wedges. Its use for ox yokes led to another common name, American hornbeam. This very dense wood rots quickly when the tree dies and falls onto the soil. It must be especially tasty to decomposers.

A live tree’s wood is not particularly tasty. Desperately hungry deer may chew on twigs. Otherwise, it is not browsed. Birds and squirrels like the buds, flowers and seeds.