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Take Some Willow Bark and Call Me in The Morning…

Black Willow, Salix nigra. Morton Arboretum ac...

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Have you ever wondered how people centuries ago made due without a neighborhood CVS or other readily available source of medicine? We take for granted the fact that we can just run out and get some aspirin or Tylenol and our aches and pains will magically disappear. But for centuries society needed to use natural products to deal with the many  problems of everyday life. One of the most often used products was the plant life of the area. Listed below are several common tree species and some of their common medicinal uses; I picked species that are native to our area and can readily be found in Center Valley (or Eastern PA) – This discussion of the fascinating blend of medicine and dendrology is for information purposes only. Please consult a medical specialist for any specific medical advice or medical situation.


The major chemical in this tree, salicin, is found in the bark. When salicin is in the body it converts to salicylic acid, a common ingredient of aspirin. A preparation of Aspen was often used for headaches and fevers. We still use aspirin today for everyday aches and pains.


This species also contains salicin. All of the members of the family Salicaceae, of which the willows and poplars are members, get their family name from this chemical.


This species was used extensively by both doctors and Indian medicine men. The inner bark was used as a mild cathartic (cathartics can be used as a form of gastrointestinal decontamination following poisoning via ingestion). The most common medicinal preparation was used for upset stomach, digestive disorders and as a mild laxative. Several Indian tribes also used it as a dressing for wounds. It is often described as similar to rhubarb.


Also a member of the walnut family, the inner bark of this species has laxative properties similar to Butternut. The leaves also had medicinal properties. It was used to help with eczema and herpes.


Slippery Elm is a very interesting tree – almost all parts of this tree were used by both Indians or 19th century medicine men. Even today, you can find slippery elm formulas in health food stores. The bark of this tree provided a healing salve considered to be among the best possible treatments for wounds, bruises, sore and burns. This bark preparation was so exceptional that it proved not only soothing to the user but also reduced pain and inflammation.


This was one of the most medicinally important Oaks. Tannin is found in both the bark and acorns of this tree. The tannin has very powerful antiseptic and astringent properties.


Eastern Hophornbeam is well-known for it’s durable wood that is often used to make mallets and handles, but to the early pioneers this tree was also medicinally important. The primary use of hophornbeam was as a cough syrup.


Medicinally, this was one of the most important trees to the Indians. They made use of the needles, buds, bark, cones, roots and pitch. This species contains vitamin C and is used in the prevention of scurvy. It contains 5 times the vitamin C as an equal weight of lemons and is also rich in vitamin A. smoke from burning needle (do not try this at home) was inhaled as a cure for backache. The cones and buds were used by the Indians in the treatment of coughs.

If you have any questions about how to identify any of these species please send me an email or post in the comments. (

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Are you Feeding The Birds?

It’s another cold, icy, winter day here in the Northeast. If you created a bird-friendly habitat back when you did your initial landscaping, you should be seeing the rewards of that effort. Providing layers and different habitats for birds will help to attract birds to your yard. Of course, bird feeders are another way to attract birds. Now is not the time to be outside planting, but it’s never too early to plan! With that in mind, here are some ideas to keep in mind to create a bird-friendly landscape – who knows, next year at this time you could be watching the birds during a snow storm…


Creating a variety of habitats will greatly increase the chances of birds visiting your yard. The wood thrush and the ovenbird (a warbler) like to nest low to the ground in protected areas while other birds such as phoebes and swallows will nest in and around buildings. Birds can also be cavity nesters. These birds require either a natural cavity in a tree or a man made nest box. Some examples of cavity nesters are chickadees, blue birds, woodpeckers, wood ducks, house wrens and tree swallows (A word of caution: do not keep trees with large cavities near playsets or dwellings without first contacting an Arborist). Mourning doves prefer to nest on the flat branches of spruce trees.

Some good tree and shrub species:

  • Birch – seeds are attractive to goldfinch and red poll
  • Wild cherry – since this tree fruits early it provides a valuable food source and may help to protect nearby orchard cherries from being eaten
  • Butterfly bush – most any perennial with attractive flowers will attract birds (check your local guidelines, some municipalities consider this an invasive species)
  • Holly – red berries preferred by kingbird and hermit thrush among others
  • Vibernum – fruit is a good food source
  • Crabapple – very attractive as a fall and winter food source
  • Hemlock – low spreading branches afford shelter for ground nesting birds and the seeds attract chickadees and grouse
  • Red Cedar (Juniper)  – dense evergreen foliage provides cover. The fruit is eaten by robins, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, mockingbird among others
  • Dogwood – the fruit is eaten as a fall/winter food by  song sparrow, thrush and catbird
  • Shadbush (Amelenchier spp.) – fruit is eaten by orioles, veery (a thrush) and robins
  • Elderberry – the fruit is very attractive to birds
  • Hackberry – an excellent tree and good food source
  • Mountain ash – favored by waxwings, catbird, orioles and others
  • Norway spruce – a good nesting site and the seeds are eaten by purple finch, chickadee and pine siskin
  • Oaks – provide excellent nesting sites, favored by woodpeckers and jays
  • Others include Alder, maple, persimmon, redbud, white pine and sweetgum.
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Can Rock Salt Harm your Trees?

It’s Winter; Of course this means snow, ice and slippery roads and lot’s of plowing and shoveling to fill your days. Clearing all that snow and ice is necessary to make our roadways, walkways and sidewalks safer. There are a variety of ways people can deal with all this – deicing agents, rock salt and sand can help to melt the ice or provide drivers and walkers with better traction.

Each of these materials can help improve safety conditions, but each also brings with it environmental problems.

Using a lot of rock salt can be hazardous to nearby plants, aquatic life and animals. Nationwide, more than 22 million tons of road salt is being used during the winter, and it doesn’t just disappear after the snow melts. Evidence is growing that the salt concentration of streams, lakes and even groundwater is increasing. Just think of all the parking lots and roadways where salt is used to melt the ice. The melted water and salt mixture runs off the pavement into drainage systems that end up in streams and lakes. Rock salt is also very corrosive and over time it damages asphalt and concrete. Rock salt can also be damaging to trees. Salt causes a “burn” to the roots and foliage it comes in contact with. Injury is most pronounced on the side of the plant facing the salt source and, particularly on evergreens, on lower branches that can get “salt spray” from passing traffic.

If the area must be salted to prevent accidents and injury, use calcium chloride. It is an effective deicing agent which is much less toxic to plants and can be substituted for sodium chloride on pavements around ornamentals. Other materials including sand and urea are valid, but less effective, substitutes for sodium chloride. Diverting runoff from salted pavements away from existing plantings is a great way to prevent salt injury. Similarly, protective barriers of burlap, polyethylene, wood, etc. will help prevent salt spray from coming into contact with foliage and branches.

Obviously it’s not safe to go salt or deicer free but try not to overdo it either; putting down too much salt or other deicer doesn’t mean it will work faster or better or keep the area clear for a longer period of time. Put the deicer just where and when it’s needed.

If you have any questions, you can contact me at, a Certified Arborist or your County Extension Agent.

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Hiring an Arborist?

Not all Arborists are alike – Here are some things to consider before you hire an Arborist:

  • Does the company have ISA Certified Arborists or State Certified Tree Experts on staff?
  • Will a Certified Arborist or Certified Tree Expert be on site to supervise and check on any work?
  • Will the company guarantee not to use climbing spurs when pruning a tree?
  • Will the company follow industry standards for safety?
  • Does the company carry adequate insurance, including workers compensation for tree service, and not just a “general liability?”
  • Will they treat your property and trees with respect?
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Are you Using the Right Firewood?

It’s cold, and according to the weather reports that I have seen, it’s going to stay cold for a while. Do you use firewood to help heat your home? Different trees produce different types of firewood. Check out this article on how to pick the best wood to heat your home…

Be Safe.


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A Beautiful European Beech – F. sylvatica; Think Spring!

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