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Tree Museum




The Town of Pittsboro seems to love paving.  They are constantly wanting us to lay down more blacktop.  Building a Beverage District on the edge of Pittsboro is sort of like living inside Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi:

They paved paradise

Put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
Put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people
A dollar and a half to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
'Til it's gone

Editor's Note:  It's not lost on me that I like to grouse about the very development that we depend upon to survive.  Pave Chatham.



Visitors to the Plant are greeted by a series of trees planted along the asphalt parking places.  There are a pair of juvenile pecan trees on either side.  Pecans are slow growing trees that are members of the hickory family.  They are native to North Carolina, and their nuts are prized world wide.

Someday (when we are dead and gone), these trees will provide awesome shade, and a tremendous drop of nuts.

The idea of planting "edible landscaping" came to us from Matthew Arnsberger at a charette we held in in 2005.  He's the landscape architect/designer/native plant expert in Carrboro that runs Piedmont Environmental Landscaping and Design.   We took his guidance, and 15 years in, we are loaded with fresh, delicious calories in our landscape.


Chinese Chestnut


We've been trying to grow chestnuts for 27 years in Chatham County, and our efforts are just beginning to bear fruit.  Chestnuts used to be a staple in the American diet, but the trees were wiped out by a blight.

If you go to a meeting of the American Chestnut Foundation, you can learn all about the genetics and the herculean effort now underway to restore this important native species.  Those are not these trees.

These trees have been crossed with genetic material that makes them blight resistant.  They are essentially GMO'd trees.

With one tree by the guardhouse and another on the other side of the street, there is a time in late spring when entering the plant means walking through a cloud of chestnut sex.  The air is musty, with a unique smell.

Collecting the chestnut drop is a daily endeavor--in a race against squirrels, crows, deer, and raccoons.  And the caloric drop is huge.  Chestnuts are a great way to restore nutrition to a landscape.

The nuts have fallen out of fashion since their departure from the food scene.  Some remember the smell of roasting chestnuts on the streets of New York City, and many more can bust out a few chords of a Bing Crosby song, but the number of visitors who have sunk their teeth into a freshly roasted chestnut are rare.

When the nuts are harvested in the fall, we eat a lot of chestnuts.  So do our friends and neighbors.  We think chestnuts will make a comeback--we are just not sure how...

Demonstration Orchard


Red Cedar


Opposite the orchard, on the other side of the vegetable garden, is a lovely stand of native red cedars.

Cedar is a terrific resource that prospers in the woods of Chatham County.  It's resistance to bugs and rot and its intoxicating smell has long made it a favorite for all sorts of uses--from furniture to garden fence poles.

A lot of the outdoor furniture at the Plant is made of cedar.

Cedars put out an "apple rust," a fungal disease that is not good for apple trees.  Which means planting an orchard in the shade of a stand of cedars is not the ultimate in systems thinking.  Oh well.  The cedars stay.

Arlo and Julia brought The Cedars to life one semester.  They went after the honeysuckle, poison ivy, metal trash, and farming trash of years gone by.

Interestingly, they did not have to battle back privet.  Established cedars seem to resist its onset with shade and the dropping of acidic needles. Young cedar trees, however, do not grow fast enough and succumb to the rise of privet.  In the war between cedars and privet at the plant, cedars are losing.

I bought these apple trees for the Fair Game Beverage Company on the occasion of their foray into apple brandy and wine. 

Chris fetched them, got an orchard in, and pruned them some.

It became a "demonstration orchard" under the care of Jim Crawford at Chatham Ciderworks, and it now has some pear trees in the mix.

Growing apples has always been a heartbreak for me in Chatham County.  I feel like it is "over" for apples in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Too hot.

Even in the mountains growers are moving to the north slope. 

There is a healthy apple industry in North Carolina, and the Beverage District consumes tons of NC apples each year.

Black Walnut

On the northwest corner of Pandemic Park--south of the Cedars, is a big Mama Black Walnut.  Her progeny are scattered everywhere--you can see adolescent walnut trees everywhere throughout the park, but she is clearly the one who started it all.

Black Walnuts poison the soil with their roots in order to keep competition down.  Successive farmers at the Plant have asked for this tree to be removed, but we have held our ground.  As far as the Tree Museum goes, this walnut is a "Specimen Tree."

Beneath the walnut is a stand of Coral Berry, a native woodland shrub that is sought after by insects and birds for food, and by wildlife for cover.  Coral Berry appears to have adapted to successfully grow in the shade of a walnut tree, in its poisoned soil.


Adolescent Black Walnut

Black Jack Oak

I'm not sure exactly what kind of oak this is.  It was growing in a fence line, and was spared by the excavator for some reason.  When all the fences were gone, and the red clay scar on the earth was healed (so we could build a farm), this tree was still standing.

It took us a year to rip the parasitical vines out of it (poison ivy, honeysuckle, wild grape), but it now stands majestically alone, on the hill, overlooking Pandemic Park.

I must have asked a half dozen people what kind of tree it is, and I got a half dozen answers.  My favorite came from Bruce Paden, the arborist from Carrboro.  He said it was a "Water Oak, or a Black Jack Oak."

When I scan the leaves with my Picture This App, it tells me it  is a Black Oak, a Water Oak, or a Possum Oak. 

I'm going with Bruce on this one.  Let's call it a Black Jack Oak.




We have a handful of Asian Persimmon trees at the Plant.  This one is on the hill below the Black Jack Oak--across the clearing from the Black Walnut.

There are native persimmon trees in the woods of Chatham County, but the fruit is small and the pits are large--making it harder to enjoy fresh persimmon goodness.

The fruit from Asian Persimmons is much larger--about the size of a large tomato.  It is astringent until the late fall--becoming sweet and delicious around Thanksgiving.

Folk wisdom says that you are not to harvest persimmons until after the first frost--but that is not entirely accurate.

The trick to a delicious persimmon is to let it over ripen to the point of decomposition.  When you take them right to the edge of decay, they become a late fall treat that is to die for.

Honey Locust

We discovered this Honey Locust when we were building Pandemic Park.

We were blown away by the massive thorns protruding from its trunk--at about eye level.

Wikipedia tells us that the Honey Locust is an ancient tree that was a favorite of the mastodons and giant sloths.  Apparently the giant sloths would lean against the trees while enjoying their sweet seed pods, and the tree would fall over.  Evidently these thorns were the tree's evolutionary response.

There is another theory about the Honey Locust.  Some folks say the thorns are there to afford protection to Fairies.  The tree protects Fairies, the Fairies protect the tree.

Tami prefers this idea.  I'm ambivalent.  Whether it is giant sloths, Fairies, or mastadons, I think its thorns are remarkable.


Black Locust


We had a black locust in the backyard of my childhood home in Woodstock, Ontario.  I remember climbing it, and I remember its thorns.  Nothing like the Honey Locust thorns, but still menacing. 

We are slightly out of its native range, but it has been widely planted and has "naturalized" throughout North America.  It is considered an invasive in the Midwest and western United States.

The Black Locust is a sun loving "pioneer" species that likes to kick off the succession of a new forest.  I'm not sure this one looks real happy.  As we expand Pandemic Park we will improve its solar path--although I doubt we will get it back to full sun.

We will also remove the parasitical vines: poison ivy, honeysuckle, wild grape, which may help it regain strength.

Black Cherry

Most of the trees in Pandemic Park are Black Cherry and Black Walnut.  What is fascinating about the Black Cherry, which is generally considered a "weed species," is that its bark completely changes with age.  On the lower left is a specimen on the hill beside the Gazebo.  It's a young tree, that bears fruit.  In the middle is a older Black Cherry with a distinctive bark, next to a mature tree where the bark looks entirely different.

Also known as a "Rum Cherry," its fruit is enjoyed by birds, but the pits and wood contain cyanide that are known to make livestock sick.



Hackberry is native to North America and commonly confused with the Sugarberry tree.  The distinctive "warts" on its bark give it away.

I have a stand of Hackberry trees at my shop in Moncure, and it routinely attracts a flock of yellow bellied sap suckers as they pass through on migration.  I haven't seen any at the Plant, yet, but I'm guessing our Hackberry trees will bring them on.


Tulip Poplar


We planted a lot of Tulip Poplars at the Plant with help from a grant from

Burt's Bees.  Burt's puts a lot of money into building pollinator habitat at a time when the honeybee is on the ropes.

Tulip Poplars are native to North Carolina, and they bloom at peak honey flow--that is, they are flowering just as our bees are making honey.  Most of the honey produced in North Carolina comes from the blossoms of Tulip Poplars.

The decline of the honeybee is attributed to the introduction of neonicotinoids--an insecticide made by Bayer Crop Science.

One time Bayer Crop Science sent a donation to Abundance, the non-profit at the Plant that was developing honeybee habitat with the help of Burt's Bees.  Abundance turned the Bayer donation away.

Sadly, it takes me back to that Joni Mitchell song:

Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now..."

Japanese Apricot

Dr. Mike Dublonski passed through our project--first as a bio chemist for Piedmont Biofuels, then operating an aquaponics experiment for many years.

He was raising tilapia on duckweed--which wasn't a brilliant idea.  Sort of like trying to fatten up on lettuce.

He was also a botanist, and a nurseryman.  I bought Lenten Roses from him, and he installed this Japanese Apricot.  It provides a beautiful pink flower show in the spring--no fruit to speak of--a strange anomaly to have in the heart of our Tree Museum--but it reminds me of Mike--so it can stay for now.


Red Maple

This pair of Red Maples were here when we bought the Plant in 2005.

They are on the southern side of Fair Game--up the hill from Pandemic Park--in the "side yard."

As the Plant transitioned from an "Eco-Industrial Park" to the Beverage District that it is today, it quickly became obvious that "shade" was the most valuable thing we owned.

Everybody sought out seating under the Red Maples.

We put a picnic table there.  Then a table and chairs from Jacques and Wendy at French Connection.  Benches started accumulating there.  Customers modified the landscape to be in the shade of the Red Maples.

Got it.  We've been developing shade strategies ever since.  Thank you, Red Maples...



This fig is tucked under the red maples.

In late summer we get fat figs from this guy. 

Vegan alert:  as part of their life cycle, the fruit of the fig ingests a pollinating wasp.  If you are committed to "no eating animals ever," I'm guessing figs need to be "out."

Sometimes it winter kills on us, but it has an established root system which battles back year after year.

Figs are not native to North Carolina.  They come from the Mediterranean.  They do well here most of the time. They are well behaved (not invasive), and eating

them fresh off the tree is kinda like eating a food of the Gods...


Heirloom Pear


Crowded out by a giant red maple, encroached upon by monster blue berry bushes, this native pear drops tons of fruit on Lorax Lane.  It's right next to the fig and the giant chess set.

Before our neighbors at Chatham Cider Works developed their Backyard Blend--a hard apple cider that includes pear juice--the fruit from this tree was so prolific that it would fall and rot, filling up with yellow jackets and other insects looking for a free meal.  We used to carry rotting pears away by the tractor bucket load.

Backyard Blend is a successful seasonal offering.  They vacuum up as many pears as they can collect, juice them by hand in a little crusher, make a batch of cider--and when the last bottle is sold each season, that's the end of it.

Unlike apples, or the Asian Pears across the street, pears do not get better by ripening on the tree.

To properly ripen an heirloom pear it needs many days in a brown paper bag.  Most of the locally grown pears are sold as tough, grainy fruits that are hard to love, and most of our local pear harvest rots on the ground.

A "proper pear" eating experience involves juice running down your chin.  To get that with heirloom varieties, they need to ripen indoors, in a cool dark spot, wrapped up in a paper bag.  Ripening hint:  throw in a slice of apple to speed the process up...

Asian Pear

These Asian Pears ripen on the tree like an apple--unlike the heirloom pear on the other side of the street.

When the pears are on, most of the fruit from this tree is eaten fresh by humans and crows.  Some of it goes to Chatham Cider Works to be pressed into juice and used in their Backyard Blend. 

Asian pears are grafted onto a root stock and are not native. They are solidly bug resistant, require no chemical upkeep, and produce solid flawless fruit.

Hey farmer farmer

Put away that D.D.T now

Leave me spots on my apples

And the birds and the bees



Bradford Pear


The Bradford Pear is a "Franken Tree" that needs to be eradicated.  It was invented by NC State.

As a GMO'd monster, it forms the perfect tree shape every time--the image a child would draw if asked to create a picture of a tree.

Beautiful spring flower show--except its flowers smells like fish.

Beautiful fall color show.

Little gnarly berries that birds tend to avoid.  I have seen robins dining on Bradford Pear fruit--but they clearly prefer Cedar berries if available.

And invasive.  The tree creators in the academy got that part wrong.  What was once thought to be sterile is spreading rapidly.  We control its spread by mowing its offspring--and we should do our part by cutting it down--but we need the shade.

If you look closely you will see an Asian Pear engulfed in this Bradford Pear--which gives us a funny handful of fruit each year.

Butterfly Bushes

Not sure if butterfly bushes actually belong in a Tree Museum, but I couldn't resist.

This pair frames Barb-A-Loot Loop.  They've been trimmed and limbed out by Fedex and UPS trucks over the years.

They load up with swallowtails and spicebush butterflies, along with moths, wasps, and birds of all varieties.

I find myself a little astonished each time I pass through them.




We have a pair of buckeye trees out front by the big copper frogs.  They were planted by Debbie Roos, our Ag. Extension specialist who focuses on native plants and pollinator gardens.  She's the one who designed, built, and maintains the marvelous gardens in front of Chatham Marketplace.

She received a grant from Rural Advancement Foundation International and did a big planting at the Plant.

Not really sure what the deal is with buckeye trees.  Apparently the fruit is toxic to humans, loved by deer and wild turkeys.  It's hard pods are sometimes used by jewelers, I've been told.


My "Picture This" app tells me this is an "American Basswood."  It is an utterly unremarkable tree, except it made its stand in a chain-link fence that once bordered the front of the Plant. 

After all of the cutting, dragging, and clearing this lone tree was still standing.  We elected to leave it, simply because it had survived.  Now it shades the Dino Diesel Dispenser which is part of the Art Walk.

I think of basswood as a source of furniture.  I once had a basswood box back when I collected antique furniture--but like the tree it was rather unremarkable.


Winged Elm


This poor, sad Winged Elm on Bay St. is a survivor.  Planted in a berm, probably by a bird, it has survived multiple earth moving events.

Cars park against it.  Traffic scrapes it.

Yet it persists.  Young, tough, rather uninteresting.  Here's hoping that it one day spreads a lovely canopy of shade over Bay Street.



Mimosas are a controversial tree.  Some folks love them, some think of them as an exotic invasive species that should be eradicated.  Mimosas have a beautiful fragrant summer blossom that is a medicinal.  Chinese medicine uses both the bark and flower for calming and lifting one's spirit, treating anxiety, PTSD, grief, and insomnia. 

The mimosa is where the rubber hits the road for me on the "native vs. non-native" debate.  They are invasive.  And annoying.  They grow fast and die young.  But when they are blooming, they are loaded with life.  The butterflies, wasps, bees, and hummingbirds light up their canopy when they are on fire.

Thomas Jefferson introduced the mimosa to America.  For that, some are grateful.  Some are pissed.  I think I lean "grateful."  I like mimosas.  They have taken over large swaths of landscape at the Plant, but we do not eradicate them, like we do other exotic invasive plants--like privet.

Besides, we are a Beverage District.  And there is a popular drink named after this tree.  Champagne and orange juice combine to become a "Mimosa."

You could argue that Champagne from France is invasive and exotic, like the tree itself.  Our local equivalent to "champagne"would be cider from Chatham Cider Works.

We figured that instead of cutting down all of our beautiful Mimosa trees we would instead invite customers to come down Lorax Lane to enjoy a Mimosa under the Mimosas...

Trees for Shade

Our friend Tony Kleese used to come by the Plant a lot.  He suggested that we plant some trees along the parking lot to provide shade for cars. 

We thought that was a brilliant idea.  We lined the drive with  red maples, silver maples, and tulip poplar.

Problem #1:  The parking lot is lined on both sides by faster growing pine trees that choke out growth.

Problem #2:  The parking lot is south facing.  Planting trees on the eastern side does afford some protection from the morning sun, and planting trees on the western side doesn't really do anything because the trees are lower than Starrlight Mead.

So we have trees along our parking lot--without the desired shade effect.  Oh well...

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