Looking for a champion White-cedar

Dave, Don, and Bill at the tree

Dave, Don, and Bill at the tree

Last year I heard reports of a large White-cedar (Thuja occidentalis) discovered along the mainstream of the Au Sable River. The exact location was carefully guarded to protect the tree from vandalism. Therefore, I was shocked to see an article about this tree in the Oscoda County 2014 Visitors Guide including a cryptic location. Directions were provided to a small parking lot but no information regarding how to get to the tree except that it grows on a “semi-island.” I do not require much of an excuse to convince me to spend a morning walking through the mainstream’s river valley. A couple of friends and I found the tree after searching along the river. Actually, they found it. I was lagging behind, as I usually do, taking photos.

This is a magnificent specimen measuring  1.2m [48 inches] in diameter. The Visitors Guide stated that its age “exceeds 350 years” and a U. S. Forest Service Ranger estimated that it was 500-700 years old. Another common name for this tree is Arbor-vitae which means “tree of life.” An apt name for a long lived tree.

White-cedar’s bark is tough and resists fire. This particular specimen grows in an area that is perpetually damp, which further protects it from fire. Having brittle wood, White-cedar branches often break; indeed, the crown of our champion is broken about 9m [30 feet] above the ground.

Canopy of large Thuja occidentalis

Canopy of large White-cedar

I have seen larger trees many times; even larger White-cedars in the Valley of the Giants on South Manitou Island, but this tree possesses power. A twisted trunk with several protruding, ragged, burls appears eternal.  Looking skyward through its branches that are as big around as my legs, the lower ones long dead but the upper ones green, giving it life, I understand how some cultures can worship individual trees. Standing, as it does, among its many much smaller kin, this mammoth seems all the more dominant. Someday, in better light, I will revisit this tree but I will never capture its strength in a photographic image.
Copyright 2014 by Donald Drife

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