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Perfect tree(s) for a woodlot

 
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Hello,

Mostly a hypothetical question here, but if one were to deliberately plant and grow a wood lot (or grow a living fence/wood perimeter acreage) what tree species would you plant, assuming that this was being planted in an existing treeless area.  For climactic purposes, I will give this a fairly broad range of zones 7-4 and assume a fairly humid climate (no desert/scrub desert).  We can assume a 2-5 acre lot for these purposes and it would be continuously harvested while some is growing back.

The tree should have the following qualities, some of which may be contradictory:

1). Fast growing (for obvious reasons)

2). Have great heating value

3). Useful as lumber

4). Rot resistant

5). Copice easily (or pollard easily)

6). Disease resistant, grows on most any soil

7). Anything else?

Two trees jump to mind that fulfill most if not all these qualities.  The first is Black Locust, especially if one could find a seedless, thornless variety to keep it under control and make it easier to handle.

The second would be Osage Orange.  Osage is tremendously hard, absolutely won’t rot and has an extremely high heating value.  I had Osage Orange growing up all around me as a kid and I remember that we could only burn one piece of Osage Orange in the fireplace at a time or we risked melting the fireplace grate!

So these two are obvious candidates.  Should any others get added to the list?

Eric
 
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Three spring to mind, but from my British perspective. They will grow in zone 4-7 and it’s what I’ve used in similar conservation work in the UK.

Hazel - fast growing, great for pollarding. I’m pretty sure there are native versions or it’s now widely used in the US as it appears in many permie videos and books.
Willow - as above and also extremely easy to grow. So long as there’s some moisture in the ground, a twig will self root.
Chestnut - I know all about the sad story behind the American Chestnut. The European version has been used for thousands of years as the pollarded new growth is an excellent building material.
 
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Eric, this is a great topic!

My first thought was what is a woodlot?  Then I thought firewood or lumber?  I see you mentioned fence and lumber.  I looked up what is a woodlot?

Woodlot is a broad subject.

7) Anything else?

Wikipedia says:

A woodlot is a parcel of a woodland or forest capable of small-scale production of forest products (such as wood fuel, sap for maple syrup, sawlogs, and pulpwood) as well as recreational uses like bird watching, bushwalking, and wildflower appreciation. The term woodlot is chiefly North American; in Britain, a woodlot would be called a wood, woodland, or coppice.



Mine would be for recreational use, mostly.  For the wildlife like deer, birds, and butterflies.

This website gave me lots of suggestions for Texas:

https://texastreeplanting.tamu.edu/viewalltrees.aspx

Some trees I am familiar with and some I never heard of.

First, Crape Myrtle because they are so pretty.

https://texastreeplanting.tamu.edu/Display_Onetree.aspx?tid=46


Next might be a Dogwood because we have always wanted one:

https://texastreeplanting.tamu.edu/Display_Onetree.aspx?tid=22

Then maybe, Huisache (Sweet Acacia), Acacia farnesiana because it is a native tree with fragrant orange flowers.

https://texastreeplanting.tamu.edu/Display_Onetree.aspx?tid=1

Then I might pick from a list of deer-resistant trees from Mr google:

Deciduous trees that exhibit deer resistance include Paw Paw, Black Tupelo, Mimosa, Red Maple, Japanese Maple, Black Locust, Sweetgum, Mulberry and Black Walnut.

These may not be what you were expecting though I do believe they fit in Anything else
 
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This is really a complex question.  I would run with a combination of Popular, Birch, and  Oak.....in that order.   I would be tempted to work in small amounts of Maple and Walnut.   Instead of Oak, I would consider Hickory.  
 
pollinator
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John Dean, I'd love to learn more about those choices of yours.

I would echo some of the recommendations already made.

Top choices:
- Hazel: multifunctional, fast growing, great for coppicing, provides good building poles and firewood rounds
- Black locust: fast growing, very dense, great for posts and firewood
- Hardwood nut trees: hickory, walnut, oak, chestnut - each has strengths and weaknesses, while providing great timber and nuts

Secondary choices I'd want to have around:
- Osage orange does seem like a great tree. I don't have enough experience with it to put it on my top list, but I am growing a small hedge of them. They remind me of locust trees.
- Shrub willow: I don't think of this as great firewood but it is fast growing, multifunctional biomass nonetheless
- Poplar: Same as shrub willow, this may not be good firewood but it is fast growing biomass
 
Eric Hanson
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Anne, everyone,

I guess I should define a woodlot.  The working definition I am using here is a parcel of land covered with trees that are meant to be harvested in a sustainable, rotational basis.  I am differentiating this from a woods or forest which I would consider to be more recreational, not intended for harvesting, and the only wood I would cut out would be deadfall that impeded new growth.  

As it is, I do have about 3ish acres of land that falls into this category.  The only wood I ever took out was deadfall from a storm, and that deadfall was impeding new growth.

What I am defining as a woodlot would be strictly utilitarian, basically a tree field—precisely so that I would not touch an existing stand of more mature trees.

I do like the idea of multiple species for multiple uses.  And I would love to plant American Chestnut!  Blight resistant strains are just becoming commercially available but they cost a whopping $75 per seedling!  Much too rich for my blood, though they would fulfill all my stated qualities.

I do kinda like the idea of a small amount of poplar, mostly for quick growing kindling and maybe as a source of chips.  I would not dedicate much space but then I would not have to as poplar stands up to crowding and grows fast.  I also like the idea of oak and hickory for some firewood, lumber or hardwood woodchips (they last longer than poplar) but they grow so slowly.

At any rate, I thought I would clarify my hypothetical requirements a bit.

Eric
 
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i like many of the suggestions, i would just want there to be diversity in general. i also like the function-stacking of secondary harvests like nuts. and things like maples, walnuts, maybe sweet birch for tapping. and understory stuff like spicebush…i guess i just want a forest, in the end.
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Hello,
1). Fast growing (for obvious reasons)
2). Have great heating value
3). Useful as lumber
4). Rot resistant
5). Copice easily (or pollard easily)
6). Disease resistant, grows on most any soil
7). Anything else?
Eric



I'm lucky that I didn't have to start from scratch, my land came that way. The ones you mentioned, Black Locust and Osage Orange being primarily useful for nearly all things on your list. Osage Orange however has not grown back fast enough to be really useful for firewood on a rotational basis. Although it doesn't take a big Osage branch to make pretty good fire wood. I Reckon if a feller had one of those fancy rocket mass heaters a few twigs of Osage would be all he needed.

Got to be careful burning Osage, it gets really really hot, really really fast. It can make a cast iron stove glow in the dark. When I burn it I put a single chunk on top of a fire that had burned down to just coals and without any other pieces with it. It goes ahead and burns a lot like coal. I have a stock of Osage that was cut twenty years ago and stored most of the time, not even covered, it is as solid as it ever was, I only burn it when it is really cold and I'm short on other wood. Most of my Osage was not and is not straight enough for posts, at least not the ones small enough for me to cut. I know when I'm beat and when it comes to a two foot thick Osage Orange tree it's before I even start.  Plus I think they are beautiful trees and wanted to leave some of the really big ones around the edges of what became the yard.

I love Easter Red Cedar and use it for wind breaks, beauty, wild life habitat and the like but find it doesn't really hold up long term for posts and isn't much good for firewood. It will burn of course but really fast and gucks up a chimney pretty quick. Again it might be great for a RMH, assuming they really do completely burn the gasses.

Black Locust is by far the winner on the fire wood, fence posts, building posts, grows back fast, bean poles and other categories. Probably the most useful and used tree on my place. I don't mind the thorns too much but do recommend gloves when working with it.

I have no experience in growing trees for lumber. Seems to me about any that might be good for that take way too long to get big enough for it. Unless maybe you planted them for you grand kids to harvest. At my place Oak and Pecan grow the fastest, I have lots of both, some are 20 plus years old and quite nice young shade trees but I guess need another 75 or so years to be lumber of any quality. Some Oak that I rescued from the weeds, honeysuckle and wild grape back then are considerably bigger but anyone who eyeballs them with a chain saw in hand will be shot on sight. All of my Pecan trees were planted by seed and a few are just now  starting to make a few pecans, not even big enough for fire wood really and I'd have to be pretty damn cold to even consider it. Walnut and Hickory both grow slower but I have Walnut, planted at the same time of some of my Pecan that have producing nuts for several years where the Pecan and just recently started, nothing so far from the Hickory.
 
John F Dean
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My experience with Popular in MN is that is grows fast and, with a little attention, can produce firewood in 7 years or less.  

Birch had a dual purpose.  First, it is reasonably fast growing.....not as fast as Popular but any means. Secondly it can be sold for a small fortune.   Not to go into the details, but when I was young and broke in MN, we used to load the pick up truck with bundles of Birch tied up with a pretty piece of rope. And drive the 200 miles south to Minneapolis/ St. Paul.   We would stop at every house in the suburbs with a fire place.  At that time a cord of Birch could be bought for $35.00.   We would hit the road just before Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years and get around $200 a cord.  Often times we could follow up a logging operation and get large quantities of Birch for free.

Oak has good firewood value as does Hickory.   Maple and Walnut has value for firewood, furniture, and as a crop.

Oh, I forgot.  Popular can be used for feed.
 
Eric Hanson
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If I were to plant this said wood lot on my existing property (lets make it a 1.5 acre lot--about all I have room for), I would have to build it around an existing living fence that has grown up since I moved in about 15 years ago.  

When I moved in I could still see fence posts and wire from the original fence.  There was some growth but it was mostly minor.  I actually tried to plant hybrid poplar-cottonwoods, but they were a poor stock, only one survived (it eventually got eaten by deer).

Today, that living fence is 15-30' tall, and consists mostly of autumn olive.  Autumn olive actually fulfills several of my stated requirements but falls far short in others.  In order it looks something like this.

1)  Very fast growing

2)  Mediocre heating value, but it will burn somewhat OK

3)  Useless as lumber

4)  Not at all rot resistant

5)  It does coppice very easily.  So easily that it becomes a weed and will spring right back after being cut

6)  Fairly disease resistant and I think it will grow in any type of soil

7)  Anything else:  It has formed a wildlife corridor.  Deere love to use it to walk through, in between the stands of bushes on either side of the original fence (which is now mostly trampled).  Also, birds love it.  Moreover, it chips up pretty easily and gives me plenty of chips that will decompose and give me mushroom substrate (I don't think Osage or Locust will do that for me).

So for me, the living fence already gives me some of the desired qualities.  I think the woodlot would need to be highly utilitarian, as is meant mostly for heating value, strength, rot resistance, speed of growth and ability to coppice or pollard.

I do like the idea of the hazel and chestnut would be a fine addition as well.  I do think that multiple species would be useful so perhaps a combination would look something like the following:

Black Locust--great for just about all the stated purposes and grows straight and can be fairly densely planted.  Maybe 1/4-1/2 the lot planted in Black Locust

Osage--also great for all purposes but often grows bush-like so maybe not as dense growth (but wow is it hard, hot burning and rot resistant!) Maybe 1/4 lot

Poplar, Cottonwood/Poplar hybrid--grows incredibly fast, but is fairly soft, does not burn so hot and rots easily (still might make some good lumber)

Hazel--I like the idea of having a lot of poles, and hardwood from a tree that coppices.

Pin Oaks?  One of the faster growing oaks.  Might be a good way to introduce oak into a rotational cutting

Hickory?  Maybe a little.  There is nothing like hickory smoke for cooking (only need a little) and hickory makes great strong, resilient tool handles

As I do have a yard, I would leave the ornamentals for the yard.  Also, I would never bring in dogwoods, simply because dogwoods grow mad in the woods behind my house--I already have them!  And they are beautiful.  

And while controversial, I sometimes entertain the idea of bamboo.  It certainly is strong and fast growing.  It has a good heating value (though a lot of ash) and I know that it can get out-of-control (many people around here have planted it--and it got out of control so I am a little squeamish).  Still, If I kept good, mowed paths, maybe it could be controlled.

At any rate, feel free to update or critique.

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Mark, I agree with most everything you said about Osage.  It is some tough, hot burning stuff and you are right, it does not so much burn with a flame as it smolders long and hot like a piece of coal.  I would think that this would make a near ideal wood for a RMH.  Although one downside is that it can be tough on tools.  I do not know how the locals found so much Osage to pound into the ground, but it does grow like mad where I grew up.  It almost certainly was used for hedgerows/living fences so when barbed wire was put in I assume they just cut off a straightish branch and that was that.  Actually, I can remember cutting off a branch and having it grow back at the rate of 3' per year so I would think that this is a fast to regrow type of tree and therefore good in a rotation, but yes, it can be bush like and twisted.  Black locust burns almost as hot but fulfills most of the other qualities very well.  I would think that it could be planted closer than Osage and grow straighter.  Further, I would think that given a little time, it would be suitable for some lumber.

John,  good information about birch!  Your operation sounds like a great way to make a quick buck during lean times.  Gotta say, I love that story.
 
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I'd think about poplar and box elder for quicker growing mediocre firewood.  Maybe a small percentage of the total trees but it might be worth it.
 
Eric Hanson
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Mike,

I would imagine that a single row of poplar planted fairly densely (Every 2-4 feet?) would grow quickly until it started to crowd itself out.  At that point every other tree could be harvested until it crowded out again at which point it would need to be cut again.  Eventually I would think that it could be continuously harvested.

Actually, poplar might make a decent way to start out a wood lot.  It would not take a lot of space, but since it is fast growing and could be planted densely, poplar would not take up that much space in the overall lot.

Again, nice idea
 
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The trees suitable for a wood lot will, as always, depend on your location: climate and soil etc.  so my comments will not be directly relevant to the OP, but may be of more general use. I have been growing a coppice woodland in what I call my tree field and it is now starting to produce some firewood for me. I wrote a little about my design in this post on my ‘blog SkyeEnt
 .  The following two posts on the ‘blog are “lessons learnt”: things we did right and things we wish we’d done differently.
Regarding trees: I am very glad we planted such a mixture of trees. For me the one that stands out at the most productive at the moment is common alder, Alnus glutinosa. I have been cutting that for the last three or four years and hopefully will soon be re-cutting the regrowth. I’m also optimistic about an unknown willow or poplar hybrid that I got as local cuttings. That is growing really well, although maybe slightly spindly. The ones I am most disappointed by was the ash trees, Fraxinus excelsior. They never liked the salt wind and suffered from dieback caused by this and vole damage, now I’m pretty sure we have chalera ash dieback as well. I cut all the ash back to the ground over winter to try and stop the spread locally (a faint hope) and ironically some of them have grown back really well (to 4 – 5 ft).
I planted quite an experimental mix of trees, and some did surprisingly well. Holm oak (which is a mediterranean tree, so I wasn’t expecting to do well) has done as well for me as the common holly. Others have been no more than disappointing: the sweet chestnut has really struggled. I do wish I had managed to source more local seed stock generally and this would be my number one recommendation in a marginal environment like (or unlike!) mine.
I am now interplanting with trees and shrubs for more food (or other) use: monkey puzzles, more productive (hopefully) hazel varieties, plums, apples and raspberries for example. I’m going to try walnut and Japanese walnut next.
What I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t fully realised was how much of a new ecosystem I was creating, both in the biomass of trees as a food source and as shelter, and the regrowth and repopulation of a vast array of formerly sheep nibbled native flora that has since sprung forth! Insect and bird life is much more noticeable now than it was previously.
The only other thing I am considering differently now is the wood burner we have.  I’m wondering if there is any way of incorporating a rocket cookstove heater into our house to either supplement or replace it. That is a longer term thought experiment however!
 
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One that hasn't been mentioned, sycamore. horrible weed tree here, but it is fast growing, straight grained and decent firewood. It can be coppiced or left to grow as a tree.
 
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A lot of regional considerations in a topic like this.  Where I live the "good" firewoods like oak and hickory (never mind osage orange or locusts, or even ash) are quite rare or simply not able to grow well enough to be viable.  In my yard, if I did nothing the red alders would love to take over (well, assuming the aren't chocked out by blackberries).  Birch and big-leaf maple also volunteer pretty readily.  So, I'd be tempted to go with this for a wood-lot here.  I'd try mostly to keep cottonwood out as it has zero value for lumber or firewood.  It has some value as pulp, and I'm sure plenty of wildlife appreciate it.  But if I want to derive value from the wood-lot it's something I would studiously avoid.

Alder is good in that it grows fast, and can produce decent lumber for furniture and other decorative uses.  It's soft for a hardwood, and the heating value is actually a bit less than Douglas Fir.  Not a pretty tree when approaching the end of its life cycle as tops frequently break off.  Low-moderate rot resistance.
Birch is quite a bit harder than either alder or maple, and has decent BTU/cord when dry.  It does like to rot out the heart when it gets to larger diameters, and like alder will lose tops when mature.  The lumber is surprisingly pretty though, but due to the tendency for heart rot will often have significant ring shake around the pith.  Very low rot resistance at least until dried.  Bark is a good fire starter.
Big leaf maple is a relatively fast growing variety of maple, which makes it softer than eastern red maples.  Heating value is also closer to soft/silver maple.  Gorgeous lumber (if left to sit before milling can develop wonderful colors), and can produce very nice figure.  The seeds are a good food source for many small critters.  Can be tapped for syrup.  Moderate rot resistance.

Other trees I would plant for a poly-culture wood lot would have to include western red cedar and some firs (douglas and noble especially if I wanted my own Christmas trees).    

But none of those will give you a "fence" and don't meet some of your other desires.  BLM can copice but the rest don't really do that.  
 
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I'm in the Northern part of your range in Zone 3 where trees grow slowly. So slowly that there is an oak that my dad planted 35 years ago and it's about 4 inches in diameter at the base and about 15 feet tall.

No trees grow to lumber size and quality here for two reasons. One is the its always windy and ALL trees grow leaning to the east, two is that it gets so cold in the winter that the terminal buds freeze and die and in doing so trees do not grow straight and seem to zigzag upwards. (At least that's the only reason I can think of for the zigzag).

The trees that make the cut for me this far north are:
Hybrid Poplar
Cottonwood
Siberian Elm
Willows
Manitoba Maple (aka Box Elder)
Black Locust (trying to get established)
Hazelnut (beaked Hazelnut so it's a shrub/bush)
 
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Skandi Rogers wrote:One that hasn't been mentioned, sycamore. horrible weed tree here, but it is fast growing, straight grained and decent firewood. It can be coppiced or left to grow as a tree.



Whilst I agree that sycamore is quite useful, I wouldn't encourage anyone to grow it intentionally. Here in the UK (which I imagine is quite similar to Denmark) it can take over a wood and strangle out other species quite quickly. Oliver Rackham, who wrote extensively on British woodlands and their history, often described it as ruining pristine woodland.
 
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Poplar is the one I inherited in my road boundary.  The burn characteristics may not be ideal for common wood stoves but are very good for rocket mass heaters. It doesn't form glowing charcoal or a lot of resin which can gum up if the burn is not up to high temperatures. Here when they reach maturity where they start to become a fall hazard they are around 14 inches in diameter for 24 feet in length.  They saw easily into thin board when fresh and then dry to a very light weight.  Used to be the go to wood for drawer bottoms.  I have one dry and ready to shape into a canoe paddle and then epoxy it for water resistance.
One old timer told me it seems to be respectful in that it will not come up where there is a lot of traffic but it does go underneath and come up in the pasture where it is consumed as fodder but will ever expand if there are not enough animals browsing it.
 
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Poplar is not great wood to burn and the trees are fragile and fall a lot in wind storms. When they are old they are not very pretty. Just my 2 cents from Michigan
 
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I have been considering a living fence all along our property line. I am leaning toward hollies as the main shrub/small tree to keep the neighbors and predators out. Oak, magnolia, and sweet gum are already propagating themselves all over the place. I would love to have black locust as a nitrogen fixer, but we already have mimosa growing everywhere there is some sunlight. I guess my choices for this area are:

Holly
Mimosa
Oak
Sweet Gum

They are already here and growing just fine.

 
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Eric Hanson wrote:...if one were to deliberately plant and grow a wood lot



Quick thought:

Consider looking into NRCS/EQIP programs if you are going to plant a lot out.

There may be some grant monies available to you if you follow a certain set of criteria.

A scenario could be where you plant everything that they outline...

...and interplant with what you want - or wait out the timeframes as outlined in the contract and then plant.

I suspect many of the trees that might come as suggestions will meet your previously outlined criteria.

I've worked with NRCS / EQIP to build our high tunnel and plan on doing so in different contexts in the future.

Good luck!
 
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im bullish on chestnuts, the new disease resistant dustan variety is fast growing hardwood, great for wildlife habitat, great for food/nuts for people and wildlife. great for lumber and for fuel. and probably more good uses and benefits I'm not aware of.  what's not to like
 
Mike Haasl
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Rob Kaiser wrote:

Eric Hanson wrote:...if one were to deliberately plant and grow a wood lot



Quick thought:

Consider looking into NRCS/EQIP programs if you are going to plant a lot out.


Even better might be the Conservation Stewardship Program.  I found it to be very adaptive to my goals.
 
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Lots of good of suggestions.  I'd tend towards a diversified selection of edible producing hardwoods, but don't overlook softwoods.

If you are far enough south, improved loblolly pine grows at a terrific pace.  Well dried, it is probably better firewood than yellow poplar.  We burn quite a bit of native yellow pine with no chimney problems as long as it is well seasoned.  It'll get us through the night if it isn't too cold.  I just keep a small amount of hardwood for the coldest nights.

While not the best firewood, Mulberry is decent enough and really packs on the biomass while also providing a fruit crop, animal fodder, and serving as a wildlife attractor.
 
Eric Hanson
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Wow!  Great posts today!

Actually there is a local program to plant trees in order to avoid property taxation on that parcel of land—not a trivial concern around here.  For a rural area, property taxes can be rather high.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if this would then qualify for a woodlot to be harvested down the road.

More specifically, is the Dustan chestnut a true blight resistant variety?  I was thinking that it was an improved variety but one that would still eventually succumb to blight.  But if it succumbed fairly late, it still might be a good woodlot tree as I am aware that it is fast growing, hot burning, rot resistant and copices well—what more could one ask for!

Again, great points!

Eric
 
greg mosser
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i too think chestnuts are a great option, but dunstans aren’t the only hybrid chestnut in the game. they were some of the first decent blight-resistant hybrids, but by now, maybe not the best. if you were interested, i could probably get you highly blight resistant hybrid chestnut seed at a way better price point than dunstans, even for american-type timber tree ones.
 
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In Minnesota we are prohibited from growing Black Locus trees as they are considered an invasive species and a noxious weed.
We have a large problem with Buckthorn as well.
 
Eric Hanson
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Michael,

I have Minnesota roots and I know how the Minnesota DNR restricts a lot of otherwise useful plants because of their proclivity for becoming weeds.  In this particular case, too bad as BL can be a very useful tree.

Eric
 
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