Arborglyphs on Old Beech Trees

American Beech trees have thin smooth bark even as they mature and this surface has been used by many generations of humans for carving or writing. The messages can remain visible for the life of the tree, which might be as long as 300 hundred years. Words/pictures carved into tree bark are often called arborglyphs.

Beech trunk arborglyphs are found in Eliza Howell Park, just as they are found in most other places in the eastern U.S. where old beech trees are found.



Most appear to be initials or dates or declarations of love (initials in hearts), though there may be some art or other messages there that I have not recognized or deciphered. What makes them fascinating is that they have endured for so long and that they are often located 12 or more feet above the ground.


In some western states (e.g., Nevada and California), many arborglyphs are found on aspen trees, another smooth bark species. There is a special interest among anthropologists in the tree art of nineteenth-century immigrants from the Basque region (border area between Spain and France) who worked as shepherds in the U.S. West, often alone among the aspens for long periods of time.

Beech trees are not the most common trees in EHP and their number may be decreasing as some of the old ones fall or break off.


While there are some young beech trees in the park woods, often growing close to mature ones, I have not yet seen any carving on them.


Perhaps carving on smooth-barked trees is no longer the preferred method of making a statement or expressing oneself in a natural setting. There is an old vehicle body that got deposited in the flood plain of the river some time in the past and recently I noted that someone has made use of this artistically.


Ways of expressing ourselves, of leaving our mark in a natural setting, may change over time. Beech tree carving has been a common practice for a very long time, however, and the arborglyphs of Eliza Howell Park remain visible to park visitors who would like to view or study them.



Estimating the Age of Trees: November 11

Having learned recently about the effort to determine the approximate age of a large Bur Oak tree in the Rosedale neighborhood of Detroit, I decided to use the same method to arrive at an estimate of several large trees in Eliza Howell Park.

Anyone interested in assisting in this project is welcome: Sunday, November 11, at 1 p.m.

Please email if you are intending to come (so I can let you know if there is a late need to reschedule because of weather):

This Pin Oak is one to be measured.


The following steps are followed to get a non-invasive estimate of a living tree’s age:

  1. Measure the circumference at 4 and 1/2 feet from the ground (54 inches).
  2. Divide the circumference number by pi (3.14) to get the diameter.
  3. Multiple the diameter (in inches) by the growth factor which has been identified for the specific species. (Several organizations have estimated and published the growth factor for various species, based on how fast a species usually grows.)
  4. The resulting number is the approximate age of the tree, in years.

Another of the trees I plan to measure is this American Sycamore.


I am hoping to measure about 8 large trees, different species, ones that are often noticed by park visitors and participants in nature walks. At present, when I am asked “How old do you think that tree is?” I can only give a general response.

This Eastern Cottonwood, the location of a Baltimore Oriole nest every year, is also on my list of trees to be measured.


I have been asked specifically about the approximate age of the Bur Oak (next picture) at the edge of the path leading down to the floodplain.


In my initial use of this formula for estimating tree age, I have found that not all online sites of growth factor information have the same number for a particular species. It will be necessary for me to do more research before November 11 in order to determine the most appropriate numbers to use.

As I noted in a February post (“Beech Trees and Beechnuts”), Passenger Pigeons used to eat many beechnuts. I am wondering whether this American Beech is old enough to have been visited by those legendary birds.


As I get to know more about the flora and fauna of Eliza Howell Park, I realize how much more there is to know. And I look forward to this learning project.



Beech Trees and Beechnuts — and Passenger Pigeons

While on a winter walk in the woods recently, I came upon a stand of American Beech trees. They are easily identified, even in the winter, by their smooth light gray bark. (When my brothers and I found beech trees in our wanderings as kids over 60 years ago, we saw the bark as an invitation to pull out a pocket knife and carve initials – as countless others have done.)


Some of the beeches in the forest of Eliza Howell are large, among the taller trees in the park. They can grow as high as 80 feet.


In the shade of a forest, beeches develop tall straight trunks with a crown of foliage on top.

There is one American beech tree I paid particular attention to in 2017 that is found among the scattered oak trees inside the road loop in the park. It has the same smooth bark, but, because it is in the sunny open rather shaded like those in the forest, the shape is very different. It is a spreading tree rather than a single straight trunk. It’s many branches are both vertical and horizontal and the huge crown reaches nearly to the ground.


It is this spreading beech that I watched last year as it produced thousands of beechnuts.


Beech trees are slow-growing trees. They may be 40 years old before they produce nuts and 60 years old before they produce them in large numbers. Beech trees are reported to have years of abundant nuts every 2 – 3 years; 2017 was a year of abundance for this tree.


The small beechnuts are edible by humans and consumed by many mammals and birds.

The beechnut was a favored food of Passenger Pigeons. Though it has been extinct for 100 years, the Passenger Pigeon was still found in very large numbers in Michigan 150 years ago. American Beech trees can live as long as 300-400 years and, while I do not know how old the oldest ones in the park are, some of these trees may have been living here in the days when Passenger Pigeons were hunting beechnuts.

The beech is one of my favorite tree species in Eliza Howell Park for several reasons, one being this connection with a magnificent bird that I will never see.