The Boston Globe reported last week that thieves were stealing burls right off the trees in various public places. Brazen vandals have been using chain saws to mutilate these beautiful trees. Apparently a good quality burl can fetch a fair amount of money. This kind of tree damage is not immediately lethal to the tree, but it can make it susceptible to disease and an early death, not to mention ruining its looks.
Very little of a tree’s volume is actually living tissue. Just 1% of a tree is composed of living cells. The major living portion of a growing tree is a thin film of cells just under the bark called the cambium which is only one to several cells thick. A burl is a giant “wart” found on trees that is caused as a result of environmental injury. Cambial growth is hyper-stimulated as a way for the tree to isolate and contain the injury. Almost all burl wood is covered by bark. I personally have always liked these gnarly growths. It gives the tree a bit of character.
Burls are used by wood carving artists to make unusual one of a kind art pieces, especially bowls & vases. These pieces are quite beautiful and generally very costly. Reputable artists use burls from fallen trees, but obviously there is a black market out there making it lucrative for the burl thieves to do their dirty work.
I took the above picture of a local burl, but I won’t say where. Don’t want to give the thieves any ideas. Click to see more fantastic burl wood art.