Nature Walks, you never know what you are going to find

During a neighborhood function at the Worman’s Mill Community, Carol Leadbetter, along with her husband Wayne, showed me a photo of a beautiful stain on top of a stump found during their morning Nature Walk. They asked if I had seen this kind of marking before. I explained that I have seen wood with darker stains, but none with this brilliant red color. I told them that I would ask some people in the industry and report back to them. At first, I thought it was caused by a bacterium that is responsible for Bacterial Wetwood. After speaking with some of the members of the Frederick County Forestry Board, they suggested that it was caused by a fungus called Fusarium reticulatum. They also stated that the markings were exactly the color of the red stain that is often seen in the wood of the Boxelder trees after they have been wounded.

Credit: - Bruce Phillips, FCFCDB

After doing some more research, I learned that the Fusarium fungus has been definitely found in the wood of stained Boxelder; however, not in all cases. The latest information I have is that the Boxelder produces this reddish staining as a result of protecting itself from further cell damage that may result from wounding and invasion of many fungi. This production of this reddish staining is called a nonspecific-host response to wounding. It is the phenolic compounds that are produced by the dying cells in an effort to wall off any infection.

Wanting to see the stump, I walked down the historic path called the Annapolis Trail, close to the Monocacy River. Upon arriving at the stump, I noticed the color of the stained wood was beginning to fade as it was drying out. I decided to make two flush cuts of the stump about 2-3 inches in thickness. The above photo shows the final cut closest to the root flair. I applied one coat of Polyurethane on the back side of this cut and two coats of Boiled Linseed Oil on the top side, hoping it would hold in the moisture and prevent the vivid color of the stain from disappearing. As this is my first attempt in sealing stained wood, only time will tell if we can keep this slice of brilliant colored wood for others to enjoy. I gave Carol and Wayne the other slice of wood, and Wayne is going to bring it to his Master Naturalist class for discussion.

Remember to keep your eyes open for some unusual finds when you are taking your next Nature Walk.

PS, you might want to try some Boxelder syrup. The Boxelder tree is part of the maple family (Acer negundo), but it has compound leaves unlike the typical single leaf on the sugar maple tree. Many maple syrup producers tap boxelder trees for their production of sugar and syrup. Some even say it is sweeter than the syrup from sugar maple trees! Happy Hunting

Article by Bruce Phillips, FCFCDB Board Member

Nature Note for 4/12/20