This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In the Evening Star (Philadelphia) of this date, you are quoted under the heading of "The Treeless Prairies," as accounting for this condition. Having resided a number of years in the far West, I would state that the theory advanced is generally accepted there as the cause of the treeless condition. You have, I think, traveled in the West, and if so, you will have observed that along all the river courses, except perhaps near their headwaters, where the streams are necessarily small, timber is to be found, also about rocky points. As streams and rocks do not feed fires, this accounts for the existence of trees in such locations. In addition, these places were selected for the habitations of the Indians and early settlers, and hence every precaution was taken to protect themselves, and, as a consequence, the timber had a show. In this connection, it is also worthy of remark that the black soil is in great part due to these annual burnings. The white settlers do the same, it gives them much earlier and better pasturage than is afforded when the previous year's growth remains. Trees of naturally rapid growth do not thrive well on the virgin prairie soil, for the reason that the growth of the wood is so rapid and so full of sap that it is winter or spring killed.
For a similar reason, wheat could not be successfully grown on the Kansas prairies on its first or early trials, it grew too rank and amounted to nothing; that is now changed, and wheat is a successful crop; so of fruit trees, and I think trees generally. Of later years, I can only speak of report, not having resided there for many years. Tree seeds would not sprout, as the virgin prairie is now constituted, or if they did, could find no soil, as the prarie sod becomes very thick and firm. To show how readily seeds grow, I may state that I have seen fields that lay fallow for several years that had become literally covered with young trees of the poplar variety, "aspens." The cottonwoods grow wonderfully rapid and large, and are largely planted for protection in the northern prairie regions, and without such protection it is next to impossible to start and keep alive fruit trees in the northern latitudes, on account of the high winds and excessive cold. The time will come when Kansas will have as much as most of the old timber States - not in such large bodies, perhaps, but in a uniform, methodical distribution.
Philadelphia, April 9, 1884.
[As our readers know, we usually give the views of our correspondents as received, without comment, except where an error uncorrected might lead to trouble. In this case there is much with which we could not wholly agree.
Trees along water courses over treeless prairies, we have always thought get there from the seeds of trees being carried along by the streams since the Indian prairie fires ceased. We have traveled extensively over the regions in question, and never saw any aged specimens along these river lines. - Ed. G. M].