This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
ED. Western Horticulturist: I read Professor Matthews' article in the May number of the Pomologist, also 6. B. B.'s reply to it in the September number of The Horticulturist. I have not the May number at hand to quote from, but give the substance of his argument, i. e. that the European Larch, as grown in Europe, is a resinous tree, but as grown in this country it is not a resinous tree. This theory, coupled with the fact that the Professor had cut down some larch saplings and used them for grape stakes, and found that these saplings rotted off at the surface of the ground within three years, led him to the conclusion that the Larch is no more durable than the cottonwood.
To bring this matter more clearly before your readers, I will make the following quotations from G.. B. B.'s article in the September number of The Horticulturist, whose experience is identical with the Professor's: " In the spring of 1860, I imported a lot of European Larch from Scotland, and set them out in nursery rows two feet apart, intending to transplant them in a year or two, but leaving home next season, and being gone several years, the larch grew up a perfect thicket, twelve to fifteen feet high. In 1867, on reading some of the fabulous accounts of the durability of the larch, and wishing for some vineyard stakes, I concluded to cut down my beautiful grove or thicket of larch and use them for that purpose, thinking I had got something that would last a lifetime; but lo! I was sadly disappointed, for only two years afterwards I found the stakes beginning to break off and decayed near the surface of the ground, so I concludod that the best use I could put them to would be to burn them for stove-wood; but here I was again disappointed, for I found that it required more kindling wood to get them on fire than they were worth.
"Since then I have seen it stated that in Europe it was considered almost fire-proof, and was used for the decks of vessels on that account. Now if it contains such an amount of resinous matter, as some say it does, why will it not burn? That it does not contain much resinous matter grown in this country is certain, but that it is not durable on that account does not necessarily follow, for we find the Red Cedar, the most durable of all wood, contains little or none of this property. We also find that the sap-wood of the Red Cedar decays very easily, and that it is the heart-wood that lasts so long. So I think we will find it the same with the larch, and we should not be too hasty in condemning it, judging from the experiment we have made with nothing but saplings, only three or four inches in diameter."
In the December number of The Horticulturist, just received, the Professor has another article on the same subject, in which he says, he does not see any point upon which he and G. B. B. will materially differ, yet he seems to differ in almost every essential point. He says he thinks the claim made for the durability of the European Larch rests entirely on its resinous properties. He says he thinks there must be some mistake about its burning properties in Europe, and further says: "It is well understood that Venice turpentine is manufactured from the wood of the European Larch, and I am quite sure it will burn."
After looking his December article carefully over, I do not see that he has advanced anything new, it is substantially the same as his May article.
G. B. B. candidly admits, in his September article, that he has had little experience with this tree, aside from the experiment quoted above, from which he has drawn such strong common sense conclusions, that we agree with the Professor when he says: " When such gentlemen take hold, we have a fair prospect of getting to the bottom of the question at issue."
On looking over the Professor's two articles, we are led to the conclusion that he has had no more experience with this tree than G. B. B. has had, therefore let us look a little further and see how the matter stands, as regards the differences between the European Larch grown in this country, and grown in Europe. To begin with, we fully admit the truth of what Loudon says - as quoted in the Professor's article - and we will go further, and admit that both resinous trees, and many trees not resinous, "are of greater durability, when grown in cool climates, and in hilly and poor districts, than when grown in rich soil and in warm climates." This is a fact so well-known, that many of our Illinois tree growers have been collecting information for several years, in regard to the larch and other trees, endeavoring to ascertain how far north and south they can be grown in a healthy condition, and they have already found that the European Larch is quite as vigorous at Louisville, Kentucky, as in this climate, and judging from a tree eighteen inches in diameter when cut down, the timber is similar to that grown in Europe and in this State.
The resinous properties of the European Larch, - I do not recollect of ever seeing but one instance where a European writer ascribed the durability of the larch to its resinous properties, and that was in the case of a log-house, that the author claimed was preserved from decay by the resin, that had formed a coating over the surface of the logs; but we need not go to Europe to test the preservative properties of the resinous matter in timber; our own Balsam Fir has a bountiful supply, and yet it decays sooner than almost any other tree. We might cite eases almost without number, leading one to the same conclusion, so we are led to believe that the Professor's resinous theory has but little weight. Then to show him that the assertion of G. B. B., that it does not burn readily in Europe is not a "mistake," and that it is not, by any means, a recent discovery, but has been long known on both continents, I take the following quotation from A. J. Downing's Landscape Gardening, fourth edition, published in New York, and also in London, in 1849: