Behold the Burl

Wed. Feb. 20, 2019

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Behold the Burl

Behold the burl!   

I call her Lady of the Forest this was taken at the MN Landscape Arboretum

Let’s establish what a burl is first. A burl is a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed way.

It’s commonly found in the form of a rounded outgrowth on a tree trunk or branch that is filled with small knots from dormant buds. A burl results from a tree undergoing some form of stress. It may be caused by an injury, virus or fungus.

Another Big Woods burl at the base of this tree

While some of them look fairly ugly on the outside, when cut open, they’re gorgeous and highly prized!  In fact, they’ve been valued for furniture and wood sculpting for centuries!  From National Geographic

Burl – courtesy of National Geographic

Burl wood is very hard to work with, its grain is twisted and interlocked, it can chip and shatter unpredictably.  On the other hand, this “wild grain” makes burl wood extremely dense and resistant to splitting, which makes it valued for bowls, mallets and mauls.  

Burl bowl papapeppersbowls – Douglas Fir

Take a peek at these bowls and sculptures from West Virginia wood turners Association!

Cherry burl bowl by Cliff Baker

While burls can form on any tree, some are more susceptible than others, so that means they’re rare. Interestingly, these burls don’t harm the tree. As for harvesting a burl, not only will it make the tree look horrible, but it will most likely kill the tree.  MadRiverUnion story on the thief that damaged the tree below – eventually this can kill the tree. 

It is important to remove the burls of a tree only after the tree is no longer living or is planned to be removed.

According to Kevin Smith, a plant physiologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, they are so valued that they are sometimes the target of thieves.  

Ancient redwoods in National Parks in Western United States have recently been poached by thieves for their burls, including at Redwood National and State Parks. redwoodburlpoaching

Redwood burl poaching

Poachers often cut off the burls from the sides of the trunks using chainsaws, which exposes the tree to infection and disease, or fell the entire tree to steal burls higher up.  

Andrew Pearce Bowls – stunning stuff


Burl sculpture $2400 by Chairish