one of a kind fine art

These masterpieces of nature are indeed becoming 

 more sparse. As burl becomes more rare, measures

are being taken to prevent illegal harvesting.

Please support only legal, sustainable

practices of these gems of the natural world.  

                                                                

What is a burl and why does it form?

Burls form as an outgrowth on the trunk of a tree and/or within the root system. It is interesting that burls have probably been around for as long as trees themselves, yet there is little consensus as to why they grow. They can grow into gigantic sizes, forming slowly along with the growth of the tree. Burls begin to be seen as it matures, often nearly a half century old and sometimes continue throughout the life of the tree. For a long time, burls were thought to be abnormal, perhaps cancerous growths, yet they grow on healthy trees and do not cause the death of a tree.  Their debate of unknown origin is a mystery to why these spherically shaped protrusions even form, and many woodworkers who have prized burls for centuries are left wrestling with how to propagate, as attempts have led no where. Perhaps that is the way nature intended burls to be…mysterious and unanswerable, highly prized gems that humans cannot reproduce.
 

Some speculate the onset of a burl growing involves trauma. It was observed in a farmer’s orchard, that the raking element on the tractor would scrape the lower sides of the trees, and over time, burls began to form. It is a common belief that burls form from insects, bugs, and fungus that feed off the trees, which result by the tree sending out shoots as a way of protecting itself, thus the budding of small shoots that become burls that begin to grow.

There has been scientific speculation that burl formation lies within a genetic pre-disposition, brought on by environmental and/or pollutants, minerals or particular nutrients in the earth and moisture content. The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service reports “Although some stem swellings are the result of pathogens, often the cause of burls is unknown.” It is common to see a tree growing one or more burls at the same time, and often a cluster of trees growing in the same area will have burls.

What makes burl different from the grain of the tree? Burls produce chaotic patterns, growing in all directions unlike the parent trunk or branches of the tree, which grows lengthwise in one straight pattern.

The insides form a bountiful array of colors, swirls, clusters of eyes-known as birds-eye; also flame, curls, and other patterns, depending on the kind of wood. The outside of the burl, once the bark is peeled off, displays a landscape completely different from the inside. The western Big Leaf Maple, for example, has an outside shell similar to coral found in the ocean. Its spectacular array of spiky protrusions across the entire outer shell is common. The Oak, Cedar, Walnut  and Redwood have a smoother yet richly textured outer core with varying colors. Burls naturally display checking, inclusions, and voids that add to their overall character.

As the burls age, like the tree, (and often like us humans,) there is an enrichment of colors, and patterns displayed. The aged burls that begin their decline are sought after, as the pronouncement of shapes, colors and patterns is reflective of age becoming highly prized masterpieces of the natural world.

The world of burl is changing. Years ago when I first began working with  burl, it weemed there was an endless supply-until I found out that no one has ever discovered a way to propogate burls--the key in reproduction. I realized that  someday these masterpieces of nature would become scarce, in demand, but little did I know it would happen in my lifetime.
And it has.
With the disappearance of burls, there is an ever increase in price of the raw wood. Poachers are infringing on forests, including ancient groves, cutting massive sized burls that have been growing on some of the trees for centuries. Protective measures are in affect to ensure the preservation of burls. However, overall enforcement is limited in regional forest lands.