Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tree of Peace

Bundles of Eastern White Pine needles surround next-spring's bud at the tip of a twig. 
© Dave Spier  [1-5X macro lens at 2X on full-frame sensor + twin macro flash]

Tree of Peace
© Dave Spier

To the Iroquois, the Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) was known as the "Tree of Peace" and it symbolized the Great Law of Peace that united five tribes into one confederacy or league, thus ending decades, and probably centuries, of conflict between these groups.  The date is unknown, but precedes white settlement of Upstate New York.  Estimates range from 1100 A.D. to somewhere in the 1500's. 
The Iroquois called themselves Haudenosaunee, or People of the Longhouse.  The name "Iroquois" is a French transliteration from derogatory terms used by the Hurons (in Canada) and Algonquins (from New England to the mid-Atlantic), both enemies of the Haudenosaunee.
All pines have leaves that grow in bundles of two, three or five needles bound together by a sheath where they emerge from the twig.  White pines have clumps of five needles, and to the Iroquois Confederacy, these symbolized the original Five Nations: Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk.  What is now the Adirondacks was divided by the Oneidas to the west and the Mohawks to the east.  The Tuscaroras, after being displaced from North Carolina, were eventually admitted to the Confederacy and merged with the Onondagas and Oneidas in central New York.
White pine needles, generally three inches long, are thin, soft and flexible.  It's easy to "shake hands" with a white pine (whereas many other pines have stiff, prickly needles).  The name of this species comes from fine, whitish stripes along the length of the green needles, but you'll probably need a magnifying glass to see them clearly.  During their second year of growth, the needles turn yellow and fall.
Cones are generally six inches long and easy to handle.  Many pines have shorter, compact cones with prickles at the tips of their scales.
White pines can reach great age and size.  Many old pines that survived logging in the Adirondacks are over 300 years old.  One near Syracuse was dated at 458 years.  Mature trees easily tower over their deciduous compatriots.  In pre-colonial America, specimens were reported at 230 feet high and these were later reserved by the king to become ship masts in the British Royal Navy.  The current Eastern White Pine record holder in the Great Smokies reaches 188 feet.  (It was 207 feet high before a hurricane took off the top.)

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