This section is from the book "Economic Tree Planting", by Birdsey Grant Northrop. Also available from Amazon: Economic Tree-planting.
The Boston & Albany Railway have larch ties in use for sixteen years which are still sound. The president of the Illinois Central Railway, having examined the vast planted forests of larch in Europe and learned its remarkable fitness for railway ties, offers to transport the young plants free of charge to any point on their lines or leased lines, provided they are to be planted in the vicinity of the same. It is, however, an experiment which time alone can determine, whether the larch will retain its durability when planted in the level, deep, vegetable mould of the prairies, with their retentive sub-soil. That it will grow there rapidly and luxuriantly is amply proved, but its history for many centuries shows that elevated lands suit it better than low grounds, and side-hills and mountain slopes better than flats. In the rich river flats of Kew Gardens and in the vicinity of London the larch does not thrive. The specimens found in that remarkable collection of all known trees are puny. The Kew arborist informed me that in the two hundred and seventy acres appropriated to the arboretum, no spot had been found suited to the larch. Mr. James Brown, an experienced forester of Scotland, attributes the disease, which has of late prevailed in many larch plantations in that country, to planting it, both in the nursery and the field,in uncongenial soil.
No other tree has been planted so extensively in Scotland. It attains maturity long before the oak, and serves well for nearly all purposes for which oak is used. Larch trees thirty years old are sometimes sold for fifteen dollars each, while oaks of the same age are not worth three dollars each. According to Newlands the strength of larch timber is to that of British oak as 103 to 100; its stiffness as 79 to 100; while its toughness is as 131 to 100. As the larch grows erect, with short and slender laterals, it may be planted much thicker than the oak. According to Loudon ten acres of larch will furnish as much ship timber as seventy-five acres of oak. Its large timber yield per acre is one source of its popularity in Britain. It was first planted on the estate of the Duke of Athole, in 1741. Some stately specimens over one hundred and thirty years old may be seen near the cathedral at Dun-keld. Mr. McGregor, the duke's forester, informed me that on this one estate have been planted over twenty-seven millions of larch trees, covering over sixteen thousand acres, some of which was formerly worth only from one to two shillings per acre.
Dr. James Brown says he has seen matured crops of larch of sixty-five years' standing sold for from $750 to $2,000 per acre, when the land was originally worth only from $2 to $4 per acre. Mr. Sargent, director of the Botanic Garden and Arboretum of Harvard College, gives a detailed estimate of the profits of a plantation of European larch of ten acres to last fifty years, calculating the cost for land, fencing, plants, labor, taxes, and interest, and makes the net gain to be $52,282.75, or about thirteen per cent. per annum for the entire fifty years, after retaining the original capital, and he adds: "There are in Massachusetts fully 200,000 acres of unimproved land which could, with advantage, be at once covered with larch plantations, and if so planted their net yield, according to my estimate, in fifty years would be $1,045,660,000. Supposing that these 200,000 acres will, in the natural course of events, produce, during the same time, one hundred cords of fire-wood to the acre, worth six dollars a cord, amounting to $120,000,000, and subtracting this sum from the net yield of the larch, we have left, as created wealth, the respectable sum of $925,000,000."
Mr. Sargent, however, admits that this is farming on paper, and that considerable allowances should be made for such contingencies as fire, tree diseases, insect attacks, and other dangers now unforeseen. Robert Douglas of Illinois, who has had far more experience in larch planting than any other American, writes me that the larch in this country is remarkably free from all disease and insect depredations.
My special aim has been to encourage the recuperation of sterile lands by tree planting. The experiments of thus reclaiming barren tracts, which have been tried on a large scale in many European countries, prove the superiority of the larch for this purpose over all other evergreens, because it is deciduous. Grigor says: " No tree is so valuable as the larch in its fertilizing effects, arising from the richness of its foliage, which it sheds annually. The yearly deposit is very great; the leaves remain and are consumed on the spot where they drop." Trees also enrich the soil by a curious chemistry which disintegrates even the rocks, and transmutes their particles into forms of life and beauty. The radicles and rootlets, in their underground laboratory, secrete acids which dissolve the very sands and stones.
The frequency of forest fires is urged as an objection to tree-planting. Here is a real discouragement; but forests are no more likely to be burned than are our barns and dwellings. More property is consumed every year by the burning of stores and houses in this country than by forest fires. This danger, therefore, should no more prevent tree-planting than house-building. But such views need to be spread among all classes of the American people as will produce the general conviction that the interests of all classes are concerned in the protection and conservation of forests. The schools of forestry have made this sentiment wellnigh universal in Germany, and all classes there appreciate their value and the need of protecting them. Browsing and pasturage in certain limits are prohibited, and yet the forests are not fenced. Simple marks designate where cattle may pasture and where they may not, and an intelligent public sentiment is a better guardian of the national or communal forests than official watchers or national police.