Saturday, July 11, 2009

Princeton Battlefield--Big History, Big Lawn, Big Trees

One of the finer ways to spend a July 4 afternoon is on the grounds of the Princeton Battlefield. Chances are, you'll see historian John Mills, who in stature, bearing and voice seems the very embodiment of 1776, offer a detailed account of the Battle of Princeton, and then don spectacles to read the Declaration of Independence.

It's also a good place for a native plant lover to feel ambivalent about the extraordinary expanse of mowed grass. It makes for a great feeling of openness and freedom of movement. On the other hand, it has nothing to do with the history of the place, and is surely a budget drain to mow.

Other historic sites around the country have started to manage for more authentic vegetation. One approach would be to keep a portion of the grounds mowed, while planting the rest to the sorts of native grasses and wildflowers that have more to do with the land's history. Some of the grounds are already managed this way.

Most everyone knows about the Mercer Oak, whose offspring now grows in the middle of the field near where the original white oak once stood.

There are some other interesting trees there as well. I'd heard that the grounds include two Hicans--a cross between a hickory and a pecan. The bark on the tree in the photo looks like a hickory for the first eight feet, then switches to pecan-like bark further up. Strange.

Closer to Clark House are a couple chestnut trees. These are Chinese chestnuts, not the great American Chestnut that once filled our forests and provided abundant food until the imported chestnut blight took its toll. The Battlefield would be a great place to reintroduce the American Chestnut, survivors of which have been bred to resist the blight.

Some other interesting trees, just behind the Clark House, are some very tall, statuesque black locust trees.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this! I was walking around the clarke house when I saw the Chestnut tree. I just couldn't believe it, I thought it was an American Chestnut