Copyright,(c) Fred Smoot, 1997. All Rights Reserved
Much of Middle Tennessee was covered with a great virgin hardwood forest
when it was first settled. While some areas contained natural "Barrens"
or grass lands, the land that was forested showed an amazing variety of
trees and bushes. Some river and creek bottoms were choked with canebrakes.
Rivers, game trails and some Indian paths were the only way available to
penetrate this frontier.
In 1806 the Tennessee Assembly established her Surveyor's Districts
and required that each survey be properly taken and recorded. As the
surveyors made each survey, they were to cause to have each corner tree
marked and to then identify that tree in their surveys and field books.
The use of trees as markers was a long established practice. It was,
however, more than just a traditional and quaint practice or a legal
requirement. It was a necessity in a wilderness where there was no other
practical way to "permanently" mark the boundaries of the surveys. In
those places, like a "barren, glade or prairie", where there was not a tree
at hand, the surveyor was forced to make do with his own fabricated
"stakes and pointers".
These named trees, listed below, have been extracted from 1st, 2nd
& 3rd Districts Surveys and also Warren County Surveys. They represent the
majority of trees mentioned in the old surveys. Sometimes we see certain
trees listed also as bushes, i.e. Red Oak bush, Plum bush etc. The growth
pattern can be altered by the amount of available light when a plant is
young. Occasionally the bushes are mentioned in the surveys.
Our ancestors were people of the land. To them, the trees were a
part of their everyday lives. The trees provided them with building
material, firewood, herbal remedies, food, and much more. Farms consumed
vast quantities firewood.
Today we might not be able to find certain trees growing in areas
that once were common for them. Environmental pressures have had an
adverse effect on some types of trees. The American Chestnut and the
American Elm have have had an adverse effect on some types of trees. The
American Chestnut and the American Elm have both been almost totally lost by
imported diseases. Some trees have been over harvested.
Old time spelling variations are listed first and are recorded as
found in the old surveys. A non-scientific attempt has been made to
connect, when possible, the old tree names to modern name usage. The tree
may have had more than one name, or a local name, or the same name may
have been applied to different kinds of trees.
- Either a native Crab Apple or an introduced Apple of European stock.
The imported apple was introduced to the Cumberland River area in the
- Green or Red Ash, F. pennsylvanica; White Ash, F. americana.
See Blue Ash.
- Beech , Bech , Beach, Buch
- American Beech, Fagus grandifolia; "Buch" is a poorly written "Beech"
- Birch, Burch
- River Birch, Betula nigra. This tree is most useful in
stabilizing stream banks.
- Black Ash
- Black Ash, Fraxinus nigra; Normal range is north of Ohio River,
probably a misnamed tree in the survey.
- *Black Gum
- Black Tupelo, Nyssa sylvatica. The Black Gum is often found
with a hollow trunk. Bees build there hives in this hollow, hence, the
tree is also called a "Beegum". Additionally , in the early pioneer days,
the hollow part of the tree was removed and used as a grain storage
container, called a "Gum".
- Black Haw
- Black Haw, Stage Bush, Viburnum prunifolium, usually a bush.
- Black Hickory
- See Hickory.
- Black Jack
- Black Jack Oak, Quercus marilandica. A small tree, the wood makes good
- Black Locust
- Black Locust,.Robinia pseudoacacia. A very durable wood.
Often used as the base or lowest logs in log cabins.
- Black Oak
- Black Oak, Quercus velutina. The bark of he Black Oak is said
to be the best for the production of Tan Bark, which is used in the
tanning of hides & skins.
- Black Poplar
- Possibly Eastern Cottonwood, see Poplar. The Lombardy Poplar,
also called Black Poplar is imported from Europe.
- *Black Walnut
- Black Walnut, Juglans nigra.
- Blue Ash
- Blue Ash, Fraxinus quadrangulata.
- Box Elder
- Box Elder, Ashleaf Maple, Acer negundo. A weak wood but the
pioneers made syrup from the sap and then sugar from the syrup.
- Horsechestnut family; Yellow Buckeye, Aesculus octandra; Ohio
Buckeye, A. glabra; Painted Buckeye, A. sylvatica; Red Buckeye, A. pavia.
- Giant Cane, Southern Cane, etc., Arundinaria Gigantea, can grow to
thirty feet. Small cane, Switch Cane, A. tecta. Both are woody stemmed
grasses or bamboo.
- *Cedar , Ceadar
- Eastern Redcedar, Juniperus virginiana. Used for fence
posts, etc. Much over harvested.
- Cedar Elm, Ceader Elm
- Cedar Elm, Ulmus crassifolia.
- Black Cherry, Prunus serotina; Common Chokecherry, P. virginiana.
Used for fine furniture and cabinets. Edible fruit used to make jelly,
preserves and wine
- Chestnut, Chesnut
- American Chestnut, Castanea dentata, now most killed
by chestnut blight, an introduced fungus disease.
- Chestnut Oak
- Chestnut Oak, Quercus prinus. Used for baskets and chair
bottoms. Also used for tannin, furniture and railroad ties.
- Probably a Chinkapin Oak, however there is a slight possibility
of the Allegheny Chinkapin, a type of chestnut, appearing in southern
- Chinquapin Oak, Chincapine Oak, etc.
- Chinkapin Oak, Quercus muehlenbergii.
- Cotton Tree
- Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides.
- Crab Apple Tree
- Southern Crab Apple, Malus angustifolia; Sweet Crab Apple,
- Cucumber Tree
- Cucumbertree, Magnolia acuminata.
- Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum. In Middle Tennessee, seen only
along the Tennessee River from Alabama to Kentucky. A swamp dweller,
this is a valuable lumber tree and is used in construction and many
- Usually a Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida or Alternate-leaf
Dogwood, Cornus alternifolia. An old mountain tale tells us that
Jesus died on a cross made of dogwood. Because of that event, the
dogwood is accursed to always to grow twisted and spindly. Others say it
was the willow tree, not the dogwood, that was used to make the cross.
- American Elm, Ulmus americana now most killed by Dutch elm disease,
also see Slippery Elm.
- ? Seen in 2nd District survey #792.
- See Black Gum; Sweet Gum.
- Hackberry, Celtis occiddentalis.
- Haw Bush, Hawsbush
- Possumhaw Virburnum, Viburnum nudum, southern middle Tennessee, also
see Black Haw. Those mountain men that lived beyond the fringe of advancing
civilization were called "haw eaters". Also Possum Haw, Ilex decidua, see
- *Hickory, Hickry, Hickro
- Shagbark Hickory, Cayra ovata; Shellbark Hickory, C. laciniosa;
Mockernut Hickory, C. tomentosa; Pignut Hickory, C. glabra; Bitternut
Hickory, C. cordiformis. Early settlers used the wood for running gear
on wagons. The Hickory has been heavily harvested for tool
handles many years ago, therefore they are not seen in all areas in their
- American Holly, Ilex opaca; Possum Haw, also known as Deciduous
Holly, Ilex decidua. The wood of the holly was used for cabinets. See
- Honey Locust
- Honey Locust , Gleditsia triacanthos. Used for fence posts, rails, hubs
of wheels , etc. This tree has long thorns and is said to have been planted
as a defensive wall around Fort Loudoun in East Tennessee to deter Indian
- Eastern Hophornbeam, often called Ironwood, Ostrya virginiana,
likes dry soils; wood very strong, used for fence posts and tool handles.
The American Hornbeam, also called Ironwood, Blue Beech & Water Beech,
Carpinus carolina, likes bottom lands, wood is used for levers and tool
- Very hard wood. It is also called lever wood in some areas.
- Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia. A shrub, Beautiful flowers.
Cherokees called it "spoon wood" as they made spoons from it. The leaves
are said to be harmful to cattle. Some bee keepers believe that the honey
made from the flowers is poisonous.
- See Black Locust.
- Lynn , Lyn , Linn
- Linden, Basswood, Tilia. Has soft white wood.
- Maple , Acer; Red Maple, A. rubrum; Silver Maple, A. saccharinum;
See Box Elder, Sugar Tree.
- Maplellow, Mapellow
- ?, found on 2nd Dist. surveys Nos.527 & 1046.
- Red Mulberry, Morus rubra. The wood is used in fencing &
boatbuilding. The fruit is used for hog and poultry feed.
- Oak, Oake
- Oak, Quercus. Makes good whisky barrels.
- Paw Paw, Pappaw, Papaw, Pauppaw, Poppaw
- Pawpaw, Asimina triloba. Sweet, wholesome fruit. Some folk tales say
that the Pawpaw is connected to witchcraft and devil worship.
Pioneers made bread and pudding from the fruit. A good place to find a
opossum is in the pawpaw tree, eating the fruit.
- An import, originally from Persia. Introduced on the Cumberland
River area in the 1780's. Peach brandy was one of its many uses.
- Common Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana. Edible fruit. During the
Civil War, Southerners used roasted persimmon seeds as a coffee
- Shortleaf Pine, Pinus echinata; Virginia Pine, P. virginiana;
Pitch Pine, P. rigida; Loblolly Pine, P. palustris : Also see Spruce Pine.
Early settlers used the resin for pitch and tar.
- Pin Oak
- Pin Oak, Swamp Spanish Oak, Quercus palustris.
- Plum, Plumb
- The Chickasaw Plum, P. angustifolia, was used to make good old
Tennessee Plum Brandy. American Plum, Prunus americana. Flatwoods
Plum, P. umbellata. Hortulan Plum, P. hortulana; Mexican Plum, P. mexicana.
The Yellow Tulip Poplar
Tennessee State Tree
Beautiful images like the one above and further information on trees
marked with * can be viewed at the
Wildlife Neighbors of the Williamsburg Area
- Poplar, Popular
- Yellow-poplar , Tulip Poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, Tennessee State
Tree. This tree has existed since prehistoric times. Southern women
sometimes floated the tulip like blossoms in a bowl of water as a
centerpiece. See Black Poplar.
- Post Oak
- Post Oak , Quercus stellata. Used for wagon hubs and fence posts.
- *Red Bud
- Eastern Redbud, Judas-tree, Cercis canadensis. Some folks
believe this tree is bewitched as Judas is said to have hanged himself
from this kind of tree.
- Red Elm
- See Slippery Elm.
- Red Haw
- See Haw Bush.
- *Red Oak
- Northern Red Oak, Spanish Oak, Quercus rubra; Southern Red Oak,
- Sassafras, Sassafras albidum. Soft wood, bark, twigs and roots used
as medicine and for flavoring . The roots were used for tea. Bark was
used to make orange dye for homespun clothing. In Louisiana,
the Choctaw Indians powered the sassafras leaves and made Gumbo f´let for
use in Gumbo soup.
- Scaley Bark Hickory
- See Hickory.
- Service Berry
- Serviceberry, Sarvis berry, small trees and shrubs.
Amelanchier. . A folk tale is that the Serviceberry is so called
because the berries were used to make wine used for religious services.
Another version is that in the spring when the Service Berry would bloom,
the Circuit Ridding Ministers would show up for the first religious
services of the year.
- Slippery Elm, Red Elm
- Slippery Elm, Ulmus rubra.. The inner bark is used medicinally.
Slippery Elm tea is said to cure a sore throat.
- Sour Oak
- Sourwood, Sowerwood
- Sourwood , Oxydendrum arboreum. Wood was used for tool handles,
sled runners, etc. The leaves are said to have medicinal qualities . The
Sourwood flowers are attractive to bees and Sourwood honey is considered a
- Spanish Oak
- Scarlet Oak, Spanish Oak, Quercus coccinea; see Red Oak. It seems
that many oaks have been called Spanish Oak.
- Spruce Pine
- Spruce Pine, Pinus glabra.
- Sugar Tree, Shugar Tree
- Sugar Maple, Rock Maple, Acer saccharum.
The sap is the source of maple syrup and maple sugar. The Rock Maple was
used for rifle stocks and some folks say it is slightly different from
the Sugar Maple and that the pioneers knew the difference.
- Swamp Oak
- Swamp Chestnut Oak, Q. michauxii; Swamp White Oak. Q. bicolor.
- *Sweet Gum
- Sweet Gum, Liquidamber, Liquidambar styraciflua.
- American Sycamore , Platanus occidentalis.
- Water Oak
- Water Oak, Quercus nigra.
- Water Burch
- See Birch.
- White Ash
- White Ash, Fraxinus americana.
- White Hickory
- See Hickory.
- White Oak
- White Oak, Quercus alba. Used for furniture, shingles and lumber.
Native Americans and early settlers also used the acorns as a food source.
- White Walnut
- Butternut, Juglans cinerea.
- Willow Oak
- Willow Oak, Quercus phellos.
- Yellowwood, Cladrastis kentuckea.
This article was published as part of a larger article:
Common Words in Middle Tennessee Land Documents
That article was published in the "Warren County Genealogical
Association's Journal, Vol IV, No 2, Summer 1995, and was a cooperative
effort of Myra Elizabeth "Lib" Chastain, Betty Moore Majors & Fred
Smoot. This updated version is published here with the cooperation of