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 1780's.

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 firewood.

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 Middle Tennessee.

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, Malus coronaria.

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 commercial applications.

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 Holly.

*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 former numbers.

American Holly, Ilex opaca; Possum Haw, also known as Deciduous Holly, Ilex decidua. The wood of the holly was used for cabinets. See Haw Bush.

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 attacks.

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 handles.

Very hard wood. It is also called lever wood in some areas. See Hornbeam.

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 substitute.

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 site.
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, Q. falcata.
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 fÔlet 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 prize.

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 WCGA.

Copyright 1997