All Things Maine
All Things Maine

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Greenleaf Davis and His Woodpeckers

Greenleaf Davis—known in some circles as "The Hermit of Mount Katahdin"—was convinced that valuable birdseye maple was caused by woodpeckers. So, he put woodpeckers to work near his camp in Patten.
"Within half a mile of my camp are 612 woodpecker nests. I have the largest collection of woodpeckers in the world, though none of them is tame or more than half domesticated. I have spent as much as $250 in a year buying meat to feed the woodpeckers. Nobody living or dead has studied the woodpeckers so much as I have, but the sum of my knowledge is small."
"More than fifty years ago I started in to induce the woodpeckers to help me make birdseye maples. This spring I had more than 1,000 birds in my employ for two months. On the sidehill overlooking my camp are about three hundred birdseye maples of my own make. I know every one of them, though nobody else can guess at the valuable trees. If I live a few years longer I am going to begin cutting, after which I shall have more money than I can spend. If I die I have left a record of every tree, so that the Audubon Society can market the wood and devote the money to giving protection to woodpeckers." [The Fort Worth (Tex.) Telegram, July 25, 1905]
Sadly, science has shown that pecking birds do not cause birdseye maple. Even now, scientists aren't entirely sure how it comes about, and have been unable to reliably reproduce the effect in a controlled environment.

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