1902 Encyclopedia > Arboriculture > Arboriculture (Tree Cultivation) - History

(Part 1)


Arboriculture comprises all that relates to the culture of trees, and is one of the great divisions of agriculture; it is a branch of rural economy of much more recent date than either the culture of grain and herbage plants, or the breeding and rearing of cattle.

The culture of those plants which supply the food of man or nourish the domestic animals must have exclusively occupied his attention for many ages; whilst the timber employed in houses, ships, and machines, or fur fuel, was found in the native woods.

Hence, though the culture of fruit-trees and occasionally of ornamental trees and shrubs, was practiced by Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, the cultivation of timber-trees on a large scale only took place in modern times.

In the days of Charlemagne, the greater part of France and Germany was covered with immense forests; and one of the benefits conferred on France by that prince was the rooting up of portions of these forests throughout the country, and substituting orchards or vineyards. Artificial plantations appear to have been formed in Germany sooner than in any other country, apparently as early as the 15th century.

In Britain planting was begun, though sparingly, a century later. After the extensive transfers of property on the seize of the church lands by Henry VIII., much timber was sold by the new owners, and the quantity thus thrown into the markets so lowered its price, as Hollingshed informs us, that the builders of cottages, who had formerly employed willow and other cheap and common woods, now built them of the best oak.

The demand for timber constantly increased, and the need of an extended surface of arable land arising at the same time, the natural forests became greatly circumscribed, till at last timber began to be imported, and the proprietors of land to think, first of protecting their native woods, afterwards of enclosing waste ground, and allowing it to become covered with self-sown seedlings, and ultimately of sowing acorns and mast in such enclosures, or of filling them with young plants collected in the woods, - a practice which exists in Sussex and other parts of England even now.

Planting, however, was not general in England till the beginning of the 17th century, when the introduction of trees was facilitated by the interchange of plants by means of Botanic Gardens, which, in that century, were first established in different countries.

Evelyn's Sylva, the first edition of which appeared in 1664, rendered an extremely important service to Arboriculture; and there is no doubt that the ornamental plantations, in which England surpasses all other countries, are in some measure the result of his enthusiasm. In consequence of a scarcity of timber for naval purposes, and the increased expense during the war of obtaining supplies from other countries, planting received a great stimulus in Britain in the early part of this century.

Since the peace of 1815 the rage for planting with a view to profit has subsided; but there is a growing taste for the introduction of trees and shrubs from foreign countries, and for their cultivation for ornament and use. The profusion of trees and shrubs planted around suburban villas and country mansions, as well as in town squares and public parks, shows how much arboriculture is an object of pleasure to the people.

The progress of the Arboricultural Society of Scotland, founded in 1854 and now containing 600 members, is a further indication of the national taste.

Again, it may be remarked, that while isolated trees and old hedgerows are disappearing before steam cultivation, the advantages of shelter from well arranged plantations are more fully appreciated; and more attention is paid to principles of forest conservancy both at home and abroad.

In all thickly peopled countries the forests have long ceased to supply the necessities of the inhabitants by natural reproduction; and it has become needful to form plantation either by Government or by private enterprise, for the growth of timber, and in some cases for climatic amelioration.

In British dependencies the Government of India have acted with greatest vigour, having formed a State Forest Department, one object of which is the culture of the most valuable timber trees, as the teak in Malabar, Central Provinces, and Burmah, the Deodar in the Himalayan valleys, and Babool (Acacia arabica), &c., which covers large tracts both in South and North India, for the supply of railway fuel. The successful growth of Australian acacias and gum trees on the Nilgiri hills, mahogany in Bengal, and the spread of the cinchona cultivation on various mountain ranges, testify to the energy and skill with which the culture of exotic trees is carried on in British India.

Before giving a sketch of the present practice of arboriculture, it is necessary to premise that this article is confined to well-known and hardy British trees, to a few valuable foreign species, and to plantations made with a view to timber produce.

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