Wolf Tree

Wolf Trees are commonly encountered along the edges of rock walls.

These trees are large individuals that have a large diameter trunk and a widely spreading crown. There is also a good chance that a wolf tree will have some or even extensive damage. This may be a large limb that has broken away from one side of the tree or the top being blown out, usually from a lightning strike.

Wolf trees are the result of having grown in an open area. In many cases these trees were once in or at the edge of an open field. Wolf trees were initially left when forest was cleared to create a pasture or they got their start in an existing pasture and somehow managed to remain despite their cleared surroundings. Since a wolf tree once grew free of competition with other trees they were able to grow wide, broad crowns.

The growth form of wolf trees also opens them up to a few potential hazards once they attain a mature size. These are the reason you find many wolf trees show evidence of being damaged sometime in the past.

The first problem is the size and girth of the main branches. In the open these parts of the tree often grow with some lateral tilt to them, rather than more strait up and down like they do in forest grown trees. Ice storms and wind can exert pressure sideways or downward on these heavy structures and cause them to snap. These same forces can also work on straighter and less heavy branches of non-wolf trees but the results tend to be less dramatic. A second problem is that wolf trees have typically spent a large part of their life being the highest point around, at least in their immediate area. Lighting is attracted to the uppermost point and when a tree is struck it may blow out the top most portion of the tree. This can lead to a flatter looking tree and one that is forced to spend a number of years adjusting its growth form. The next highest part of the tree, or a few parts of the tree, begin growing the quickest and will turn their new growth straight upwards.

a large wolf tree bordered by a rock wall

A wolf tree in the Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Hamden, MA