Michigan forests are host to many vines, both native and
non-native. Do you know what you have in your woods?
Vines are part of the natural forest system and can
provide food and habitat for birds and wildlife. Good forest
planning and management can help you manage the system so
you keep your woods healthy and productive, according to the
goals you have.
This series of articles will explore some of the most
common vines found in Michigan. Some vines can kill trees,
either through breakage from the sheer weight of a mature
vine, or through strangulation by girdling. Yet other vines
can provide important food for wildlife. It helps to know
which you have.
To get a basic idea of which vine you are looking at,
here are some questions to answer.
1. Does it have tendrils? If Yes, then it could be
Virginia creeper, grapevine, greenbrier, or poison ivy.
These are the most common.
2. Is it smooth without tendrils? If yes, then it could be
oriental bittersweet or the native American bittersweet.
A good resource for identifying vines is online at the
University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point, website at: http://wisplants.
In Michigan, typical vines you may find in your woods
include Oriental bittersweet, Virginia creeper, poison ivy,
and grapevine. This article will focus on Virginia creeper
and poison ivy, since they are sometimes mistaken for each
other. The next installment will focus on Oriental
bittersweet and grapevine.
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
This vine often grows on the same site, even the same tree,
as poison ivy. Unfortunately, they can look very similar.
Hence the saying; “Leaves of Three, Let it be; Leaves of
Five, let it thrive” used to What Vine is This?
differentiate between the two tree-climbing vines by their
Virginia creeper can be beneficial for wildlife (for
example bluebirds, cardinals, woodpeckers, skunks,
chipmunks, mice, deer, and turkey eat the berries and parts
of the leaves), although all parts are poisonous to humans.
It can not only grow as a vine up tree trunks and walls,
but it can send out runners along the ground, and quickly
cover the area. Virginia creeper is very fast growing. It
can cover and damage a tree or shrub but generally Virginia
creeper vines do not damage the tree, as they tend to live
mostly in the lower portions of a tree. When cutting vines,
be careful to identify this vine because poison ivy looks
Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
Identifying poison ivy is your first task. Poison ivy is
often found associated with Virginia creeper, so you may
have both vines on the same tree. Both plants have leaves
that start out red. But Virginia creeper has a cluster of 5
leaflets, while poison ivy always occurs in clusters of
three. Leaves turn greener until fall, when the leaves turn
bright red and orange and drop, leaving white waxy berries
behind. One trick to identifying poison ivy is that the
middle leaf is symmetrical and on a longer stalk than the
two side leaves, which are mirror images of one another but
not symmetrical. Leaf edges are usually smooth, but can
sometimes be toothed or lobed, the side leaves often
resembling a mitten shape.
Poison ivy vines will have hairy tendrils, but no poison
ivy plant will have a prickly stem, like a raspberry. Poison
ivy vines are brown, attached to their support trees, and do
not have shreddy bark, like a grapevine. Poison ivy has
wildlife value, as birds and mammals consume the berries.
Control of Vines
Control and management of vines should be consistent with
your forest management objectives. If the objective is to
grow high quality timber, then elimination of many vines is
usually recommended. If you are managing for both high
quality timber and wildlife, then you will want to leave
some grapevines for wildlife and selectively manage the
vines. Like all decisions, the pros and cons must be
carefully examined before undertaking any action. A
professional forester can help a landowner evaluate what the
options are, including any cost-share possibilities that
might be available to help with improving the forest.
Who to Call?
Any management system should be implemented carefully, in
accordance with your forest management plan. Resources to
assist you in the use of chemicals include consulting
foresters and Conservation Districts foresters. Herbicides
should be carefully applied, as they can also affect the
trees that you wish to retain.
A Woodland Owner's Notebook
By E. Webb Rand
Pure Michigan – Maple Syrup, That Is!
My woodland is locked up in winter – an old fashioned
winter, with day after day below zero temperatures, and snow
covering its floor since November. I enjoy winter, but maybe
less than I did a score of years ago. Nonetheless, I have
made the most of it as I have some mighty fine looking
firewood piled along two-track roads for next year’s use.
Mostly ash, thanks to the emerald ash borer. I’ve also
enjoyed uninterrupted and good cross country skiing
I took a winter break, spending two weeks in the
Southwest, out of the cold and snow. A large billboard along
a New Mexico Interstate caught my eye. It proclaimed; “Pure
Michigan a great place to visit”. I am not much of a
billboard fan. However, this one seemed less degrading of
the landscape and made me somewhat proud to be a
Michigander. In the summer months, the Southwest lacks cool
weather, as much as Michigan lacks warmth during the winter.
What could be more inviting to folks with little water and
shade than tree-covered hills along a vista of the Great
Lakes? After three days driving on the return trip to the
snow-clad landscape of our state, there was the large “Pure
Michigan” welcome sign.
To some folks, “Pure Michigan,” might seem new, but not
to me. I first saw it decades ago. Then, in the spring of
2000, that “Pure Michigan” label took on new importance, for
that is the year I built a small sugar shack and started
making maple syrup in my woodland. By that season’s end, I
had poured a little over 17 gallons of maple syrup into jugs
that read, “Pure Michigan Maple Syrup.” I was pleased and
proud of my “Pure Michigan” woodland product.
To my knowledge, for decades, the only Michigan product
to be labeled as “Pure Michigan” is maple syrup. For that
reason, I suspect that Michigan maple syrup is the root of
the “Pure Michigan” campaign. I hope that Vermont is
My woodland sugar bush is small, about 3 acres of
northern hardwoods with sugar maples of tapable size. I have
14 seasons of maple syrup production behind me. Last season
(2013) was my best year with 22 gallons. I could have made
more, had I not run out of firewood, as the sap run went on
for several more days. The worst year was the year before
(2012) when we went from winter to summer temperatures in a
week. I only made 9 gallons. After 14 seasons, my average
annual production stands at 14.5 gallons per year.
During the cold of this winter, I had the chance to read
a few interesting things regarding the production of maple
sweets. First, a very interesting book entitled “The Fist in
the Wilderness,” a history of the American fur trade by
David Lavender. Most importantly, I learned what a prominent
place Mackinac Island plays in the history of our state.
Most people know it as a top “Pure Michigan” tourist
attraction. Two hundred years ago, Mackinac Island was the
hub of trade and commerce for North America. Nearly all
trade goods moving west, even those traveling via St. Louis,
first went through Mackinac Island. The valuable furs
obtained in trade went east through Mackinac Island headed
to New York and Europe. This lasted at least into the 1820s.
It is now quite a sight to see the coming and going of all
the tourists, but think of what a sight it must have been to
see the flow of trade, people, and the flotilla around
Mackinac Island 200 years ago. The French voyageurs, noted
for their colorful attire, might fit right in with today’s
Trading hero of the book, Ramsay Crook, in the summer of
1823, sent to St. Louis two barrels and sixty-six kegs of
maple sugar. It was produced in such quantities by the
Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of northern Michigan and
Wisconsin that he said he “could supply up to ten tons
annually.” Unfortunately the book does not say that the
trade in maple sweets was highly successful. I also suspect
that none of the barrels or kegs yet carried the “Pure
The second item I read is new research that claims it
“could turn syrup-making upside down.” Researchers from the
University of Vermont tested collecting sap from maple
saplings. The report claimed large amounts of sap were
produced. It proposed that 500 acres of natural sugar bush
could be replaced by 50 acres of land growing maple saplings
as row crops. The math in the article did not add up. For
example, it claimed 400 gallons of syrup could be produced
per acre of maple saplings. I suspect the author confused
sap and syrup in the article.
In the study the researchers cut off the tops of the
saplings, capped them with a tube, and under vacuum pressure
collected the sap. This doesn’t sound sustainable to me. I
can’t picture the sapling growing a vigorous new top to be
whacked off again the next spring, yielding large amounts of
sugar-rich sap. In recent years, the tapping guidelines for
traditional sap production from natural stands have gotten
more conservative. Tapping under the old recommendations
could start with the 10-inch DBH (diameter breast height)
class trees with one tap. A 15-inch DBH tree could take two
taps, 20-inch tree three taps, on up to a maximum of four
taps or buckets on trees over 25 inches DBH.
Now, the guidelines recommend not tapping a tree until it
is 12-inches DBH and never more than two taps per tree. I’m
more in line with these conservative guidelines and not for
lopping off the whole top of a sapling. If people want to
trade the natural woodland sugar bush for row crop sweets,
they deserve corn syrup. I can’t comprehend the “Pure
Michigan Maple Syrup” label on a row crop cultivated
Current data on natural maple resources indicate that the
existing untapped resource is vast and that planting and
tapping of saplings is not needed. Data indicate that
Vermont taps the largest percent of its maple trees, only 3%
of the available resource. For all other states, including
Michigan, it is less than 1%. There is much room to expand
production if market demand increases, but for now the
consumer appears satisfied with an inferior and less
As stated, last year was a banner year for syrup
production in my little sugar bush. It was also a banner
year for the 10 states surveyed by the National Agricultural
Statistics Service, with 3.2 million gallons produced, up
70% from 2012. The peak year of production was way back in
1860, the reported production twice as much as that in 2013,
and mostly in the form of granulated maple sugar instead of
syrup. It was the equivalent of 6.6 million gallons.
Production steadily dropped to a low in about 1970. Since
then it has been increasing. Peak per capita consumption of
maple sugar was 1860 as well with 27 ounces per person. In
1970, it was less than an ounce. Today, it is only 2.5
ounces per person per year.
When I look at these statistics I realize how fortunate I
am to have some maple woodland allowing me to be a maple
producer and consumer. Only 1.9% of households are said to
purchase pure maple syrup. The USDA estimates that Americans
consume about 80 pounds of sweeteners per year, that being
nearly all refined sugars and corn syrups. Maple syrup and
sugar comprise less than 1% of that market.
Maple syrup production is A LOT OF WORK! First, there is
the firewood to put up, buckets and equipment to purchase
and keep clean, trees to tap (often in deep snow), sap to
gather, haul, and boil, and finally, syrup to finish off and
bottle. Then comes the marketing. I quickly learned that my
syrup was too valuable to sell, but valuable enough to give
to family and friends.
Blind Squirrels and Acorns
By Dave Wellman
Beginning in the spring of 2011, a couple from L’Anse,
formerly from Gaylord, contacted me regarding their property
in the Gaylord area. We knew each other from the early
1960s. A forester friend, Jerry Lawrence, had been looking
after their woods for many years. I checked with Jerry,
knowing whatever I recommended to them would coincide with
Jerry’s plan. He was alright with me going into “his” woods.
Jerry passed away shortly thereafter.
In the fall of 2012, the owner and wife met me on the
property for their annual visit. These folks own 80 acres
near Gaylord, 65 acres of very nice northern hardwood,
primarily sugar (hard) maple and 15 acres of scattered red
pine planted by the family. The property was purchased in
1965 for $5,000. Several timber stand improvement cuts had
taken place. About 20 years ago, the balance of low-grade
logs were removed.
In early 2013, a couple of log buyers from the Grand
Rapids area had contacted them about their timber. I
remember that their offer was $60,000 for trees above 16”
diameter. Naturally, the offer was refused due to working
with Jerry and their concern for the woods. Several weeks
later the offer was $90,000 “because we are in the area and
can afford to pay more”. It was at that point that I was
called again regarding the timber sale offer.
We agreed to meet on the property with the two log buyers
to discuss certain issues. I served as the owner’s
representative to ask questions that should be addressed
before any forest owner should sign a timber sale contract.
One of our requests was to visit a nearby sale that the
loggers had been involved with. We were assured they had
been working in the Gaylord area since 1995 and had a lot of
The site we visited was about 2 miles away. The four of
them waited on the landing while I went into the woods. To
say the woods looked like a 500-pound bomb had gone off
would have been an understatement. When I came out 20
minutes later, the buyers had left and the offer was raised
to $110,000. Within two weeks, the offer was $150,000 and a
guarantee “within 7 years you can have another sale”.
I marked the woods in early fall of 2013; 125,000 board
feet were marked for harvest, of which 115,000 board feet
were very nice sugar maple. The sale was contracted to
Maples Sawmill in Hessel, Michigan, cut-to-length and pay as
cut. The harvest started in October and was completed in
December. The owners spent the winter in Arizona. So, a son
(one of three siblings) from Swartz Creek came up twice to
monitor the sale with me.
Stumpage payments came to $132,000. Of the total payments
we received $58,000 for the veneer. We almost reached the
$150,000 offer; but instead of having a “500-pound bomb
residual”, we have a well-stocked stand with hardly any
felling or skidding damage and most likely a stand that can
be returned to in 15-20 years.
I guess that if there is a lesson here, it would be to
start preparing your woodlot for a harvest as soon as
possible. These folks purchased the property in 1965 and
started their timber stand improvement (TSI) cutting
immediately. I expect there was a lot of good-size poles and
small logs to work with at the time of purchase. Each cut
was marked by a qualified and good forester.
The last improvement cut, 20 or so years ago, set the
stage for this harvest. The stand is now about 110 years
old. With some good professional direction in the beginning,
this couple has been richly rewarded. I know Mr. Lawrence
was grooming this woods for this sale.
The three siblings that will inherit this wonderful woods
will be responsible for its continued good management,
thanks to the good direction of their parents. We are
presently working to get the property enrolled in the
Qualified Forest Property Program.
Because of his early unexpected passing, I feel very
grateful that Jerry turned it over to me. So, Jerry when I
see you on the other side, I’m going to try to sneak-in a
case of Labatt’s with me to repay you.
Trailer: Dave Wellman is a long-time forester and
strong supporter of the MFA. He lives in Indian River with