Wood of the black locust tree is strongly resistant to decay. It does not have to be pressure-treated with arsenate and other noxious compounds before it can be turned into lumber, however most individuals of this species grow crooked, and are consequently not of much use as lumber. There are rare straight-growing, or “shipmast,” specimens, which are much sought-after. Organic grape growers, for instance, use them for trellises in their vineyards.
Dave and the Black Locust Initiative, of which he is president, are trying to preserve and expand the few remaining stands of shipmast black locust, once common from New York south and west to the Ozarks. Their SARE project involves locating stands of suitable trees, particularly stands shortly to be logged, and propagating them through cuttings and seed.
Dave makes cuttings from the roots, and plants them in cold frames to promote shoot and root regrowth. He reports a success rate on the order of 5%, low, but typical for this species. He also collects seed. Seed germination is close to 100%, but there are problems; black locusts only rarely produce seed, and, of course, since the paternal line of any wild seed is uncertain, there is no guarantee that seed from a shipmast locust will also grow straight. Cuttings, being clones of the mother tree, are a surer bet.
Dave reports much interest in the project on the part of the community. He has engaged the NRCS Plant Materials Center in Big Flats, NY, the Cayuga Nature Center, and Cornell University, among others, in his efforts, and has been teaching the techniques of propagation to high school students and other groups who come through to look at his project. He has also built a website, www.blacklocust.org. This project continues as FNE00-327.