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America's black locust reignsPosted Thursday, April 19, 2012, at 9:50 AM
Photo by Steven Foster For photo prints, go to www.stevenfoster.com/prints.html
This marvelous native tree is among America's gifts to the world. Often in this column I have written about introduced and weedy plants in our midst; black locust turns fair play in the opposite direction.
Our common black locust was fancied by early missionaries to be the Egyptian acacia that supported St. John in the wilderness. They were wrong, so it was called false acacia, thus the species designation "pseudoacacia."
It was introduced to Europe at a very early date with religious zeal. Some sources say seeds of the tree were first received from America in 1601 by Jean Robin, gardener and herbalist to Henry IV of France, for whom Robinia is named, the genus to which black locust belongs.
Others contend seeds were sent to his son, Vaspasian Robin, arborist to Louis XIII, and planted in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris in 1635. According to John Parkinson in his Theatrum Botanicum (Theatre of Plants) published in 1640, it was first grown in England about the same time by John Tradescant.
By the 1660s, our woodland waif was widely planted as a street tree throughout Paris and London. The love affair continues more than 400 years later.
Go almost anywhere in Europe or temperate Asia today, and the "Virginia -- black locust -- is widely planted as a street tree, and appears as if part of the native landscape. In his Sylva Florifera, published in London in 1823, Henry Phillips tells us that American Indians made a declaration of love by presenting a branch of this tree in blossom to the object of their attachment.
No doubt our native black locust itself was the object of desire. "Of all exotic trees," Phillips writes, "with which we have adorned our native groves, this North American stands first."
Steven Foster is a world renowned botanical photographer. He has published many books, including 2 for National Geographic
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