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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The "Two Trees That Made A City" Story

Corner marker in Lancaster, PA, the Red Rose City.
It was an ordinary day.  Standing at the intersection of West Chestnut Street and North Mulberry Street in downtown Lancaster taking a photo of the cross-sign.  Two unassuming city streets that carry the names of two of the most important city streets as far as helping develop the city of Lancaster.  
Tomb of Thaddeus Stevens.
At the intersection of Chestnut and Mulberry is located the Shreiner-Concord Cemetery in which Thaddeus Stevens, known as the Commoner, is buried.  But, both streets are much more than that.  When the Stehli Silk Mill came to Lancaster, PA in the late 19th century, raising silkworms and making silk were major industries in Lancaster.  
Fruit hanging from the Mulberry Tree.
Thousands of Mulberry trees were planted in Lancaster and Lancaster County for feeding those silkworms.  Mulberry Street in the city of Lancaster was lined with these trees.  Mulberry trees thrive in warm temperate regions so Lancaster was a good place to grow the trees.  The white mulberry tree is the only variety of mulberry tree that silkworms will eat their leaves, so that was what was what was grown in Lancaster.
Silk worms eating the leaves of the Mulberry Tree.
Domesti- cated silkworms are entirely dependent on humans and can no longer occur in the wild.  The moths, which cannot fly, lay their eggs on the Mulberry leaves and the worms hatch after 14 days.  The worms feed on the leaves and molt as they grow.  After molting four times, the larvae enclose themselves in a cocoon of raw silk produced by their salivary glands.  Inside the cocoon, a silkworm transforms into a pupa that emerges as a moth in about three weeks.  
The nuts developing on the Chestnut Tree.
The moths reproduce and die within five days, but in this time the female manages to lay from 200 to 500 eggs to continue the life cycle.  The cocoons are dipped in boiling water to kill the pupa and help unravel the thread.  Each cocoon contains a single silk thread that is about 300 to 900 meters, or 1,000 to 5,000 feet long.  Raising silkworms became a major industry in Lancaster until new fabrics were developed and Stehli closed in the mid-1950s.  Since then Mulberry Trees have been on the decline in Lancaster.  
The "fruit" or nut of the Chestnut tree breaks through it's cover.
As for Chestnut Street in the city of Lancaster ... Chestnuts began to be found in this area of North America about 9,000 years ago due to a warming trend in nature; sound familiar?  The Indians who inhabited Lancaster County and the European invaders who came to this area were able to exist due to the Chestnut tree.  The trees produced not only nutritious nuts, but rot-resistant wood for building houses.  I'm sure many Chestnut trees lined the street that bears its name until about 100 years ago when an imported airborne pathogen began to kill all the Chestnut trees in Lancaster County.  It now seems that there is a social movement that is going to try to restore the American Chestnut tree by breeding these trees so they are resistant to disease.  How they will do that is a mystery to me, but then I'm not a scientist.  Perhaps a hundred years from now the Chestnut tree will once again sustain life and create lumber for housing once again in Lancaster County, especially along Chestnut Street.  One can only wonder about the future, but for now, it seems that the Chestnut and Mulberry trees have little influence on the city of Lancaster as they once did.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.    

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