What is a Burl? Mother Earth’s Gift to Men

what is a burlThe appearance of a burl on a tree has been commonly ignored by many. But what people don’t know about it is that this is one of the most prized and rarest parts to come out of a full-grown tree. It’s even worth more than you expect. Spotting it is very easy for those who don’t know it. It is essentially a disfigured bump seen mostly in a tree’s trunk, or below near the roots formed by a wood grain, or the lengthy composition of wood fibers, that grows in large sizes.

What is a burl and how does it grow?

A burl is a wart-like, or any spiral/ twirled-shaped figure, wood-covered part of a tree. How it came out to such appearance is a mystery, but the wood grains have something to do with its formation. Their texture varies on its form, but burls are very hard. In fact, they are tougher than any of the other woods in a tree. Since burls can be seen on nearly every species of tree, there is no specific type where its growth is exclusive.

Burls are a product of a cell growth and division process. Its cause varies, but there are many possible reasons where it can originate. The common cause of a burl is tree stress. This stress can either be from improper and invasive management of a tree or the nature of its environment. Studies show that its appearance, despite how unhealthy its cause sounds like, is actually beneficial to the tree, particularly with their life-span. (We’ll talk more on that later)

Insects, virus or fungus can also be traced as major causes for burls. They tend to infest the tree, which produce injuries to its structure. Attacks near the tree’s roots push the abnormal growths within its cells.

U.S. plant physiologist Kevin Smith briefly discussed the how burls shaped into different patterns in his article about burl biology from a newsletter. According to him, burls form a distinct shape or figure by the contortion or deformation of individual wooden grains. Basically, the grains work until it is arranged into a pattern, making the shape of burls very identifiable—indeed, the environment really works in amazing and mysterious ways.

In addition to this, Smith also noted that other organisms such as bacteria, virus and fungi also work towards the creation of burls. Whenever foreign entities thrive on tree metabolism, the growth of the tree itself gets highly affected. Plus, burls are also strongly linked with inactive buds. But even so, it is difficult to come up with conclusions on the main causes of the development of burls.

How long does a burl grow?

Burls can only be seen on full-grown trees because of its size and necessity to support its weight. However, it takes a lot of time before a burl grows into its fullest potential.

Based on Smith’s studies on burls, it can take a really take a long time for a burl to fully develop. To be exact, the timeframe ranges from 30 to 40 years. While several attempts have been made to fasten its growth, unfortunately, all failed.

The different types of burls

Since burls can grow from almost any species of trees, multiple varieties are sold to the market varying in shape designs and forms.


Known for its blonde cream color, maples are one of the common burls available commercially. Stabilizing should also be done for buyers of this to prevent dramatic outcomes to the material, which is one thing you must avoid to happen if you have it.

Desert Ironwood

As one of the rarest burls available, obtaining desert ironwood is going to be a very difficult search. Its trees hailed from Arizona, but this burl’s colors glows when moved, which makes it a sought-after product in the market.


A walnut burl has many varieties, depending on the location it originated. But what is commonly seen here is how hard this wood is. Manufacturers make veneers out of this, which is essentially a covering for another material. Stabilizing is being made to softer walnut burls to harden its structure and also to preserve it.

California Buckeye

The color in this burl is indescribable, as it looked like it was blended to produce a contrasting yet appealing look to its onion-like shape. It hailed from Central California, which is a big market to burls.


Redwood has a soft texture compared to other types of burls. Only a few trees produce harder burls, but the popular thing about it is the diversity of its colors, some are red, purple, black, orange and even gold.

Black Oak

Tougher than walnut and even maple, Black Oak are harvested from Northern California and the southern part of Oregon. This one is hard to find though, as little to only a few good burls are produced and sold by black oak trees from its origin, since most of them are hollow and not of decent quality.


Growing up from western cities, Manzanita can be seen mostly on volcanic regions. Its colors are also an amusing one, as it ranges from red to pink, to support this burl’s very durable wood.

Hawaiian Koa

Less tough than other burls, Hawaiian Koa is exclusive at the islands of Hawaii, which produces its tree Acacia. Its glowing presence is distinct from other types of burls. Stabilizing this is advisable to pop out its colors more.

Why is it important?

Burls are prized because of its distorted beauty. Wood artists and craftsmen are using it to create sculptures and other materials because of the structure’s strange yet unique design and the durability/ toughness of the wood.

But regardless of its beauty, a tree’s life depends on it. Cutting down a burl from a tree is not advisable for the tree care takers. First of all, a tree only produces only a single burl on its entire run, and despite of its unhealthy causes, removing it will kill the tree.

There are few cases were trees can survive when a burl is removed from its system. The burl’s size must be observed before making the risk. The smaller it is, the chances of a tree dying are low. When it’s big, I wouldn’t recommend doing it enough. There are no assurances of this, but one must play it safe to preserve the tree’s existence by not doing it since once you start cutting it down, you are left with an open space that can make diseases and bacteria enter the tree’s system, making it weaker and eventually its death.

Burl collectors required other harvesters to cut the whole tree because it will result to its collapse nevertheless.

Perhaps the best way to harvest the tree is near to its death, which would take years and years of waiting so it will not be as harmful as making it when they’re younger. Plus, burls enlarge through time and buyers pay more to the burl when it’s heavier.

How much is a burl worth?

It is difficult to find a burl in the market, and buying it often comes directly from the harvest. Unknown to many, sellers tend to price this to very expensive amount, because of how rare it is and the life of the tree it grew from.

Its value is being expensively prized. Buyers and collectors of this product pay a lot to get a piece of it. The older the burl, which is typically larger in size, costs a lot more than anyone expects. The insides of a burl, the pattern of its shape design, also are a factor in the pricing. Of course, this still depends on the type of wood being used, which is very different from the other.

Markets mostly charge their burl products $3.50 a pound. But if you got lucky, some actually sell burls as a whole, which is cheaper and ideal since they are not cut to pieces.

An oak burl can cost about $100 for 100 pounds, depending on how much the seller offers it.

Online burl sellers have the material already designed into different furniture products, which costs $50 to $100 dollars.

Final caveat on what is a burl?

Well, basically, it is one of the most miraculous gifts of Mother Nature. While it may have a high market price, the preservation of the environment is more important than any monetary gains. So before you think of cutting out burls, it is always best to consider its environmental impacts.

Author: John Clax

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