The MacDaniels Nut Grove is a forest farming and agroforestry research and education center located in the Cornell Plantations Upper Cascadilla Natural Area. The 5-acre site, just east of Cornell Orchards, was originally planted in the 1930s by pioneering horticulturist Dr. L.H. MacDaniels (1888-1986). Neglected for decades, researchers and students began renovating the site and establishing new research projects since 2002.

Goals for the new efforts at the Grove include:

  • Education: Practicum in Forest Farming/ Permaculture Design Process, Work Parties and Workshops, passive signage and recreational use
  • Research: We grow a wide range of non-timber forest crops such as ornamentals, fruits, and nuts, grow mushrooms intensively, trial soil rehabilitation strategies, and trial plant guild matrices, such as juglone tolerant, medium shade, and wet soils guild
  • Outreach: Promotial materials, brochure, website; Management team of students, staff, community members. Document the site use and development, and revive Friends of MacDaniels work parties, gatherings, workshops, and newsletter
  • Facilities: Entrance and signage, improved trails, outdoor classroom is built, and additional areas are always being improved.

 

History

The now-mature trees at the MacDaniels Nut Grove were planted about 70 years ago by Cornell professor, Laurence H. MacDaniels (1888-1986). Dr. Mac, as he was known, was a pioneering tree-crops researcher. He served on the faculty of Cornell’s Department of Pomology from 1919 to 1956, but remained professionally active until his death 30 years later.

MacDaniels planted literally hundreds of nut trees in the Ithaca area, including walnuts, hickories, filberts, chestnuts, and pecans. The Plantations’ Class of ’01 Nut Tree Collection is probably the best-known planting. But the most numerous and greatest concentration of nut trees (more than 100) is on the 5-acre site along Cascadilla Creek then known simply as “the woodlot.” The site was cleared and terraced in 1923. MacDaniels planted nut tree seedlings and grafted promising varieties onto the rootstock in the ’20s and ’30s. The site was largely abandoned several decades ago and gradually reverted to unmanaged secondary forest, choked with a dense undergrowth of honeysuckle.

Dr. Mac left more than 39 cubic feet of paper in the Kroch Library archives, but surprisingly little sheds any light on the history of the MacDaniels Nut Grove. So far, we have not found any plot plan or map associating individual nut trees on the site with specific variety names. But it is clear that most of the hickories and walnuts were deliberately planted because of their obvious graft unions and the orderly rows of trees on parts of the site.

The identity of six individual trees is not in question. Remarkably, Dr. Mac’s original metal identification tags, bearing the name and accession number of the cultivar, are still attached. It’s likely that all of the original nut trees were similarly labeled, but the labels were engulfed by bark as the trees grew.
The species MacDaniels planted include:

•    Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)
•    Shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa)
•    Mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa)
•    Pignut hickory (Carya glabra)
•    Pecan (Carya illionensis)
•    Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
•    Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia)
•    Filbert (Corylus sp.)
•    Chinese chestnut (Castanea molissima)

Scores of hickories and walnuts remain on the site, but there is only one filbert and only three or four struggling chestnuts. (Most perished in the deep freeze of 1933-1934 when temperatures dropped to -35F.) In addition to the nut tree overstory, Dr. Mac planted edible mid-story fruit trees including pawpaw (Asiminia triloba) and persimmon (Diospyros sp.), which still survive on the site. An old notebook suggests that he planted blueberries as well, but none remain.

Although agroforestry did not exist as a recognized discipline during Dr. Mac’s lifetime, his experiences with nut and other trees culminated in his advocacy of a very similar concept called “tree crops agriculture.” In 1979 he and professor Art Lieberman published a paper in BioScience, “Tree Crops: A neglected source of food and forage for marginal land,” in which they described tree crops agriculture as:

…the growing of perennial crops in such a way that the soils are at virtually no time exposed to erosive forces, as contrasted with mechanized orchard culture. In its broadest sense, although primarily trees are concerned, the concept includes shrubs and perennial herbaceous plants …

.
He expressed his philosophy well in a 1977 extension bulletin, Nut Culture in North America:

“Planting nut trees is particularly appropriate because of the loss in recent years of the American elm to the Dutch elm disease and the decline of the white ash and hard maple in some areas. Fence rows and other areas now growing up to weeds and brush if planted to appropriate nut trees would contribute substantially to future food supply, erosion control, wildlife refuges, and in the case of black walnut, to a valuable timber resource…planting of nut trees for noncommercial purposes should be encouraged . . . . Whenever a shade tree is planted it might as well be a nut tree of one of the better varieties.”
 

Visit the Nut Grove

The MacDaniels Nut Grove is located adjacent to the Cornell campus, just south of the Cornell School of Veterinary Medicine and Cornell Orchards at the east end of campus.

To reach the grove, turn south at the intersection of Rt. 366 and Caldwell Rd on PALM Rd.. (See Google map below.) Take first right and park at end of road adjacent to Library Annex. (Do not block dumpsters or service area.)

Walk across field to the south of deer fencing surrounding Cornell Orchards to marked entrance into woods at southeast edge of field.


View Macdaniels Nut Grove in a larger map