Amazing Little Trees

Grover Plunkett with Wendy Burton, founder of World Tree

By Loren Howell

Grover Plunkett teaches political science and history at Faulkner University. He is also a cattle farmer in North Alabama, and more recently, a tree farmer. Plunkett has been busy planting Empress Splendor trees on his family farm in conjunction with World Tree.

Tell us a little about World Tree.

World Tree is a company that is devoted to trying to mitigate the effects of climate change. Several years ago they started a plan that would get people to plant more trees. This particular tree that they’ve done so much research on, the Empress Splendor tree, they’ve realized can produce a great deal of marketable lumber. So they’re promoting the Empress Splendor tree to, number one, mitigate carbon from the atmosphere and number two, to generate an income from farm land.

Faulkner Magazine: How did you find out about World Tree?

A gentlemen at our church was telling me about some different ideas he and his son had to do with their property. I had been telling my family, my wife and daughters and son- in-law who make up our family business, I told them that we needed to be looking for additional income streams for our farm because cattle prices were falling. We needed to look for something that would pick up the slack and make our land more productive. We just had so much land that was not producing any income of any sort, so my daughter contacted World Tree.

Faulkner Magazine: Did you buy the trees?

World Tree gives us the trees for free with the commitment to plant them. We invest our time and labor. At the harvest, we’ll share the revenue with World Tree.

Faulkner Magazine: When did you start planting the trees?

In the late summer of 2018 we began to plant Empress trees. We should have nearly 300 acres planted at the end of the planting season, which is the end of May. By the end of this year we will have close to 20,000 trees planted. It’s a lot of trees but it’s an amazing little tree

Faulkner Magazine: What makes this tree so amazing?

This tree is the fastest growing hardwood tree in the world and it mitigates 11 times more carbon than anything else out there. We have some trees that are approaching 8 inches in diameter after two years. You can almost watch it grow. The tree re-grows from the stump once you cut it, up to seven times.

 There’s an amazing amount of nectar in the blossoms of these trees, and it’s a special nectar that bees turn into a special type of honey that is low in fructose and sucrose. Because of that’ it’s a honey that diabetics can eat without spiking their blood sugar.

Faulkner Magazine: When will you harvest the trees?

Probably the first trees will be harvested in 2025, and beginning in 2025 we will harvest trees every year. And when I say every year, if you plant 20 acres of these trees every year for 10 years, because the tree re-grows from the stump once you cut it, it will generate a perpetual income for 490 years.

Faulkner Magazine: What can the lumber be used for?

It is 30% stronger than pine, so anything that you would use pine for structurally this is perfectly good for that. It’s great for veneer. It’s used in wall paneling, musical instruments. It’s also used to produce sporting equipment like surfboards, kayaks and canoes. And the folks that use surfboards, kayaks and canoes are usually environmentally conscious people so they want to move away from fiberglass and go with something that’s more environmentally friendly.

Faulkner Magazine: Did the environmental aspect of planting these trees play a role in your decision to work with World Tree?

We’re cattlemen. We have a lot of cattle on our place in North Alabama. The beef industry has been attacked by environmentalists who claim that our cattle are a detriment to the environment, that we are somehow adversely affecting the atmosphere because of methane gasses that are emitted by cattle. But if we complete our goal by planting 2,500 acres of these trees then we will mitigate the carbon footprint of every cattleman of Alabama.

Faulkner Magazine: What’s next?

Everything that we do is all about our family, my grandchildren and my children. Proverbs 13:22 teaches that “a righteous man will leave an inheritance to his children’s children.” I try to think generationally and instill in my children and grandchildren a love for the land and the security of having a place that will be home as long as they want it to be. I love these words of George Eliot:

            “A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of

native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the

face of the earth, for the labors men go forth to, for the sounds

and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home

a familiar unmistakable difference amid the future widening of

knowledge… The best introduction to astronomy is to think of

the nightly heavens as a little lot of stars belonging to one’s

own homestead.”

We’re doing this to create a way in which we can retain the agricultural character of our land and produce an income from it that would allow my children and grandchildren to live there and make a good living off of cattle and timber and honey for a long, long time.

The big reason most young people don’t want to be farmers is that you don’t make a lot of money. You’re working like crazy and you just don’t ever make a lot of money, and so we’re losing farmers every day. We’re losing farmland at a rate of about 40 acres per minute to development. Somebody has got to make farming attractive to young people so that they’ll stay there and try to sustain an ongoing farming operation.