Did you buy a live Christmas tree this year? If you lived in the Menard county area 30-35 years ago, you might have bought one here at Starhill Forest! The Sternbergs planted 16 different species of conifers, beginning not long after they purchased the property. Many of these trees have grown up to be what we now call the Pinetum. However, decades ago, many of these trees were sheared and harvested as a “choose your own Christmas tree” operation! The trees were planted at random spacing with the intention that at some point, the sale of trees would end and the rest could grow up in a natural pattern of mixed species instead of rows. The majority were white and red pine with smaller numbers of other species.

Planting the first trees on the site in spring 1977. The small building at far right was the old shed that had been used for livestock along with the well on Well Mountain to its south. The shed rotted away decades ago, before that land became part of the Arboretum, and was in the fence line at the south border of what became the Pinetum, directly north of the old well.

The species and dates of planting were:

White Pine (1977, 1985, 1986)

Red Pine (1977, 1985, 1987)

Jack Pine (1977)

Shortleaf Pine (1985)

Southwestern White Pine (1981)

Scots Pine (1982, 1983, 1985, 1986)

Austrian Pine (1978, 1986, 1987)

Ponderosa Pine (1986)

Virginia Pine (1986, 1987)

Loblolly-Pitch Hybrid Pine (1983)

Norway Spruce (1979)

White Spruce (1980)

Serbian Spruce (1986)

Colorado Spruce (1983)

Concolor Fir (1982, 1986)

Interior Douglasfir (1979, 1982, 1985)

The severe drought of 1988 killed many of the smaller trees. Shearing and harvest was phased out by 1990 since few young trees were left to reach salable size by then, due to the drought kill. The survivors were left to populate the stand. The drought of 2012 resulted in the decline and death of several large trees, including many of the surviving red pines. What remains is mostly white pines with a few scattered red pines, Serbian spruces, and Ponderosa pines, likely a few others though we have not done a careful inventory of these trees. Most are not currently included in our mapped inventory.


The Pinetum site, looking south from what is now the south edge of the view lawn, 1976. You can see the road in the lower background at right, and Hawthorn Hill at far left.
This photo shows the same location earlier this year.











Today you can meander through the pines on several trails. We have been working to clear the understory where “weedy” trees and invasive species seed in and to clean up the debris from dead pines. Our 2020 intern crew completed a large section during the summer, and we plan to continue this winter, a project for which we would welcome a few volunteers!

A view looking back uphill through the Pinetum this year. Pines visible are white pines and at center a red pine. Most of these had been sheared Christmas trees that were skinned up by deer and left to grow due to the loss of lower branches. This damage usually happened about 6-7 years into the 8 year shearing cycle.
The 2020 intern crew worked hard clearing weedy brush under the pines this summer. There’s always more to be done!
Oh Christmas tree…