- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Hunters Bryce Iverson and Matt Kern made a bulging discovery on Douglas Island - the largest Sitka spruce burl they or local forest experts had ever seen.

Iverson, using his own height as a gauge, estimated the burl was at least 7.5 feet high, the Juneau Empire (http://bit.ly/1xVCyqW ) reported Wednesday. The massive growth dwarfs him in a picture.

Burls grow when a tree is stressed or injured. Fungi can cause burl growth on some trees, but no one knows what makes them grow on Sitka spruce, U.S. Forest Service research forest pathologist Paul Hennon said in an email.

“Something initially triggers the tree hormones to cause the rapid cell division and uncontrollable growth” not unlike cancer, Hennon said. “But it does not appear to be a biological agent.”

Burls don’t spread, he said. And far less than 1 percent of Sitka spruce grow burls.

“I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of an irritant that starts it,” he said. “But I can think of at least one place I’ve been that there are a stand of them . it makes you wonder.”

Burls are common in birch and redwood. Poachers sometimes kill or injure redwoods when they cut off burls for use as decorative furniture.

“The grain and growth rings can get distorted and be all wavy,” Hennon said. “The wood has a really just odd kind of pattern to it.”

Hennon said the Douglas Island burl is the largest he has seen. It’s so old, he said, there’s a hemlock growing out of it.

“I’ve never seen anything nearly that big . and I walk around in the woods a lot,” Iverson said. “I’m sure other people in Juneau have seen it, but I think it’s kind of cool to see - see what our forest can build.”

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com

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