A Lot of Gall

gall 1.JPG

This gorgeous piece of work is in the woods at Fallen Timbers. Let me give you some sense of scale. When I stand beside it (all of my five feet and nine inches), my head comes about to the middle of this gall. My fingers can just touch when I reach around the trunk of the (otherwise healthy) white oak tree it is growing on. This gall is easily three feet in diameter. That is one big chunk of gall.

I do not know the specifics of gall growth, though what I can find says they are caused in some way by insects that enter the plant and somehow stimulate the growth of the plant’s cells at a rapid rate. The insects then can live in the gall — or live one stage of their lives — safe from predators. I suppose some version of that has happened here. I’ve never seen any insects emerging from anywhere on this gall, but this oak is located in one of the more inaccessible areas of Fallen Timbers, and I would be less likely to hike there in the summer when insects are more active.

I know that some woodcarvers prize galls for their craft, but I don’t know how anyone could possibly get this gall out of our forest in one piece. First of all, the oak tree would have to be taken down. That alone might smash the gall. Then the gall would have to be removed (or the length of the trunk bearing the gall would have to be separated from the rest of the trunk). Then someone with super powers greater than my own would have to lift the massive gall into the bed of a truck, if a truck could even be lead down to this point in the forest. (Note: trespassing would be required.) And it may be that the gall is hollow or rotten or infested or otherwise unuseable. Who wants to go to all that trouble just to find out it’s a rotten gall?

I wonder if I have a record holder. Is there some gall registry I could check?

Here is a picture of the backside of the gall. Looks monstrous, doesn’t it?

gall 2.JPG

17 Responses to “A Lot of Gall”

  1. Wayne Says:

    When I stand beside it (all of my five feet and nine inches), my head comes about to the middle of this gall.

    So Pablo… which one is you?

    Galls are neat. Imagine the insect inside that one! (Actually it may be crown gall, caused by a bacterium, but who knows what lurks at Roundrock?)

  2. Melissa Says:

    Amazing. Here in Oregon, I’ve been noticing all the galls on the white oaks, even collecting some for home, but our galls are not like this. Perhaps I haven’t gone deep enough into our neighborhood wood.

  3. bill Says:

    Wow. I have never seen one anywhere near that large.

  4. Jude Says:

    Most interesting. There are trees in the bush where I walk with growths like that on their trunks. I had always presumed them to be termite nests – they are too high to examine closely, but I’ll look again. On the other hand, elsewhere in Australia it is common to see a naturally occuring bump on a tree that we refer to as a ‘burl’. These are not caused by insects – according to the dictionary a burl is ‘a roundish warty outgrowth from certain trees’, where as a gall is, as you said, ’caused by certain parasitic insects, fungi or bacteria’.

    I have a large, rough wooden bowl about 18″ across that was carved from a burl. It was harvested by a woodworker using a chain-saw, but the tree trunk was left intact. I’ve been told that woodworkers can obtain a permit to harvest so many burls per year from trees in govt. controlled forests.

    Your gall appears to be too fragmented and crumbly to be shaped by a woodworker, but it would be interesting to find out whether it might be possible.

  5. Wayne Says:

    What’s inside that warty corky outside may be amazingly smooth wood. I really would love to know if it’s caused by Agrobacterium tumefaciens – crown gall disease, which attacks many many species of plants.

    Pablo has inspired me to a post on the subject, but for the time being – how can tiny bacteria produce such a gall? They inject the plant cells with their own DNA that cause the plant cells to proliferate like a tumor. In the same DNA are the instructions for those cells to make an amino acid that only the bacteria can eat. Genetic colonization is fun, no?

  6. dread pirate roberts Says:

    a friend carried his chainsaw with the 6′ bar several miles into the forest in northern ca to take slices from a very large maple burl. one trip for the saw and then one trip per slab as they were very heavy. he gave me a 2″ slice which i smoothed off to make a cutting board about 14″x24″. i have been preparing food on this board for over 30 years. galls and burls may be the same thing.

  7. the farmers wife Says:


  8. mark Says:

    I visited with a guy on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington once who made furniture – big tables and chairs – from galls (as I recall he used gall and burl interchangeably). Most of them were 4 inches or so thick, and 2-4 feet in diameter, and beautiful. Many of the hotels and lodges up there had his furniture.

  9. Rurality Says:

    I’ve seen a big gall like that before, but it was on a huge tree, and very high up… (maybe the crown gall Wayne talked about?)

    That is really strange. But interesting. But strange!

  10. Walter Jeffries Says:

    Wow, that is very different than any I have ever seen. I wonder if it is because it is caused by a different insect (or virus?) or if it is because it is on an oak and I’m used to seeing them on spruce. Huge!

  11. Spike Says:

    I’d really like to understand the chain of events that led to insects that “know” about stimluating the cell growth of trees.

    Did some insects “take advantage” of burls, then co-evolve ways to make the burls better for themselves? Did the insects who were “galling” other plants give trees a try?

  12. LauraP Says:

    A most impressive gall, with much potential for speculation. Were it mine, I’d be torn over whether to let it grow in quiet seclusion or harvest it for some some clever, beautiful functional use.

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  14. vanessa Says:

    this gall is huge i have never seen one like it.

  15. Wolfgang Says:

    I just harvested my first gall yesterday. It is just like the one pictured but much smaller. It is approximately 10 inches thick and has a diamter (at the cut) of about 12 inches. The interior is a beautifully dense and burled grain surface. I have my eye on several more of these and hope to learn more about them. It was very hard work sawing through this thing. It took me over an hour. There was a very small hole at the perimter of the cut where ants came out. I hope to dry it out and then use it for lathe stock to make a bowl.

  16. martosupono Says:

    Gall on timber are commonly caused by bacteria. On Tectona grandis at Java island, Indonesia, gall caused by Bacterium tumefaciens. Surprisingly, timberwood which were infested by this bacterium has a good price. Those gall were used for furniture especially for table, which give an artistic touch.

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