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Planted trees with posted memorial plaques stand near a thicket of wild tree growth that has been afforded no such respect or recognition.

On my jogging route around the community college, there are trees planted as memorials. Each one has a plaque on a post bearing the name of the tree, the person who planted it and the one remembered.

Tree names etched into the plaques include noble varieties, such as eastern pine, sugar maple, white oak, and blue spruce. In one grassy area nicely populated with young memorial trees lives a large circle of wild woodland growth most likely planted by birds.

To clear the untamed grouping would be quite an undertaking at this point, so the groundskeepers simply trim the lawn around the unplanned growth as neatly as they do the planned. I have a plan for the unplanned.

I want to make a post and plaque for it and clandestinely install it just like the ones that represent all of those highfalutin nursery-grown trees around it.

The tree variety etching on the plaque would read: “Southeastern Thicket,” capitalized with authority. The memorial would be for Pig-Pen from the Peanuts comic strip.

My knowledge of tree species can be hit and miss. Dogwoods and silver maples are easy. I can always spot a redbud in bloom, and I pretty much know a Fraser fir when I see one — mostly from spending nearly 60 Christmases with them.

I have misidentified others many times before being corrected by someone more grounded in dendrology. (I didn’t even know that word before writing this column.) But I can pick out a Southeastern Thicket every time.

There is a huge Southeastern Thicket growing on my property, which used to be part of a farm with hayfields, horses and cows. Barbed-wire remains across certain sections, although much of the fencing is invisible due to decades of overgrowth.

The line of fence in my backyard has become a virtual forest. A linear Southeastern Thicket, it contains — confirmed by my tree-literate mother — walnut, dogwood, cedar, wild cherry, tulip poplar and locust trees, to name a few.

Growing under and up the trunks of every one of those trees is every variety of vine native to East Tennessee, including the big, hairy, poison ivy. I’m two years into my mission to kill the vines and untangle them from the barbed wire until I can remove the fencing and a few of the less desirable trees.

Chopping off the vines at the trunks of those trees is hard work that has resulted in a few patches of itchy rash. The reward is watching the vine leaves turn brown high among the limbs. I think the trees actually appreciate the purging of parasites.

Also satisfying is applying brush killer to the vines and other unwanted plants as the undergrowth attempts to reestablish itself.

Some might say I’m spending too much time and effort on rehabilitating this uncivilized row that used to keep livestock in check. But when I’m done, it will be a planned-landscaping marvel for humans and animals to pass through and enjoy.

And when it is finished, the plaque will read: Fence-Line Forest, in memory of poison ivy.

Contact Mark Rutledge at