Aside from being a funny-sounding word, a burl on a tree is actually a pretty interesting occurrence worth discussing. It is one of those natural phenomena that although it has a great explanation, the residual effects can be stunning.
Burls occur in trees when that tree is undergoing some sort of stress. This could be anything really, it could be some sort of injury to the tree. Perhaps some sort of pressure from the branches of other, bigger, trees that are weighing it down. Perhaps it is something even more internal like a fungus or a virus of sorts that begins to alter the pattern in which the tree grows. Although all trees can get burls, some trees are more susceptible to it based on the makeup.
When the hormones of a tree are disrupted it begins to grow in these weird colorful and swirly patterns that are much different than those that you can see in most trees. These abnormal growing patterns thus turn into this gorgeous bumps and lumps on trees. Although these are technically not the best for the tree, most trees can absolutely withstand burls, survive, and continue to grow.
In fact, tree burls must happen naturally. We do not have a way of making trees grow burls naturally, so because of this, they can be quite rare and have become prized art materials due to their beautiful and chaotic swirl patterns.
If that wasn’t awesome enough, the even cooler thing about wood burls is that not only do they not hurt the tree or affect its lifespan, but if done with care, they can actually be harvested without chopping down or hurting the rest of the tree. It can take 30-40 years for a wood burl to reach its prime as far as the artistic swirls are concerned.
Finally and potentially the most beautiful thing about wood burls is that they are never identical. Like a human fingerprint, not one wood burl is the same as another due to the random stress and pressure that causes them to grow in the first place. As they age, the burls take on new shapes, swirls, and color and thus its natural beauty also depends on when you harvest the wood burl.
What does this mean for us humans? Well, I’d say that artists have found the most use for these magical tree growths so far. Due to the rarity, natural beauty of the swirls, and unique fingerprint-like nature, artists have adopted this as a texture in many different styles of art. Some paint on cross-sections of burl wood and incorporate the chaotic swirls into their artwork. Some turn them into beautiful wallets and phone cases by pairing it with colored resin and creating a thing surface. Some turn them into watches!
Ultimately, the burl wood is a pretty interesting thing that happens to trees naturally that humans have adopted into art. As we get further and further into the world of technology and modern manufacturing, I think it is supremely important for us to remember the true beauty of nature and how utterly magical it can be.