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Although not totally devoid of trees, much of the steppe on which the first Mennonites settled lacked tree cover. The colonists were first encouraged to plant trees by Samuel Kontenius, who also established experimental gardens and tree nurseries. Trees were planted for shelter, fuel, and fruit production in household gardens, village plantations, and other areas. Mulberry trees were established to develop a silk industry; the leaves were fed to the caterpillars of the silk moth. By 1825 Mennonites had planted 217,684 trees in the Molotschna settlement, but the authorities encouraged them to intensify their efforts, sending agricultural experts to give advice. One of the aims of the Agricultural Association established in 1830 under the control of Johann Cornies, was to accelerate forestation of the colony. Between 1845 and Cornies' death in 1848, the number of trees planted increased by 40 percent to number almost three million. By 1854 almost six million trees had been planted in the colony.

Although many colonists resisted the dictatorial methods Cornies used to enforce his policies on forestation and other improvements, in time they came to appreciate the benefits of trees in their colonies. Owners of private estates and settlers in daughter colonies also took up tree planting on a large scale. Mennonite expertise in this area was recognized by the establishment of the Forestry Service (Forsteidienst) as an alternative to military service after 1881. Even so, some of the timber planted during the 19th century was felled for profit by Mennonite entrepreneurs in the years before 1914.


Rempel, David G. "The Mennonite Commonwealth in Russia." Mennonite Quarterly Review 47 (1973): 259-308; 48 (1974): 5-54.

Author(s) James Urry
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Urry, James. "Forestation." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 6 Feb 2023.

APA style

Urry, James. (1989). Forestation. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 6 February 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 307. All rights reserved.

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