Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Choice Between Prairie or Woods

This small opening was created two years ago and is about 30 feet across. According to old aerial photographs, the surrounding area was once open and has been gradually closed in by invading cedars. Through the trees, you can see open field not too far away. It wouldn’t be hard to convert this area to open prairie vegetation.

In the other direction is a nice stand of mixed oaks. I’m still evaluating this opening to decide if I want to direct it toward open prairie or mixed oak woodland. Regardless of my decision, the cedars will have to go. Some people believe my type of active management is working against nature and encourage me to take a more hands off approach. Obviously I disagree with their opinion. Decades of manipulation brought this property to what I started with. Hopefully my manipulation will take it to a condition that will be of value to future generations. Whatever happens, my success or failure on 100 acres probably won’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things.

There’s no shortage of oak seedlings coming up here. In order for the oak seedlings to grow into mature trees, they will need more sunlight and relief from competition.

There are many competitors to both prairie and oak regeneration. Tulip Poplar is a rapidly growing tree that will quickly overtop oaks and shade out grasses.

Young ash are also tough competitors. This one foot tall tree could reach five or six feet by the end of the next growing season.

Sassafras grows quickly and produces a wide, tight canopy. This cluster of leaves can block a lot of sunlight.

This pair of Sassafras effectively blocks sunlight to the small oak on the left. The oak and the Sassafras are about the same age.

A shaded oak can remain at this size for years, waiting for enough sunlight to start increasing its size. However, it’s not one to respond quickly to available light and by the time it begins to grow, it can find itself once more shaded by its more vigorous neighbors.

The addition of more sunlight to this area has caused the small trees and shrubs to really jump up. You can see prairie plants here, but it’s the woodland that’s trying to express itself.

When you create a small opening like this, trees that grew to depend on the support of their neighbors begin to lean into the new space. This cedar was helped along by a heavy load of ice, but all of the surrounding trees are beginning to close the opening. I’m leaning toward directing this area to becoming an addition to the neighboring oak woodland, but I’ve still got a couple of years before I’ll have to make my final decision. This winter, I’ll cut the edge back about ten feet all around and then watch for the next couple of years to see what happens.

1 comment:

  1. I do love those Henslow's...and they seem to love prairies...but then again, those woodland warblers are nice too! :-) Interesting...