Monday, January 4, 2010

Rocky Ridge

The Blue Jay Barrens landscape is all about the rocks. Narrow bands of strong limestone bedrock resisted erosional forces and remained in place while the surrounding area slowly wore down. I’m talking about the geologic erosion of the original rock when it took billions and billions (Sorry Carl) of raindrops hitting at the same place to make a noticeable difference in the rock surface. The limestone stayed in place and the surrounding rock disappeared. The result was the hills of Blue Jay Barrens.

It’s a rough life for plants on top of the ridge. The limestone that proved to be so resistant to the elements is also quite resistant to penetration by plant roots. Trees are often limited to the sides of the ridge while shrubs like this Leatherwood inhabit the center.

The ground drops steeply once you leave the ridge. This allows rainwater to quickly disappear, leaving the ridge a fairly dry environment in any season. Trees are more able to get their roots into the soil of the slopes, but it is still a pretty inhospitable environment.

Most trees on the ridge are shallowly rooted. The larger roots sprawl across the top of the rock layer. Smaller fibrous roots penetrate tiny fissures and holes in rock. The fibrous roots are the ones that would take water into the tree. I imagine that there are enough holes and depressions in the rock surface to trap water long enough for the trees to take it in.

Tree roots eventually grow around loose rocks and hold them in place. This stone, looking to me like a hedgehog, is firmly held by the root. The way the moss is growing on its surface makes me believe this to be a wild Chia from which our domesticated Chia Pets were bred.

Large blocks of limestone are exposed above the thin ridgetop soil. The stress of growing in such a rough area is shown in the damaged tree bases in the background. The stress associated with lack of adequate water increases as the tree grows. Trunk deformities and fallen branches are two of the most noticeable signs of stress.

This is the ultimate fate of the ridge grown trees. All display the characteristic lack of large penetrating root systems.

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