Monday, September 20, 2010

Trees in a Clearing

I always enjoy running across a Beech tree. Across the entire property I’ve probably encountered fewer than a dozen specimens. This is a small example of the species, but it still displays a handsome collection of leaves beginning to show their autumn colors.

I found the Beech growing in this small opening in the cedars. The hole in the canopy isn’t more than 20 feet in diameter and wouldn’t take more than a couple of good trees to fill it. I wonder what the chances are that the Beech could win against its competitors and claim a position in the canopy.

The primary competition for sunlight is going to come from various oaks. This species can be particularly difficult to accurately identify. Although the various characters predominately point to Blackjack Oak, Quercus marilandica; this is a species that crosses to produce a number of different hybrids. Someday I’ll have to spend time studying the different trees to see if I can identify what types of crosses are growing here. Regardless of the parentage, these are rapidly growing trees that would have no trouble overtopping the Beech.

Fragrant Sumac, Rhus aromatica, is a shrub that will not hinder the growth of the Beech. Maximum height of this shrub is usually around ten feet. The branches tend to lean as they grow, so most of the specimens are more sprawling than upright. As an understory species it often supports itself on the branches of taller trees and works its way upward in this manner.

Chinquapin Oak, Quercus muehlenbergii, seedlings can be found just about anywhere at Blue Jay Barrens. This species doesn’t seem to put on the rapid growth of most other oak species. Instead of racing toward the sunlight, Chinquapin Oak progresses slowly and seems to get left behind as stunted specimens in the understory.

Shingle Oak, Quercus imbricaria, is another fast growing oak species. The oaks already have a head start on the Beech and will probably end up shading it as they move to fill the available space. It’ll be a few years before a clear winner will be decided and it’s hard to predict the outcome with any real certainty. The competition should be interesting to watch.


  1. Beech is always a treat here in Missouri, it grows naturally only in the extreme southeastern part of the state.

    I would say that first oak is a hybrid between blackjack oak and black oak (Q. velutina). But as you mention determining the parentage of oak hybrids can be a tricky thing.

  2. Ted- I agree with your thoughts on the hybrid oak. That cross is normally refered to as Quercus bushii and the literature confirms that it is in this area. The description I have matches the trees I'm checking; although there is quite a bit of variability within the hybrid. I've not seen any research on the characteristics of the second generation hybrids. That may account for some of the oddities I find.

  3. I would imagine backcrosses with one of the parents are more likely than F2 hybrids due to pollen swamping. One would have to think there is a fertility penalty to prevent the development of a "hybrid swarm" in the area - or maybe there is one!

    Still, I would suspect the F1 hybrids to exhibit the greatest amount of variability.