Sunday, December 4, 2011

Maples in Shade

Other than trail maintenance and invasive species eradication, I don’t do much management in the woods. I make observations of changes, but I don’t know of any practical methods of directing the change or if there is even a need to try. My woods is about a 30 acre block that stretches for half a mile along the north property line. By most definitions, the woods aren’t large enough to be considered forest and are much too small to support a woodland ecosystem. There are woodland blocks on neighboring properties, but these are small and fragmented. I do my best to maintain as many woodland attributes as possible and sometimes try to trick myself into believing I’m walking through a forest. This is difficult in the winter when you can see the woodland boundary in just about every direction.

One thing I’ve noticed is the increasing number of Sugar Maples moving into the position of dominant tree. Sugar maples are fast growing trees that are able to grow in low light conditions. They are in a position to rapidly fill in a hole in the woodland canopy caused by the death of a larger tree. As trees die or get blown over, the Sugar Maples move up to take their place.

The appearance of the woods doesn’t change much. There’s still a wide mix of species. The noticeable difference over the last 26 years is the increase in sapling Sugar Maples. Historical cattle access to the woods kept the understory fairly open. When I moved to the property, much of the woods was free of understory trees and shrubs.

There’s an abundance of different tree seedling species growing in the woods, but it’s only the Sugar Maple that manages to insert itself into the upper canopy. Despite the shady conditions, it manages to keep on growing.

I’ll continue to watch the changes. In another 100 years, they may well refer to this as Sugar Tree Ridge.


  1. And, you will be there in another 100 years observing, right? ;) I enjoy your walks through Blue Jay Barrens. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Lois. Maybe I'll still be around in spirit one hundred years from now.

  3. sugar maples are just a sign that your "forest" is maturing. Eventually it will become a climax forest of just sugar maples and american beech. The sugar maple/beech forest are a rare sight in todays age. When Columbus first got to the USA most of the eastern seaboard was a forest of that type of composition.

  4. Hi Anonymous. Pre-settlement forest on this property was mixed mesophytic with a strong American Chestnut component. Many species shared the dominant seat in the forest. When Sugar Maples develop in place of every lost tree, the species composition is trending toward a condition that historically never existed.