The trees that will one day fill the newly created woodland opening are already in place as seedlings and small plants crowding the forest floor. Growing in the perpetual shade of a closed canopy has kept the trees in a diminutive condition for many years. Though small, they are perfectly healthy trees and will take advantage of the sun’s energy to begin a period of rapid growth. It will now be a race to see which trees will claim a permanent position in the new section of forest.
The most abundant seedling is that of the Sugar Maple. Sugar Maples have a dominant place in the forest community here and their seeds easily germinate. Quick to take advantage of a bit of sunlight, Sugar Maples are an early favorite to win the race for dominance.
Mature Ash are less common than Sugar Maple, but their seedlings are just as numerous. This is also a fast growing tree and will shoot up as quickly as the maples. These could easily be the only two species to grow to maturity in the new opening. Slower growing species might survive, but their growth will stop once they are topped by the faster growing species. In order to end up with a mix typical of the surrounding forest, it is often necessary to cut some of the Ash and Maples away from the slow growers. It’ll be several years before I have to make any decision on that type of action.
I found a single Red Mulberry in the exposed ground cover of the opening. So far, there haven’t been any mature Mulberries discovered at Blue Jay Barrens.
Blackjack Oak is more often found in fields and fence rows outside the mature woodland. This is a species highly favored by the Edwards’ Hairstreak butterfly larvae, but the ants associated with that larva are not found in the woods. My management decision would be to suppress this oak in favor of another species from the Red Oak group.
Several species are present from the White Oak group. It would be nice to have two or three of these survive to become canopy trees. Historically, the forests of this area were composed of mixed species. That’s what I would like to see fill this opening.
Hickories are also standing by to enter the race. Hickories and Oaks produce large, heavy seeds that support an amazing number of mammal and bird species. The seeds are of a different type and arrive at a different time than those of maples and ash. The presence of both types of trees in the mix allows for a healthy and varied mix of woodland creatures.
On the far side of the clearing are young trees that grew up in response to earlier openings in the canopy. Most of those young trees are Sugar Maple and they grow so closely together that it’s difficult to walk through that area. This clearing will look like that in another 20 years, but I hope the species mix will be a little more varied.