Flash In The Pin
In the last month we collected data in the timber at Duck Creek, Mingo and a few of our other forested conservation areas in Southeast Missouri. This information will help us monitor the decline and recruitment of various tree species within the timber. While I was out there, I saw something that caught my eye. Like mining for gold, I saw a flash in the pan, or in this case, a flash in the pin.
This year, pin oak seedlings were widely distributed throughout Duck Creek's and Mingo’s timbered units. In certain places, there were more than 500 seedlings within a 10-foot square area, creating a green carpet of tiny trees on the forest floor. Although the density of seedlings was not always this high, the presence of pin oak seedlings across the pools was fairly consistent. This was pretty atypical and exciting to see.
Widespread decline of bottomland hardwoods
Most bottomland hardwood forests in the United States today have a common problem. The forests that have red oaks like pin, willow or cherrybark oak in the overstory are aging and starting to decline. Most of the older trees at Duck Creek and Mingo are 80 to 100 years old and starting to fall out. Growing underneath them is a different forest community. Instead of another generation of oaks, the species coming up consist of maples, ash, elm and sweet gum. Having a diverse stand isn’t necessarily a problem, but when you are talking about a total shift in communities within the next 20 years, this raises an alarm.
Having a good crop of pin oak seedlings gives us the opportunity to recruit these small trees and help them move from the forest floor, to the midstory and, finally, into the overstory. If you don’t have any seedlings, you don’t have anything to work with.
Red oaks are not shade-tolerant. They require light in canopy gaps to grow and mature. They are also slow-growing trees and may be temporarily out-competed by other fast-growing tree species. Our timber stand improvement work tries to provide the right conditions and reduce the competition so that these oaks have a better chance to make it to the forest canopy.
For example, this year along Thompson Ridge we treated trees in the midstory with a technique called “hack-and-squirt.” Species such as ash, elm, sweet gum and maple in the midstory were treated with herbicide so that more light can reach