Forests in a Looking Glass

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

counted. Four hickories comprise 19 percent and shortleaf pine 9 percent. The other 50 species make up less than 1 percent of the trees surveyed. Black oak is the most common tree, and white oak, the second most common tree, is increasing because it can live under tree canopies with a little less light.

Wildlife dens are found in 31 percent of the trees that are larger than 19 inches in diameter but in only 2 percent of the trees less than 10 inches. Seventy percent of the blackgum of the larger size had dens but less than 1 percent of the pine did.

We are also monitoring dead trees and branches on the forest floor on these plots. We will find how fast they decay and how amphibians, reptiles and other animals use them.

We are aging and measuring more than 3,000 trees. We will plot their locations on detailed soil maps to detect how fast trees grow on specific soil types.


Most plant diversity is found beneath the canopy. These plants are often more sensitive to changes and react more quickly than trees, so they are good indicators of forest health. Many people may remember when they first saw a ladyslipper or recognized a patch of mayapples, but few would guess there are more than 500 species of small plants growing in the forest.

Each summer, botanists visit 16 small plots, 1 meter by 1 meter in size, on each of the larger 648 plots to find what is growing in each. As anyone who walks the woods in the fall might guess, beggars' ticks or tick trefoil is the most common plant in the understory. Flowering dogwood, Virginia creeper, hog peanut and sassafras follow. Tick trefoil occurs more frequently on north slopes than ridges. Virginia creeper does just the opposite.

The botany crew also determines how much area is covered by rock, bare ground, leaf litter and tree stumps, plus the canopy coverage above the vegetation plots. Canopy coverage is the ground area shadowed by leaves from trees growing overhead. Excluding glades, most plots range from 75-85 percent canopy coverage.

Information from the botany study is useful to forest managers. The botany sampling shows there are less than 100 pine seedlings per acre. There are more than 1,200 white oaks of this size alone. If black, scarlet and post oak are added, the quantity climbs to more than 2,700 per acre. This suggests that

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