Too Much Sugar!

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

continue to take over our river hill forests will reduce plant and wildlife diversity.

The typical river hill forest overstory contains many different kinds of trees, including oak, hickory, ash, basswood, cherry and walnut. Beneath the canopy, you'll often find a rich carpet of wildflowers, native grasses, sedges, shrubs, understory trees and some seedlings.

When sugar maple dominates, very few of these plants can survive. The densely leafed canopies of sugar maples allow very little light to reach the ground. Most types of vegetation cannot tolerate such heavy shade, so very little grows on the forest floor, except other maples.

Oaks, on the other hand, have fairly open canopies. Even in a dense oak forest, a considerable amount of light still reaches the ground.

Maple colonization also means fewer acorns for wildlife. Acorns last for several months, and without them, many animals could not survive through winter. Most of our river hill forests still contain many oaks in the overstory. However, as these old oak trees mature and die, or are harvested, they will be replaced by maple instead of oak, and there will be few acorns for wildlife.

Maple does not provide much food value to wildlife. Deer and squirrels may eat maple buds in the spring, and birds might get some insects from the bark, but when a sugar maple seed drops in the fall, it either rots or sprouts quickly.

A lack of wildflowers, native grasses and shrubs in the understory of maple dominated stands means less vegetation for deer to browse, fewer insects for turkeys and other birds to eat, and less nectar for butterflies. It also means fewer places for animals to hide from predators.

Many landowners can improve their forests by controlling sugar maple. Many forests, including those in the southern Ozarks, have little or no problem with maple competition. In the river hills, however, maple control can improve wildlife habitat, promote diverse forest vegetation and increase the long-term value of the timber.

The River Hills region is one of the world's most important producers of oak veneer lumber. In some parts of Missouri, sugar maple can produce quality saw timber, too. However, on many of our soils, sugar maple wood becomes mineral-stained. Although structurally sound, such wood is not aesthetically suitable for furniture, flooring or similar uses.

Under the right conditions, a carefully controlled, prescribed burn can kill maple trees while doing little or no damage to your desirable trees. Prescribed burns mimic historical disturbances and stimulate growth of herbaceous vegetation.

Prescribed burns usually won't kill maples larger than a couple of inches in diameter. Herbicide is a better method of controlling larger maples, and is a good alternative in areas where prescribed burns aren't practical or desirable. Herbicide also helps ensure that treated trees won't sprout back. Killing maples with herbicide is easier than it sounds. Depending on the chemical used and method chosen, it can be as simple as making a couple of hatchet marks in the bark and spraying the marks with herbicide. Don't cut or girdle maples without treating them with herbicide. They will just sprout back, and your efforts will be wasted.

If you cut trees down just as they are starting to leaf out, they may not sprout back. However, you only have a short window of time to try this.

Unless there are no maples present, a timber sale will only serve to accelerate maple growth and domination. If there is maple present in the understory, you need to treat it before cutting the overstory trees to ensure that future trees will be oak.

After treating the maple, it is important to wait until oak regeneration is established before cutting the overstory trees. After you are confident that enough oak regeneration is present, you can harvest trees.

The Conservation Department offers assistance to landowners who wish to control maples on their property. If you don't have the time or equipment, you can hire a contractor. Cost-share money may be available to help cover costs. If you are interested in conducting a prescribed burn on your property, you can learn a lot from attending a burn workshop sponsored by the Conservation Department.

Conservation Department foresters and private lands conservationists are available to offer guidance on how to best meet any conservation objectives. Call your local office to get more information or set up an appointment. Working together, we can ensure that there will be some reds, purples, and yellows in our River Hills for future generations to enjoy.

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