Fallen Trees and Redbuds
My group’s plot was located off a private drive way on Gimghoul Road. This area is representative of old forest in Battle Park, meaning this plot has never been logged and has been largely undisturbed. The plot is on a steep slope that levels out to the North. My group catalogued 61 trees from 14 different species. Of the 61 trees that we cataloged, there were 23 Eastern Redbuds. I found this interesting, and something I did not suspect. Given that this is an older area of Battle Park, I initially thought the plot would be filled with mature trees. To my surprise, the largest trees were on the ground. Despite not meeting my initial expectations, I found our plot to be quite beautiful.
At first, I figured that dead trees were a sign of something wrong in the forest, but I really did not know anything about it. I learned that studies by foresters have shown than maintaining dead upright and fallen trees are a significant factor in successful forest management (Bull et al, 2).
In an old growth forest, signs of dead and dying trees are all over the place. Fallen trees are an important part of the forest ecosystem. The “forest absolutely requires death to stay alive” (Bull et al, 1). While no longer alive, they host a wide variety of biological life, from insects to lichen. These trees can also serve as homes to woodpeckers and small mammals (Bull et al, 3). Despite what I initially thought, having a certain number of dead trees is a reflection of a normal forest and does not have a negative implication. Once you can “recognize and understand the natural value of snags, dead limbs, and logs, they become more appealing to the human eye” (Santiago and Rodewald), and this is what happened in my case.
Our plot would look very different if these trees still stood. The fallen trees would have dominated the canopy of this plot. As a result, little light would have made it through to the understory. When these trees fell they created an opening and an opportunity. The result was a prime habitat where a tree like the Eastern Redbud could flourish. There were many things that could have caused these trees to fall: snow, rain, ice, the heavy slope on the plot, the nearby driveway disturbing their root system, or some infection. Regardless of why these trees fell, it had an impact on the forest around them. It is also important to note that this impact is completely natural. As a result, an understory tree spread due to the increased lighting and space and become the most numerous tree in this small plot. This particular tree, the Eastern Redbud, has always been noteworthy to me.
I tend to notice the Eastern Redbud when it blooms in the spring. Its eager purple flowers bloom early and always stand out against the background of the forest. I have always considered this to be very pretty. However, the first time I walked through our plot I hardly noticed the Eastern Redbuds. Since our time in the plot took place in the fall, these trees had no prominent flowers. They were merely small and kind of scrawny, but after our group identified all of the trees I realized this was the tree I notice in the spring. I was able to learn more about the Eastern Redbud, and it has some unique properties despite being a relatively common tree. Its Latin name is Cercis Canadensis. The “Eastern redbud is a native, perennial, deciduous tree which grows 15 to 30 feet tall and spreads 15 to 25 feet” (Brakie). As it names implies, this tree is native from the east coast to Texas and parts of Mexico. Chapel Hill is on the eastern part of its range. I also learned that this tree has a multitude of uses.
Both butterflies and hummingbirds “utilize eastern redbud for nectar. Honeybees use the flowers for pollen”. The tree also has medicinal uses. “Native Americans boiled the bark to make tea to treat whooping cough. Dysentery was treated using an astringent from the bark. The roots and inner bark were utilized for fevers, congestion, and vomiting” (Brakie). I would never have imagined the Eastern redbud to be such a diverse remedy. Furthermore, the tree’s flowers are edible and can be consumed raw, or cooked (Brakie). I have tasted sourwood leaves before, but I have not been too exotic on eating flowers. This spring I may give them a chance. However, I might not be the only one who eats the leaves, as deer and squirrels also eat the “buds, bark, and seed” (Brakie). In some parts of Appalachia, the trees wood is used for seasoning wild game and is referred to as Spicewood as a result (Wildlife Guides).
When I first saw the plot, I overlooked the redbuds and thought the fallen trees were an eyesore. I admit that I was wrong about both of these details. I now recognize the Eastern Redbud as a spectacular tree (year round), and I have learned that fallen trees are critical to a forest. These things are now my favorite things about this particular plot.
These fallen trees in our plot are merely continuing the cycle of the forest. They created homes for a variety of wildlife and created an opportunity for new trees to grow. Eventually, some Maple, Oak or Tulip-Poplar will fill the place that the fallen tree created. Until that happens, the Eastern Redbud will continue to flourish in this plot. One immediate result will be an extremely striking blossoming in the spring. This area of Battle Park is off of a private driveway, but it is worth seeing. I look forward to seeing how this part of the forest will continue to change and adapt over time.
Class of 2014
Asheboro, North Carolina
Brakie, M. (2010). Eastern Redbud. Plant Fact Sheet, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Bull, Evelyn, Catherine Parks, and Torolf Torgersen. “Dead and Dying Trees: Essential For Life in the Forest.” Science Findings 1.20 (1999): 1–5. Print.
Santiago, Melissa J, and Amanda D Rodewald. “Dead Trees as Resources for Forest Wildlife.” Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet. Ohio State University, Web. 12-1-13. <http://ohioline.osu.edu/w-fact/0018.html>.
Wildlife Guides. eNature , Web. 12–2 2014. <http://www.enature.com/fieldguides/detail.asp?recnum=TS0255>.