Maybe I should move?

catherinet(5 IN)April 30, 2005

Hi all,

I live in central Indiana. It just seems to me that alot of the woods around here just aren't very healthy. The trees aren't healthy, and nothing very interesting grows on the floor. Why is that? Is it just because of my location, or does it have to do with how Hoosiers live?

We own about 33 acres, and have let it grow undisturbed for the 23 years we've lived here (except for removing lots of honeysuckle). But even where the honeysuckle hasn't grown, it's just pretty bland. In the Spring, we mostly get dog-tooth violets and trillium. No ferns or any other flowers. Does this say something for this area, like it's polluted? Or are there some areas that just don't grow much naturally? Thanks.

P.S. In all fairness I have to say that I'm not really great on plant identification, and my 2 kids have required alot of energy for many years, and I haven't searched the woods like I used to).

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joepyeweed(5b IL)

part of the problem could be because you have "let it grow undisturbed for the 23 years we've lived here" ...

a midwestern woodland generally would have burned once in a while. this keeps the maples in the check and helps feed the forest. do you have alot of young maples but few if any young oaks and hickories? do you have alot of trees that are about the same diameter or about two similar sizes and nothing much in between?

you may be right about the woodland not being healthy but it probably has little to do with toxic chemicals or pollution...lack of distrubance is probably the largest contributor to degradation of your woodland.

you may want to hire a professional ecological consultant to evaluate your woodland for a prescribed burn - there is prep work that needs to be done that can take one or two growing seasons before it would be ready for burning.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2005 at 11:48AM
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catherinet(5 IN)

Thanks joepyeweed,
There is an assortment of trees and sizes. When we moved here, the pervious owner had mowed alot of the property, with only older trees here. We've let several fields grow up on their own. Most of the old beech trees have fallen, and there are old sugar maples, a few silver maples, a ton of planted black walnuts, which are growing everywhere now, old shagbark hickories, a few young and old catalpas, lots of cherries, old and new horse chestnut, a few sycamore and hackberries. I'm sure I'm forgetting some. I believe there were only 2 oaks on the property, but we've planted more - red and pin, and I'm finding lots of seedlings. There are also a fair number of 20-35 year old white pine.
We're always fighting off invasives. I also forgot to mention that a large creek runs through the middle of our property, through bottomland, and it floods half of the property about 1-2 times a year.
The idea about a professional ecological consultant is a good suggestion. Do you think a DNR person would be okay? Should I make sure the person we hire, has certain credentials?
We've worked hard here over the years, but I fear it wasn't in the right direction. We've also raised 2 kids, which seemed to keep us really busy in other directions too! Thanks.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2005 at 12:17PM
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Judy_B_ON(Ontario 5B)

"In all fairness I have to say that I'm not really great on plant identification, and my 2 kids have required alot of energy for many years, and I haven't searched the woods like I used to)."

Get yourself a good field guide, like Newcombs Wildflower Guide. You may find that there is more diversity than you think, especially in the wetland in the early summer.

Woodland ground level plants tend to flower early in the spring before the trees leaf out. Many, like the trout lily, die back and disapppear during the summer. So you won't see much except green during the summer. I like the various textures and shades of green found in a woodland, but it is much more subtle than a sunny flowering border. It certainly sounds as if you have a good diversity of woody plants. Why do you say the trees are not healthy? From your description your woodland sounds as if it has a nice mixture of old and young trees.

The black walnuts may be part of the problem, as they secrete a chemical from their roots which suppresses the germination of other plants. There are native plants that can grow under black walnut, you may have to search them out. Below is a link to what will grow under black walnut.

Here is a link that might be useful: Black Walnut info

    Bookmark   April 30, 2005 at 2:27PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

i would suggest a wildlife biologist. generally someone would do an assement of the biotic integrity of what you have and make suggestions on what to do to improve it if necessary.

raising kids is more important and time consuming than trying to manage a woodland. generally woodlands manage themselves - kids dont. And you it sounds like your woodland is in better shape than you originally described.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2005 at 6:44PM
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Fledgeling_(4b SD)

periodic burnings control lots of saplings and young trees that may crowd out hebicous species. Periodic burning may convert the woods to a savannah (or a fire-adapted woodland) with time, but that not a bad thing. Thats the natural state of the forest-prarie interface. Good fire- adapted speces are bur oak, roughleaf dogwood (shrub) and smooth sumac (shrub)

    Bookmark   April 30, 2005 at 6:53PM
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You could have it assessed by an expert in your area as suggested. They will be able to tell you the health and quality of the trees, the presence or absence of important/typical species, and so on. It has been my experience that lack of diversity is often a result of too much disturbance by humans. Very probably your woodlands were once completely cut to the ground and now are in recovery as is the case with virtually all woodlands in the east and midwest. Conversely, natural disturbances are interrupted, as in the case of fire (as already stated). It may not be possible to replace these patterns (burning for example) but they can be simulated. The previous owner mowing the property for instance simulated burning, albeit in an inexact way. I knew people in Florida who simulated fire by first mowing their pine forest, collecting the clippings, burning them, and then distributing the ash over the woodland. Talk about dedication!

Thirty three acres is a lot of ground, but once you know what's lacking, you could slowly replace the missing species. That depends on your interest and depth of your pocket book. Also, what are you trying to achieve?

Beyond that, rejoice in your great fortune! Anyone lucky enough to possess thirty plus acres of forested land is fortunate indeed. And of course, if you can, we'd all love to see photos of it.


    Bookmark   April 30, 2005 at 7:05PM
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catherinet(5 IN)

THanks everyone.

I originally had big plans to add alot more trees, but then I developed a chronic condition that left me severely fatigued.........and then I got old! So I can't do nearly what I used to, in terms of planting.
I think we will have someone come out for a consult. We've sort of been blindly making decisions about this place for too long. It should be interesting hearing what a professional has to say. Thanks for all your suggestions.
Plantfreak.......I just want a healthy woods, with lots of diversity. And yes, I feel very fortunate to own this property. Extreme development is going on quite close all around me, and I view my property as something so very precious, and it will hopefully always be a place for animals of all sorts to find refuge.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2005 at 11:39PM
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This has been such an interesting thread to read.
I hope you'll keep us posted on what a consultant tells you!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2005 at 11:04AM
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gmehl(z5 PA)

Can't help but wonder how many deer per square mile are foraging in your forest. If there's not much green below a line maybe five feet off the ground (i.e., new trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants), that could be a factor.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2005 at 1:36PM
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