Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hueston Woods: "Big Woods" State Nature Preserve Winter Edition

Located in Oxford Ohio is the best old growth forest near south western Ohio. It's a Beech Maple mesic forest within the Ohio state park called Hueston Woods. Some of the canopy species you will find in the trail are Red Oak (Quercus rubra), White Oak (Quercus alba), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), American Linden (Tilia americana), Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and Ash species (Franxinus sp.) with American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) growing along bottomland creeks. Mid story and understory species consist of Red Mulberry (Morus rubra), Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana), Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana), Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava), Paw Paw (Asimina triloba), Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) with Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) growing along creeks. The state website states that forest floor is blanketed in the spring with wildflowers, something I'm looking forward to seeing and blogging about this April and May. I'd like to share some landscape pictures of the woods that I took this winter and last winter.

The Ike hurricane fallout left many large trees down and the canopy patchy in some areas of the forest, but many of the oldest remnants still remain in good health easily topping 100 feet.

Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) are often the tallest trees Eastern Forests, and one of the fastest growing. They do not reproduce under a closed canopy as they are shade intolerant and rely on large disturbance like the straight winds of Ike Hurricane to allow enough sunlight to reach their fast growing seedlings. Pollinated by insects and even hummingbirds, it's seed crops are quite variable often with low viability. They pioneer well on cool eastern, and northern sloped hillsides, along with flatwoods, bottomlands, and even wet-mesic woods utilizing these good levels of moisture for their quick growth. Like the Oak species, their populations will dwindle as the moist woods mature, and more shade tolerant species replace them.

This is one of the larger Ironwoods (Ostrya virginiana) I saw, with an 10 inch diameter, perhaps 35 feet tall. They are long term members of the maple beech forest as they are moderately tolerant of shade. They sport a small winged nut that is dispersed by wind and animals hoarding them for winter food.

American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) dominates this northern faced slope, but not forever. Sugar maple saplings establish better in the understory of mature Beech, and conversely Beech saplings grow better in the understory mature Sugar maples. Notice the 5 saplings under 3 inch in diameter, they are Sugar maples positioning themselves to one day swap places with this Beech dominated area of the forest. Overall Sugar Maple is more dominant in southwest ohio because it's more adapted to drier upland soils. Often Sugar Maples can occupy nearly all hill aspects in good undisturbed soil, while in Cincinnati, American Beech can often only occupy cool, moist northwestern, north, northeastern, and eastern faced hillsides along with well drained bottomlands.

This Black Walnut (Julgans nigra) did make it in to the canopy at the time of or before the above American Beech grove established itself. But just as the Tulip Trees and Oak trees will struggle to reproduce with out major disturbance, this species will also. Black walnuts were one of the most highly sought out logging woods during the major logging eras.

Here in a diverse stand of trees Beech trees are reproducing very well in this section of the old growth forest, young beech trees hold their leafs long into the winter when in the protected understory. It's almost bittersweet, and some forest managers may try to retain diversity by thinning out saplings of dominant trees like Sugar Maple and Beech, promoting and protecting saplings of other species that otherwise may be totally replaced within the small remnants of old growth forest we have. Other forest managers don't fight this natural succession. To the right you can see 3 small beech trees growing slowly, but healthily under the canopy of a mature Sugar Maple, in the ever progressing process of natural succession. The value of diversity and long-term conservation cannot be understated, in places like this forest you can spot the Pileated Woodpecker which isn't exactly your typical suburban backyard bird.

Metropolitan areas typically have frequently or recently disturbed natural areas that harbor armies of Morus alba or White Mulberry, which is the non-native invasive species of mulberry. They prefer moist soils, and can grow on all hillside aspects given that there's adequate available moisture. This however is not Morus alba, this is Morus rubra, the native Red Mulberry. Mulberries are wind pollinated and these two species can create non-native hybrids. In restoration practices, be sure to girdle or remove all White mulberries within the vicinity to ensure the fruit of your Red Mulberries stay true to their American genetics. This Red Mulberry was growing in a large canopy opening adjacent to a seasonal creek. These trees are uncommon, but moderately shade tolerant persisting in the mature Maple Beech forest type, however the non-native mulberry is shade intolerant, and relies on human disturbances to the environment.

Large hillsides met with small creeks creating these flood prone niches that featured loose thickets of Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Paw Paw (Asimina triloba), and Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). One of many habitats occurring in this minimally disturbed landscape.

One of the things I most like about the landscape of the hill filled eastern forests is the naturally sculpted curvature of the slopes and creeks which is best appreciated in a honeysuckle free old growth forest in my opinion. Here sedges and forbs grow along the creekside with Paw Paw and Hornbeam. This type of scenery all year long is worth the drive.

The forest is littered with diamonds such as this American Beech that have been around much before my parents and grandparents were alive. This is a place of living history like an outdoor museum.

Most of the trees, like this Red Oak, are difficult to fit within a camera frame, and are only truly appreciated face to trunk.

Depending on where you enter the Big Woods trails, you may stumble along a good sized creek within a bottom land that supports large American Sycamore within the Beech Maple forest.

These giant Red Oaks may be in their prime, but without human intervention, there's a very good chance that when they decline and finally fall, they will be replaced with the more shade tolerant species of the Maple Beech forest. There is much more than the Maple Beech Forests type within the Eastern America though. Oak Hickory forests usually exists where moisture levels are lower, or soil types are sandier. The weather patterns and geographical make up of these forest determine their make up. At one point Ohio was mostly different types of Prairies and Bur Oak Savannah due to the hotter drier climate of that era.

I hope everyone has a chance over the next few months to visit this place,  best times are April through May for wildflowers, during the hot summer months to cool off in the shade, and of course mid November for fall color. But to see the best depth shots of the stature of the forest, and really be able appreciate the shape of the rolling hills, winter time is the best. There's many 4 season nature preserves in Ohio, and this is another must see, year round.


  1. Great photos with very descriptive captions. It always amazes me to see how open the understory is of mature forests are. I bet the spring ephemerals are amazing.

    One minor suggestion is that when you photograph a tree get a person or clip board, or something in the shot to give a sense of scale. I'm sure those trees are huge, but it's really hard to tell.

    Keep up the fantastic observations!

  2. Yeah Thanks for the advice I've seen others do that before, I should do that this spring.

  3. Great post, Solomon, lots of great information without being boring and tedious! Makes me want to visit, haven't been there in years.

  4. Thank you for this detailed post about the woods that I grew up still forms my vision of 'forest'...tho I am sure for many it is 'woods'. The species of trees you list are nearly identical to those found in the surroundings of the Washington, DC area where I now live. I look forward to seeing what you find on the forest floor as we have unfortunate invasives in so much of the woods around the urban area and I'd like to be able to envision what it might have looked like if healthier. Quick question, does this area have deer pressure?