Sunday, November 16, 2014

Community Health

When the understory is healthily uncluttered, and the canopy full
I find the resolution of the forest written in the space in between
That is easily flown through
That is easily seen through
It is generous, and bears no weight

There’s a truth experienced in an old growth forest
The complexity of the universe comes to a head
It is shaped like the leaves
It feels like the soil
And it sways like the branches

When you look deeply into the form of the forest
You notice that despite its presence it is mostly nothing
Paper thin layers of green
Wood porous with micro cavities
And the ground, that is again filled with air

But as well as it is nothing, it is also everything
The minerals of the earth
Water from the clouds, light from the sun
Gas of the atmosphere
And a mirror reflection of the health its' stewards

In the context of community,
Most forests are disturbed as we are
Most forests are fragmented as we are
And most forests are suffering as we are

There is no difference. 


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hickories of Southwest Ohio

(Common expressions of Southwest Ohio Hickory species)

Hickories are a common tree of Midwestern, Southern, and Eastern Forest types. These trees are often characterized for producing edible nuts, strong, flexible, economically import timber, and horticulturally unique aesthetics. In Southwest Ohio, a hickory species finds a niche to sustain itself in within all forest types excluding frequently flooded floodplains dominated by Sycamore, Cottonwood, and Silver Maple typically. Here, we have acidic glacial till deposits often covered in shallow calcareous loess deposits, alkaline glacial outwash, alkaline alluvial terraces, weakly acidic to lightly alkaline residuum soil, and even rare Aeolian sand deposits of which Hickories call home. 

This blog post will provide the specific habitat niche of each hickory species based on topography and soil formation, potential horticultural use, defining I.D. characteristics for local genotypes, and human palatability of nuts.

(Shellbark Hickory-Carya lacinosa occurs as an uncommon calcareous soil obligate in SW Ohio)

Southwest Ohio Habitat

Shellbark Hickory occurs on alkaline alluvial terraces, occasionally flooded alkaline flood plains, and upland weakly acid to alkaline residuum soil formed from Ordovician limestone/shale. It is commonly associated with Blue Ash, Chinquapin Oak, Shumard oak, Bur Oak, Bitternut Hickory, Black Maple, and Sugar Maple.  Thought it is restricted to weakly acidic (6.8 ph) to alkaline (7.0+ph) soil formations here, in in other regions within the midwest, it can occur in more acidic soils.  On thin droughty residuum soils, that typically occur on steep stream dissected valley hillsides, it may occur on lower elevations. Otherwise, it's habitats are of higher moisture availability such as alkaline bottomlands, floodplains, and loess covered soil formations.

Horticultural Use

Shellbark yields shades of gold for fall color consistently on large leaflets of 7 to 9. The glossy fruit, dark green leafs, and shaggy bark offer good summer and winter form. It is safe near buildings, maturing into a large long lived shade tree moderately drought tolerant. This tree will likely thrive where acidic species such as Pin Oak, Red Maple, and Sweet Gum exhibit nutrient deficiencies where soils are weakly acidic-alkaline as it occurs naturally. 

Permaculture Use

Mature trees require harvesting before they drop to the ground due to it's sweet kernel and high wildlife preference. The nut is difficult to crack, but some still consider it worth it for the kernel. 

Key Defining Characteristics

Leaflet of 7 typically, sometimes 9

The shaggy light gray bark of the Shellbark is shares similarity only with Shagbark (Carya ovata) locally. Use the leaflet of 7, and sometimes 9 with the shaggy bark to separate it from Shagbark as Shagbark nearly always has leaflets of 5 locally. In the winter time, if you don't have access to the leaflets, use the very large nuts + Bark to separate Shagbark and Shellbark. Shagbark nuts (not husks) should not be much larger than the circumference of a quarter locally, while Shellbark should have either more spherically or elongated golf ball sized nuts. See first diagram for reference. 

(Shagbark Hickory-Carya ovata is a widely adaptable acidic soil dominating hickory in SW Ohio)

Southwest Ohio Habitat

Shagbark Hickory occurs as a common species in weakly acidic to strongly acidic soils. It is a consistent indicator of sub-7.0 ph soil where naturally occurring and associated with one or more these following species Sweet Gum, Black Gum, Sassafras, Mockernut Hickory, Pignut Hickory, Pin Oak, Black Oak, Scarlet Oak, Red Maple, and/or Yellow Buckeye. It is an indicator of neutral or weakly acidic soil (6.5-7.0 PH) when associated with one or more of the following species Chinquapin Oak, Shumard Oak, or Blue Ash. Because of it's preference for acidic soil and adaptability to low or high moisture availability and poorly drained soils, it finds dominance in Oak-Hickory forest types as well as the Pin Oak-Red Maple-Green Ash forest type that occurs on glacial till plains of variable drainage. One of the best public accessible of a poorly drained acidic glacial till plain forest dominated by Shagbark Hickory occurs at Stonelick State Park in Clermount County. A great example of preferable well drained Shagbark Habitat occurs on the Timberlakes trail of the acidic glacial till covered slopes and uplands of Miami White Water-Great Parks of Hamilton County.

Horticultural Use

The shaggy bark is always a great winter texture, while the fall color is similar to Shellbark, consistently shades of gold. The drought tolerance is high, as well as its tolerance of poorly drained soils, and strong winds making it an ideal tree near buildings throughout the metropolitan. It is a slow grower, and long lived forming an pyramidal canopy in young age, that matures into a more widely spreading canopy in old age. 

Permaculture Use

Mature trees require harvesting before they drop to the ground due to it's sweet kernel and high wildlife preference. The kernel is small but enjoyable.

Key Defining Characteristics

Bark-See above Picture

Leaflet-of 5 nearly always.

What separates Shagbark form all other hickories except for Shellbark Hickory is the nature of it's bark. In the growing season, use the leaflet of 5 paired with the bark to separate it from Shellbark. In the winter, use the nut size comparisons shown in the opening picture + bark. 

(Mockernut Hickory-Carya tomentosa is a hickory at one of it's most northern ranges in SW Ohio)

Southwest Ohio Habitat

Mockernut Hickory occurs sporadically in SW Ohio capitalizing on low fertility, well drained, acidic glacial till soils. Miami White Water Badlands Trail and Timberlakes Trail are good areas to see wild growing Mockernut. It is often associated with Black Oak, White Oak, Shagbark Hickory, and Pignut Hickory as well as Sugar Maple and Black Maple.

Horticultural Use

The tightly interlaced bark, coarse branching, and large leaflets of 7-9 offer a nice winter and summer texture to a landscape accented by a often stunning gold-orange fall color. As most hickories, it has great drought tolerance, wind tolerance, and pyramidal form that may branch wider in old age. Slow grower, long lived. 

Permaculture Use

Kernels are small, but sweet while the nut/shell is thick. These are often eaten later by wildlife because of the thick shell/nut, so harvestable in mass by humans due to wildlife focusing on Shellbark, Shagbark, and Sweet Pignut and some Oak species. 

Key Defining Characteristics

Mockernut Hickory requires a couple of different features to definitively separate it from the other hickories. The light colored, non-shaggy bark eliminates all of the hickories except for some expressions of Sweet Pignut (Carya ovalis), and Bitternut (Carya cordiformis). From that point, you can use the size of the Husk+ Nut to eliminate the small fruiting Sweet Pignut and Bitternut Hickory. If fruit is not available, look into the canopy at the terminal buds. If they they are visible from ground level, similar to the size of a Buckeye (Aesculus sp.) bud, then it is Mockernut. This should also coincide with broad branching, thick twigs to support the large fruit that Mockernut produces, unlike the thinner more numerous branching of the smaller fruiting Sweet Pignut and Bitternut. See opening picture for nut size references.     

(Bitternut Hickory-Carya cordiformis is the most common hickory in alkaline soils of SW Ohio)

Southwest Ohio Habitat

Bitternut Hickory is one of the most important hickories of the different upland forest types of Sw Ohio.  It occurs either abundantly or occasionally well drained acidic glacial till, alkaline residuum soil, alkaline alluvial terraces, alkaline glacial outwash, and loess covered soil formations such as Switzerland and Miamian (Hamilton County). It is also intermediate in shade tolerance, reproducing in Beech Maple forests as a minority species.

Horticultural Use

The dark green lightly glossed foliage and texture of the compound leaf of 7 to 9 on thin twigs and pyramidal offers an excellent summer aesthetic in my opinion. The fall color is soft yellow, not a gold or gold-orange like other hickories. Good drought tolerance, high wind tolerance, and pyramidal form when open grown spreading more in old age. 

Permaculture Use

The shell is very thin, able to be cracked safely with teeth like that of an Acorn. The nut meet is coated with tannins that can be leached similar to Acorns.

Key Defining Characteristics

Bitternut Hickory requires a couple of different features to definitively separate it from the other hickories. The light colored, non-shaggy bark eliminates all of the hickories except for some expressions of Sweet Pignut (Carya ovalis), and Mockernut (tomentosa). What then separates this hickory from Mockernut is the significantly smaller fruit as well as the yellowish soft pointed bud. What separates it from Sweet Pignut is again the bud, and the leaflets differ in form of foliage. If you have no access to be buds or foliage, you can compare Bitternut barks and Sweet Pignut bark to see the differences through internet searches. 

(Pignut Hickory-Carya glabra is an occasional species of glaciated SW Ohio)

Southwest Ohio Habitat

Pignut Hickory occurs is restricted to acidic glacial till and is an indicator of acidic soil. It finds a home in Oak-Hickory forest types that occur on glacial till covered slopes low in moisture availability. In the unglaciated Edge of Appalachia preserve in Adams county, it is dominant on dry ridges associated with Shagbark Hickory, Black Oak, Chestnut Oak, and other species. 

Horticultural Use

Due to its superior drought tolerance, perhaps more than any other locally native hickory, high wind tolerance, and typical pyramidal hickory form accented by a gold to golden orange fall color; pignut hickory may be the most useful hickory for the landscape. It also has much smaller fruits than Shagbark, Shellbark, and Mockernut making it less of a "messy" tree. The bark, in maturity, can also be exceptional depending on who's looking at it. 

Permaculture Use

Reports on the kernels have been highly edible with a slightly hard shell, to bad tasting. It may depend on your local genotype, check out this youtube video of a person harvesting and enjoying Carya glabra nuts

Key Defining Characteristics

Leaflet-of 5 nearly always

Fruit-nippled where it was attached to the twig

The leaflet of 5 eliminates all hickories except for Shagbark Hickory. The small nippled fruit then separates it from Shagbark as well as a completely different form of bark. The Bark can be quite similar to Carya ovalis, Sweet Pignut, but differs in fruit as C.ovalis lacks the nipple, and differs in leaflet as C.ovalis is typically 7.

(Sweet Pignut, Carya ovalis-is a widely adaptable, occasional species in SW Ohio)

Southwest Ohio Habitat

Sweet Pignut Hickory differs from Pignut Hickory, in that it occurs occasionally in alkaline soil as well as acidic soil. You can find Sweet pignut as a minority species in nearly all well-drained upland soil formations including acidic glacial till, alkaline residuum, well-drained glacial till plains, and loess covered soil formations. At Lake Hope near Athens Ohio, it may be the most dominant hickory in some areas of the forest finding a preferably habitat in the highly acidic soils there, though local genotypes remain adapted to alkaline soil. 

Horticultural Use

As it finds a niche in alkaline and acidic soil locally, it is indeed an adaptable tree with good open grown form. The fall color isn't as impressive as other hickories giving a dull-gold on good years. The drought tolerance and wind tolerance is likely on par with the other hickories that it competes with.

Permaculture Use

Kernels are sweet, and harvestable from open grown specimens.

Key Defining Characteristics

Leaf-typically of 7

Sweet pignut may prove the most difficult to identify. The leaflet of 7 + small fruit limits your choices to Bitternut and Sweet Pignut. You can either taste the nut, or more scientifically look at the bud. Refer to the above post on Bitternut to see it's bud. Also the bark differs well enough in maturity, but in young age can look similar to Bitternut. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Importance of Preserving Local Genotypes

As the native plant movement grows in horticulture and restorative land management emerges; such as turning excess lawns into native prairie/savannah/forest habitat, if we do not take heed to the established facts in Restoration Ecology, we run the risk of undoing thousands of years of evolutionary locally adapted genetics. This is bad news for ecology which's resilience to a degree, depends on the genetic specificity that native plants have developed over time with the local climates they're primed to coexist in. These genetic traits could be expressed as the differences in bloom periods, drought tolerance, rooting depths, and other plant physiology that greatly effects a plant's ability to reproduce, persist, and compete with other plants in the same environments. This is phenomenon is related to Gene-Environment Interaction. 

Gene–environment interaction

Gene–environment interaction (or genotype–environment interaction or G×E) is the phenotypic effect of interactions between genes and the environment. New England Asters with genotypes that evolved to persist in Minnesota environments will be different from New England Asters with genotypes that evolved to persist in Southwest Ohio Environments. As you'll see in the pictures below of the New England Asters from a Minnesota native plant seed nursery, one way these genetical differences are expressed is bloom period. Bloom periods were synchronized over thousands of years of natural selection to occur at the most ideal time for each plant to compete with other flowering plants for pollinators with the seasonal sunlight, rainfall, and temperatures all playing a defining role in what genotypes became dominant. We can undo thousands of years of work simply by allowing different genotypes from different eco-regions to interbreed which would never happen without human transplanting. Here's one scientific example of how different genotypes of the same plant species differed in performance based on what environment they were placed in. This demonstrates the pertinence of using local genotypes which will be much more adapted to local environments than the same species plants from different parts of the country.

"Seven genetically distinct yarrow plants were collected and three cuttings taken from each plant. One cutting of each genotype was planted at low, medium, and high elevations, respectively. When the plants matured, no one genotype grew best at all altitudes, and at each altitude the seven genotypes fared differently. For example, one genotype grew the tallest at the medium elevation but attained only middling height at the other two elevations. The best growers at low and high elevation grew poorly at medium elevation. The medium altitude produced the worst overall results, but still yielded one tall and two medium-tall samples. Altitude had an effect on each genotype, but not to the same degree nor in the same way. Clausen J, Keck D, Hiesey WM (1948). "

For more scientific studies to research on Gene-environment interaction-see this link which has conveniently compiled an abundance of abstracts with the studies referenced.  

(Example 1: Stiff Goldenrod-Indiana Genotype) 

This is a picture of a prairie restoration in Eden Park, Cincinnati with seed provided by Spencer's Restoration Nursery which uses seed of Indiana Genotypes. Indiana climates are much more similar to Southwest Ohio, so presumably these native plants would bloom and develop much more in line with our local Southwest Ohio prairie remnants. This picture was taken of  Indiana genotype Stiff Goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum) in Mid August holding tight onto it's buds, perhaps blooming in another two weeks like our local genotype. The picture below was taken on the same day of wildflower curbside seeding a couple miles away seeded from Minnesota genotype Stiff Goldenrod from prairie moon nursery.

(Example 1: Stiff Goldenrod-Minnesota Genotype)

This is a picture of the same species, Stiff Goldenrod, the same day, upon which this whole curbside seeding was in bloom with about 15 different Stiff Goldenrods. This doesn't necessarily mean that Stiff Goldenrod in Minnesota is blooming as we speak, what it means is that the genotypes and phenotypic expressions of Minnesota sourced Stiff Goldenrod when experiencing a Southwest Ohio climate, blooms Early-Late August where as our local genotype and the Indiana Genotype aren't yet in bloom.

What could this mean for ecology?

Bloom periods are synchronized and adapted to local climate and pollinators. Flower shapes, bloom time, and colors have all evolved to compete with each other in the plant community to reproduce. When we place native plants that have altered blooming periods due to their genetic origin, we undermine this complex design of plant communities that has taken thousands of years establish. So what could this mean for ecology, I'm not sure, but what I can say with certainty is disturbing the naturally developed systems of nature has proven to be detrimental to ecological health in most cases. Also, plants that are developing bloom periods out of sync with local climate, may suffer in health as you'll see in the following example with Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). 

(Example 2: Wild Bergamot-Minnesota Genotype)

This picture is of a wildflower seeding in Eden Park that utilized seed from Minnesota Genotypes. These Wild Bergamot (Soft Lavender Colored Flower) refused to bloom in July waiting until the first week of August to break bloom. Luckily we've had a locally moist summer with only as much as 2 weeks without significant rain, but typically we have dry spells of 3 to even as much as 6 weeks with little rain in the months of July-August. Our local flora that bloom in August, you will notice are very drought tolerant such as Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), Tall Boneset
(Eupatorium altissimum), and Early Goldenrod (Solidago juncea) or wet-soil tolerant such as Hollow Stemmed Joe Pye (Eutrochium fistulosum), Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), and Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Plants that aren't very drought tolerant or wet soil tolerant such as Wild Bergamot, Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpureum), and Grey headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) locally bloom in the months of late june through July when they can find enough subsoil moisture to produce viable seed and survive. If these plants consistently tried to bloom in August within their ecological niches, they'd suffer from shortened bloom periods, seed viability loss, and shortened lifespan leading to their sure decline over time due to the inevitable Southwest Ohio August droughts they're not adapted to flower in. This would be true to many similar midwestern climates as well.

Interesting enough, haven taken vacation this summer to Upper Peninsula Michigan which is almost as far north as this August Blooming Wild Bergamot originated from Minnesota. What I noticed is that the Wild Bergamot growing on road sides that far north were indeed in full bloom in Mid-August showing the difference in bloom periods from northern genotypes compared with more southern genotypes.

While Wild Bergamot reproduces well and finds a way to successfully compete in the Northern Ecological Niches of Upper Peninsula Michigan, and Minnesota blooming in August, we can't expect to be able to transfer that evolutionary developed success to a different climate such as that of Southwest Ohio. With Prairies gaining popularity in the variety of Land Management techniques, it is imperative to the success of our projects and integrity of our local ecological health to only use seed sourced within 150 miles of our site, and some Restorationists suggest no more than 100 miles. 

(Example 3 Maximilian Sunflower-Minnesota Genotype)

This Elementary School Prairie was seeded with once again, Minnesota genotype native plants. Most of the plants behave similarly to SW Ohio Geneotypes as far as Bloom Periods. The ones that haven't transition as smoothly were New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maxilianii), and once again Wild Bergamot. New England Aster of Local SW Ohio Genotypic origin, blooms Mid September-Early October. Wild Bergamot of Local SW Ohio Genotypic origin, blooms Late June through July. And Maximillian Sunflower of "more local" genotype (Indiana) blooms Mid September- Early October.

Conversely, New England Aster of Minnesota Genotype seed blooms in Early August-Early September subjecting it to harsh hot and often dry SW Ohio August of which it is not adapted to bloom in. The Wild Bergamot here, even though 20 miles away from example 2 which was in an urban area, still refuses to bloom until at the earliest the last week of July subjecting to our unforgiving August weather.  And lastly, even though most would say Maximilian Sunflower isn't native to Ohio, though some have found a convincingly population appearing "native" in a remnant prairie, the genotype sourced from Indiana blooms Mid September-Early October where as this Minnesota Genotype begins opening in Mid July as seen in the top right picture above. 

(Example 3 Maximillian Sunflower"More Local"Genotype)

Pictured above is the same species as shown in the previous picture, but this Maximilian Sunflower is climax bloom September 25th, more in line with it's bloom periods of lower midwestern genotypes. In September many of the last Monarchs born this year, will be traveling down South into Mexico to overwinter, relying on these late blooming wildflowers to sustain their long travel. Maximillian Sunflowers have been seen covered with Migrating Monarchs in early fall as their bloom periods are synchronized with the migration. What worth are Maximilian Sunflowers to migrating butterflies in the Midwest if they are blooming in July when there's already a bounty of available nectar sources? Bloom periods is how we obviously see the difference in genotypes manifest, but there's much we do not yet understand (or I haven't researched yet) about what differences occur in the plant's physiology from eco-region to eco-region....

In Conclusion.....

With local climates varying widely from Missouri, to Northern Ohio, to Minnesota, to Nebraska and native plant species being spread throughout ecological niches of whole regions, they've presumably developed different physical characteristics that allow them to persist in these varying climates. It would be hard to imagine that a Purple Coneflower that survives in the deep moist soil of the Darby Plains region in Central West Ohio would have the same exact physiology of the Purple Coneflowers that occur on limestone glades in Kentucky or Savannah Barrens of Illinois. Local Genotype seed may be a little bit more expensive than the quite affordable Prairie Moon Nursery seed, but remember what you're planting prairies/forests for. The emphasis should be on the creation of ecologically restorative landscapes that nurture the local ecosystems and manage land in a sustainable and aesthetically pleasing fashion. Introducing non-native genotypes is inherently going against the grain of nature. Let us respect nature as it is, leaving local genetics in place and undiluted to allow our ecosystems to respond as naturally as possible to climate change and future habitat disturbance. Even when planting landscapes, if you have any intentions of collecting the abundance of seed that landscape conditioned native plants produce, it is best to utilize local genotype for future propagation sources. As a friend recently suggested in discussion of this topic, I re-quote, "An Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Like the Facebook Page of Pioneer Landscapes to see more posts like this in the future.