Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Shumard Oak, Chinquapin Oak, Sugar Maple Community of SW Ohio

(Sugar Maple, Chinquapin Oak, Shumard Oak, a common forest variation in SW Ohio)

Southwest Ohio topography is diverse with stream dissected till plains, Wisconsin and Illinoian till plains and till covered hills of varying drainage, floodplains, extensive mesic uplands amongst other landforms. Each of these different land forms have varying soil formations, ph ratings, and bedrock depths affecting the specific compositions of the forests. The Sugar Maple (Acer sacharrum), Chinquapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii) community occurs on residuum soil derived from Ordovician limestone/shale in well drained  bottomlands, ancient stream dissected valley's/hillsides, glacial till and loess soil layered slopes of ph ratings at or greater than 6.8 facing South and West. This specific forest type specializes in the non-floodplain soil formations that are higher in ph representing the upland weakly acidic (6.7-6.9 PH) to alkaline (+7.0) tolerant community. It also occurs with little variations on upland alkaline glacial outwash soil formations such as Casco Loam and Fox Loam.  

 (Steep stream dissected till plains with erosion history lead to aspect sensitive forest composition)

Here pictured is natural second growth forest at Mt.Airy Forest in Cincinnati. On the right, the slope faces Northeast, allowing Red Oak, Sugar Maple, American Linden, and American Beech to dominate with minor components of Bitternut Hickory, Black Walnut, Chinquapin Oak, Shumard Oak, White Ash, Blue Ash and other species. The slope on the left faces southwest, allowing the Chinquapin oak, Shumard Oak, Sugar Maple community to dominate with minor components of Red Oak, Bitternut Hickory, Blue Ash, and White Ash. As the streams goes off into the distance it bends to the left, and so does the hill above so that it faces dead south as opposed to southwest. At this point on the hillside, the aspect is so hot and drought prone, only stunted Chinquapin Oak grows with an understory of Eastern Redbud, Flowering Dogwood, and Blackhaw Viburnum taking advantage of the inability for the canopy trees to shade out the understory. Depending on the aspect of the hillside, bedrock depth and nature, and soil texture stunted Shumard Oak, Chinquapin Oak, Sugar Maple communities diversify allowing strong understory growth of herbaceous species, small flowering trees and native shrubs taking advantage of the open canopy. I'll post pictures of that open variation of the community later in the blog post 

 (More stream dissected till plains featuring different forest types on S and W vs. N and E)

Here again you'll have stream dissected till plains that has caused limestone and shale bedrock to occur on the surface to 40 inches below. This is Caesar Creek State park "Gorge Trail" featuring a uniquely shallow soil formation called "Eden-Fairmount" upon which lithic bedrock occurs 10-20 inches below the surface upon much of the hillside. Lithic and paralithic are terms used to describe the nature of the bedrock, lithic being extremely resistant to root penetration and less weathered, paralithic being less restrictive and more weathered.  

(The community can also occur on well drained bottomlands dominating alkaline soil formations)

Another example of the community occurs at Versailles Indiana State Park (SE Indiana). It occupies the Southern oriented hillside on the left of the picture above, but also dominates the rarely flooded bottomland on the right because of the well drained alkaline soil rated at 7.3 ph. This soil formation is Eden Flaggy Silty Clay Loam channery in nature. Channery means that the soil features more than 15% in volume of flat thin pieces of limestone, shale, or sandstone as you can see in this picture to the right. This rocky soil allows the community occupy a bottomland habitat which is typically dominated by species such as Sugar Maple,Black Maple, American Linden, Black Walnut, Shellbark Hickory, Tulip Tree, and other rich soil, moisture loving species. Instead the Chinquapin Oak, Shumard Oak, Sugar Maple community prevails claiming it's spot in the "limelight" with other minor but common members of their community. 
(On thin soils, the canopy is stunted allowing for a very diverse lower layer of growth)

This is a picture of partially open woods at Caesar Creek State Park "Gorge Trail". This slope faces West, and features the Eden-Fairmount shallow soil mentioned earlier in this post, with lithic bedrock occurring 10-20 inches below the surface. Because of the steepness of the slope, and the thin soil trees may topple down once they reach a certain weight. Also typically dominant canopy trees like the Chinquapin, Sugar Maple, and Shumard are stunted appearing young, but are more likely just growing very slow. The openness is retained by the inability for the canopy trees to fully shade the hillside allowing for a thick undergrowth of Eastern Redbud, Flowering Dogwood, Blackhaw Viburnum and many unique spring and summer flowering woodland herbaceous species such as the Fire Pink (Silene virginica) pictured to the right. These partially open hillsides were probably a unique microhabitat in SW Ohio, featuring true "Dry Mesic" conditions characterized by stunted canopy trees, and thick, diverse undergrowth. These areas, sometimes reffered to as "Chinquapin Barrens" however are in need of conservation and restoration as many have been let go to invasive Bush Honeysuckle severly reducing the understory diversity that these partially open woods can support. 

Halls Creek State Nature Preserve has a partially open southern faced hillside like Caesar Creek State Park with Eden-Fairmount formation, but it has be overtaken by Honeysuckle and won't support the wildflower diversity it is capable of until restorative action has been taken. Though it does still support a diverse woody understory/midstory of Redbud, Eastern Hop Hornbeam, Flowering Dogwood, Black Haw Viburnum, and Ohio Buckeye.  

(Another variation of the community occurs on silty glacial till soil at Sharon Woods)

This community is not restricted to hillsides and well drained bottomlands associated with limestone/shale. Here in Sharon Woods "Gorge Trail" the community occurs on a very deep "Hennepin" till formation quoted at least over 80 inches before a restrictive feature emerges which could be bedrock or fragipan. The community here is opposite of the Dry Mesic partially open woods as it has uniform canopy dominance. Sugar Maple and Black Maple will be able to reproduce well in the understory even though this slope faces South, because of the loamy deep soil texture. It also allows for a stronger component of Red Oak, which is typically replaced by Shumard Oak on drier thin soil slopes. The community occurs on this slope despite being unassociated with limestone/shale Bedrock because the Hennepin till formation is alkaline rated at 7.3 containing a high calcium carbonate percentage up to 45%. 

(This one of the forest types Bur Oak associates with locally)

This alkaline favoring community mixes with many other species as well while retaining the majority of Chinquapin, Shumard, Sugar Maple and Black Maple. Pictured above is the Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) occurring sporadically within the community. Below is the full list of common associate species of this community.

Commonly Associated Canopy Species
Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii)
Chinquapin Oak (Quercus muhlenbergii)
Blue Ash (Fraxinus quadrangulata)
Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis)
White Ash (Fraxinus americana)
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)


Less dominant, Associated Canopy Species
Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Sweet Pignut (Carya ovalis) 
Shellbark Hickory (Carya lascinosa)
Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) likely in weakly acidic expressions
American Linden- (Tilia americana)
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)
Black Maple (Acer nigrum)
Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)- in Dry Mesic or early successional expressions

Red Oak (Quercus rubra)- occasionally in what is likely weakly acidic expressions (6.8 ph)
White Oak (Quercus alba)- occasionally in what is likely weakly acidic expressions (6.8 ph)
Black Oak (Quercus velutina)- occasionally in what is likely weakly acidic expressions (6.8 ph)

Occasionally or Commonly Associated Midstory-Understory Woody Species

Eastern Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)
Ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana)
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra)
Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia)
Black Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)
Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum)

The midstory-understory is layer is particularly well developed in the Dry Mesic variations

(Old low branching Chinquapin Oaks are the signature of the Dry Mesic variation)

Field Notes and Observations on the Chinquapin Oak, Shumard Oak, Sugar Maple Community

  • Dry Mesic partially open variations of this community have the potential to support a high diversity of understory/midstory woody species, and spring through late summer blooming herbaceous species. Perhaps just wood edges and river banks rival the ability of this community variation to support diverse, robust, shrubs, small flowering trees, and summer blooming woodland associated flora, locally. 
  • The community is commonly associated with ancient river or stream dissected till plains that have exposed or preserved due to slope Ordovician Limestone and shale residuum soil. The variations in ph maybe related to whether or not the bedrock was then allowed to form a shallow residuum soil (7.0-7.4 Ph) of 10-40 inches, or whether the residuum has been covered by shallow loess deposits (6.8 ph typically), then in case of the Pate soil formation which is 60% + Shale at a 6.0 PH, the ratio of Shale to Limestone residuum I believe is important. 
  • Sugar Maple is present in the canopy all variations of the community except the Dry Mesic variation where it appears as only a stunted midstory/understory tree like Ohio Buckeye does naturally. Without major disturbance or a well designed management plan, many of the variations of the community may see sugar maple increase in the canopy as the oak species decrease. On cool Eastern and Northern slope aspects, and in bottomlands Black Maple may dominate over Sugar maple.
  • Shagbark hickory, White Oak, Black Oak, and Red Oak may be indicative of soil formation changes when located at the ridge of the slope communities. As the ridge transitions into mesic uplands, the soil is often much more acidic and typically less than 6.8 ph due to deeper loess and glacial till deposits covering the residuum soil.


(A very small sample of flora from the dry mesic partially open woods variation at Caesar Creek)

A Call for Restoration


The Caesar Creek State Park "Gorge Trail" features a high diversity of woodland blooming flora, particularly in the dry mesic variation of the Shumard Oak, Chinquapin Oak, Sugar Maple community. As previously stated, the inability for the canopy trees to fully shade the understory allows for a vigorous midstory layer of Eastern Redbud, Flowering Dogwood, Ohio Buckeye, and Blackhaw Viburnum accented by a diverse herbaceous layer including Helianthus species, Desmodium Species, Eutrochium purpureum, Solidago, and Aster species forming a spring through early fall flowering period. This dry mesic variation also occurs at Halls Creek State Nature Preserve, and Mt.Airy Forest but the understories have been taken over by Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) suppressing a potentially diverse herbaceous layer.  The picture to the right depicts the Honeysuckle free dry mesic variation on the Gorge Trail.  The picture below depicts the Honeysuckle littered understory at Halls Creek State Park, the same microhabiat occurs at Mt.Airy Forest taken over by Honeysuckle suppressing the herbaceous layer.

It isn't very common in SW Ohio that the forest cover breaks allowing deep shade intolerant species to thrive excluding the prairie openings of Adams County. The forest cover is only otherwise naturally broken by rivers and streams creating edge habitat, dry hilltop prairies just east of Hamilton county in Clermont county, and wetland edges which are rare. Many of the species that thrive in these partially open dry mesic woods are uncommon such as the hummingbird attracting Fire Pink (Silene Virginica). If we can focus some of our local restoration service projects on these uniquely occurring microhabitats, we presumably would be getting the biggest bang for our volunteer hours by restoring one of the most unique habitats in Southwest Ohio. So far I've identified the Halls Creek State Nature Preserve south slope as a great candidate for restoration of this unique habitat, and regional Botanist Daniel Boone has shown me an area within Mt.Airy Forest that also has this unique habitat. Both of which are honeysuckle ridden, but with cooperation with the State, and City park districts, could be cleared with ease as both habitats are between just .5 acres to 1.5 acres. There may be more of these partially open dry mesic variations occurring in Southwest Ohio, but I haven't encountered them yet. Contact me at Pioneerlandscapesllc@gmail.com if you or a group your associated with is interested in restoring some of these unique environments.

Degraded Mt.Airy Forest Dry Mesic Variation

This following slideshow depicts a unique environment where the forest is partially open allowing for vigorous understory growth. This should be a diverse layer of native herbaceous species, of which a few are still existing suppressed under a layer of invasive honeysuckle. This habitat is uncommon and would benefit greatly from honeysuckle removal allowing the native flowering dogwoods, eastern redbuds, and native wildflowers to regain dominance. 


Additional Links

Soil Science Terms Glossary
Federal Tree Database Resource
USDA Web Soil Survey
Lucy Braun's Deciduous Forests of North America
Lucy Braun's Woody Plants of Ohio
Jim Mccormac's Wild Ohio

Local Conservation Associated Groups To Join

Cincinnati Wildones Chapter-Facebook
Sierra Club Miami Chapter-Facebook
Cincinnati Wildflower Preservation Society -Facebook
Ohio Nature Conservancy -Website
Western Wildlife Corridor -Facebook
Green Umbrella-Website "Land Team" and "Water Shed Team"- Conservation Associated