|Downed red oak|
I have been picking up what feels like truckloads of broken trees, downed branches, downed twigs and leaves. The forest will not look as it did before the storm for a long time, I am sure of that. Not all of the damage is on the ground, either. Many, many trees are broken, with the branches still partially attached to the trees, sometimes hanging precariously to the trunk. Now, when I look out my north window, I see an open vista, where before I saw a tangle of trunks and branches. And what will happen over the next year or so? Likely, some of the trees will become infested with something and end up not surviving over the long term.
I couldn’t help but notice the species of the branches I am picking up. Two of them were not a surprise to me, though the third was until I thought about it a bit. Tulip poplar is one of the species I am picking up a lot. This one is not a surprise. Tulip poplar is a soft wood, a tree with notoriously shallow roots. And it has large leaves, which makes it even more likely to break when those leaves are covered with wet snow. The second unsurprising species is the American beech. I have several in my front forest. They are a beautiful, gray-barked tree, notorious for being “dirty” as I’ve heard them described by people who have them on their properties. Dirty simply means that the trees drop their lower branches regularly.
The third species of tree I’m seeing during this clean-up (and the one pictured in my photo today) is the one that surprised me. It’s the red oak, a lovely hardwood tree, perhaps second only to its cousin the white oak in size and stateliness. So why was such a strong and hardy tree one of the ones to break the most?
Though both are hardwoods, white oaks have a stronger and harder wood than the faster-growing red oak. The ship “old Ironsides” was made of white oak, which is waterproof. Red oaks are less dense and not waterproof and the wood is used in furniture or other primarily indoor uses. White oak wood is often used in fence posts or for other things that will be used outdoors. Red oaks produce acorns every other year, while white oaks produce them every year. This year the red oaks are heavy with acorns.
I believe the lesser density of the red oak wood, combined with it being the year for lots of acorns, were the main factors in causing more damage to this species than to the white oaks or even hickories around the mountain. How this damage will affect the diversity and even the composition of the forest itself over the next years has yet to be determined, but is something I will keep an eye on.