The Eastern Deciduous Forest

The northeastern United States is composed mostly of deciduous forest, or forests dominated by broadleaf trees which pass part of the year leafless.  Across the country deciduous forests are composed of different dominant species combinations, but here in western New York, our's are mostly beech-sugar maple dominant. In addition to beech and maple, more than 300 other species of trees and shrubs grow on our local landscapes. The house that my grandfather built, and which I live in now, is on a wooded lot and for the past three years since I moved here, I have enjoyed getting to know some of the common and less populous species of trees in forest that surrounds it.

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is the dominant species on my property and autumn is a beautiful time here with the foliage ablaze with shades of red, yellow, and orange.  My daughter loves to go on leaf hunts and collect interesting and colorful souveniers for crafts.

The American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a favorite of mine because of the effect of light and shadow on the bright green, alternately growing leaves when viewed from below. The trunk is smooth and gray and has a seemingly ageless quality because it remains so through maturity. In the fall, the leaves turn yellow and then fade to crisp brown. Trees will retain their leaves until leaf-out the following spring.

In my front yard stands a large American basswood (Tilia americana).  It is double-trunked and has sapplings sprouting up out of its base from which I hang wind chimes. Basswoods have asymetrical, variably-sized leaves and those of the saplings can be as big as platters compared with the four- to eight-inch average of mature trees. Basswood leaves turn yellow in the autumn.

Shag-bark hickories (Carya ovata) also dot my woods, the trunks of which bare long strips of naturally peeling bark. Some bat species make their homes under the shaggy bark as it is perfect for camouflage and shelter. Hickory nuts sustain many types of wild animals, including black bears, fox, chipmunks, squirrels, and a number of  bird species. The compound leaves of shagbark hickories turn a bright yellow-gold in the fall.

Climate, regional rain fall, soil structure, and soil moisture content, among ther things, all affect which species of trees grow in a particular area. Though our region's forests are beech-sugar maple dominant, no two forests are alike. Hermann Hesse said, “A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening.” The eastern deciduous forest is calling.


gabriellewheeler_profileby Gabrielle L. Wheeler

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