Oak Woodland Ridgetop Bliss-Out

Went with a friend to Mohawk Trail State Forest in Charlemont, MA for the first time and stumbled upon one of the biggest and coolest oak woodland-almost-savanna environments I’ve seen in New England:

Oak woodlands and savannas are, of course, some of the sexiest ecosystems on the planet.  And they’re in short supply in the Eastern forested landscape because of the centuries-ago cessation of fire management by native people.  So it’s the dry, hot, south-facing ridgetops like this one that still support structurally diverse oak landscapes.

This above picture is from a few hundred feet downslope from the ridgetop.  Notice the deeply furrowed, blocky ridges of the chestnut oak bark, and the thick moutain laurel (like many members of the heath family, an extremophile growing in very acidic soils) understory.  The swoon-inducing Vermont natural communities field guide Wetland, Woodland, Wildland calls these landscapes “elfin oak woodlands,” and I can see why.

The two little pitch pines in the image above strongly indicate fire history on this ridgetop.  Pitch pine cones can generally only open (and therefore, their seeds only disperse and germinate) in temperatures of 130-140 degrees F or more, which even on a hot, sunny slope are only going to be experienced during wildfires.  The adaptation is, there’s much more likely to be bare ground for their tiny seeds to germinate on if the cones are opened by a brush-and-grass-clearing fire.  Plus the trees have thick, scaly, fire-resistant bark and will even coppice (very unusual for a conifer) if they’re fire-girdled at a young age.


A vulture’s view of the Cold River Valley upstream (west) into the high Berkshire plateau.

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One Response to Oak Woodland Ridgetop Bliss-Out

  1. Pingback: Bobwhite Quails and Prairie Restoration | Renewing the Commons

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