Years ago, it would be 90 degrees — sunny — the quintessential beach day…and you would find me and the neighborhood kids in the woods in our backyard. You see, I grew up locally in a development, but our house was located at the end of a cul-de-sac, and it had the largest, most exclusive wooded lot. (Also, the largest amount of chiggers and ticks per square foot.) But those days arriving to gym class with my legs covered in calamine lotion didn’t matter — we had the trees!
My love for forests started then: building forts out of fallen tree branches, waking at sunrise to watch the turkeys and deer emerge from the forest edge, stealing my brother’s paintball guns to dodge each other behind trees, counting all the critters by the creek… I could go on and on!
“It was when I visited the James Farm for the first time and walked the trails
that I was overcome with the same giddy, curious and adventurous feeling
that I would get as a kid.”
It was the combination of the towering oaks and hickory with the modest holly and trumpet vine growing beneath. It was the ability to look up and see tree canopies sharing the sunlight while beams would playfully hit my face between wind gusts. It was diversity.
Forests need what is called vertical stratification or the development of plants at different heights. Openings in the forest canopy develop naturally as trees die from crowding, attack by insects and disease, or windstorms, ice or other weather events. Gaps in the canopy allow sunlight to reach the forest floor and the mix of light conditions stimulates the growth of new and existing plants.
Depending on the light, soil and weather condition, new plant species emerge and, with it, comes new wildlife species. For example, woodpeckers, warblers, Red Eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanangers and Wild Turkeys prefer older forests between 65-100+ years old. In contrast, Wild Quail, woodcock, cottontail rabbits, and mice prefer younger shrub forests at seedling age.
Due to these experiences, I am excited to be a part of diversifying the forest at the James Farm. On October 4th, Coastal Gardeners, DNREC staff and James Farm volunteers assisted in planting 22 large, native hardwood trees in a pasture area that has been left fallow since 1998. The new site will be a part of a managed arboretum area of approximately 3 acres, funded by the Delaware Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program. Overtime, this area will be a mixed hardwood forest, similar to the other older forests at the James Farm. Hopefully preserve visitors and wildlife alike can enjoy the view for years to come. Check it out when you get a chance!