October 13: Chad's Garden

The Tippecanoe County heritage or witness trees are coming along. Now, to southwestern Indiana to save the very, very last of an ancient ecosystem.

Posted: Oct. 13, 2018 1:04 PM
Updated: Oct. 13, 2018 4:16 PM

We certainly won't talk about heritage trees & seed collecting each installment of Chad's Garden, but it seems pertinent once again as the acorn beds are planted & begin to even root!

These are mulched beds of fairgrounds White Oaks.  There are hundreds & hundreds here beginning to root!

There are also Bur Oaks from an old tree in the back of Cumberland Park & some acorns of an old tree that is a natural Swamp White X Bur Oak hybrid on the edge of a woods not far from Montmorenci.

Offspring of the oldest tree cut at the fairgrounds!  The acorns are sending out roots!

More collecting will ensue from a few more trees in Tippecanoe County that are among the oldest [in the county].

It is also off to southwest Indiana to collect from heritage/witness Post Oaks there.

Where I grew up, around the town & especially westward, it is biologically dead.  There is very, very little native vegetation left, as it is heavily farmed & even every ditch & roadside is sprayed or mowed & covered in exotic weeds.  Even former prairie remnants that I inventoried in high school & college have degraded due to more & more disturbance.

There is one single spot that gives an insight into the original vegetation, which was a mix of barrens & prairie in that area (southeastern edge of a lobe of central & south-central Illinois prairie, barrens/savanna vegetation that went into areas southeast of Terre Haute & southwest of Bloomington).  That spot is our city park.

The original land surveys show that particular spot as barrens with "large prairie" to the south, west & northwest of the park & "barrens" extending northeast of the park.

This is the last & best example of barrens species in that area, as evidenced by the tree species composition.  I uncovered Prairie Trout Lilies in patches of the park near old shelter buildings & some Rose Gentians in part of the park.

In an area so flat, fertile & very heavily farmed, there are not even any fencerows anymore & really no patch of native barrens left at all.

In the park is an interesting assemblage of old, old trees with twisting, knarled trunks & impressive size.  One Mockernut Hickory that was felled in a storm in November of 2001 dated back to 1845.

Counting the total number of stems in the native area of the park that has not been heavily altered, here was the species assemblage in order of greatest to least occurrence.  These trees are large.  The largest Common Persimmons in Indiana are found here.  One Black Tupelo is particularly large, as are many Post Oaks.  These barrens were molded by fire over thousands of years, so slow-growing, more fire-adapted species are found, despite the very rich, loess soils.

This grove of barrens trees is an island part of an ecosystem that stretched from far western Posey to Edwards & Wabash Counties in  Illinois, through Knox, Daviess, Sullivan & western Greene counties on loessial soils on the Illinois Till Plains & Wisconsinan Glacial lake plains of southwestern Indiana.

1.  Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)  Some genetic diversity in the hickory population with some trees showing thinner leaflets & some nut variation.

2. Post Oak (Quercus stellata)

3.  Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa)

4.  Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)

5.  Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria)

6.  Common Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)

7.  Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)

8.  Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii)

9.  Black Oak (Quercus velutina)

10.  White Oak (Quercus alba)

11.  Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)

12.  Lea's Oak (Natural hybrid of Black & Shingle Oak) (Quercus velutina X Quercus imbricaria)

13.  Hawkin's Oak (Natural hybrid of Black & Northern Red Oak) (Quercus velutina X Quercus rubra) which recently fell in a storm, unfortunately.  However, there is no native, old Northern Red Oak in the park presently.

In a lower area of the park around a natural brook in a swale is native, old, large Black Walnut, Green Ash & American Elm.

Hundreds of Post Oak acorns will be planted from this site here in beds up at West Lafayette.

Post Oaks of the park in first two images.  The last is a nearby old Post Oak in front of a home built around 1890.

As for the old hickories, I may tackle trying to grow some of those from Tippecanoe & Daviess County populations if I can find the best way to grow them & not harm the taproot.

There main oak barrens/savanna ecosystems are labeled on this map with ours being from southwest Indiana to Michigan.  However, northern barrens vary from more southern barrens.  Also, barrens were found in Ohio, New Jersey, parts of the Southeast & I would draw another barrens ecosystem from the Karst Plains of Kentucky through Tennessee.

Check out this wildfire study done on very old Post Oaks in a barrens & prairie area of Karst Plain in northern Tennessee from Michael Stambaugh at the University of Arkansas.  He ranks as one of the supreme experts in these reconstructions in the country.

Note the wildfire frequency, especially between 1700 & 1850.

Fire frequency in the Post Oak barrens of northern Tennessee vs eastern Oklahoma.

Examples of native barrens:

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