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Presentation on the Fairgrounds Oaks & How They Will Live On

This is a presentation I did for the Tippecanoe County Master Gardeners that I wanted to share here on the blog.

Posted: Mar. 22, 2019 2:15 PM
Updated: Mar. 22, 2019 10:03 PM

The fairgrounds oak grove was a treasure of slow-growing White Oak with a few Shagbark Hickories, one Black Oak, one Swamp White Oak & one Northern Red Oak (that was rotten in the middle & mostly hollow).  A few remaining old growth Bur Oaks are found just south & northwest of this particular grove.  The grove trees showed all indications of old growth, which made me want to go to the site & analyze the stumps for fire history & overall history of the site.

Mostly clear-cut, the White Oak stumps showed trees dating back 1810-65.

Early land surveys of the wilderness of our area help to reconstruct the pre-European settlement vegetation.

Surveys show that the fairground to the Central Catholic grove were the buffer zone between a large area of prairie with occasional small groves (Wildcat & Wea Prairies) & the heavily wooded hills & ravines along Durkees Run & into the city of Lafayette.

1878 map still shows some large tracts of Wildcat & Wea Prairies remaining.  Note the number of marshes, swamps & ponds that were not drained yet either.

This 1878 rendering of the fairgrounds show what looks to be White Oaks on the grounds.  The ground were developed in 1871.

The fairgrounds area probably looked like this in the 1830s.

This shows what the Durkees Run woods next to the fairground oaks & prairie grass probably looked like.

These pics from Celery Bog restoration show what the fairground oaks likely looked like in the 1820s & 1830s.

Another reconstruction of the fairgrounds area looking toward the heavily-wooded city of Lafayette from barrens adjacent to prairie.

This is a map of original prairies from the early 1800s from Transeau & Gordon.  It is the most accurate depiction available.  A mosaic of oak, oak-hickory barrens, savannas, groves & a few highly-spaced trees occurred adjacent to the prairies & served as a buffer between the two.

This is an early 1830s painting (by George Winter) of an arm of prairie near Lake Cicott, in northwestern Cass County, which extended into White County.  This is the scene before it was settled, plowed & cleared. 

Note the scattered trees............most-likely oaks & some hickories.

This is what the native vegetation looked like around downtown Lafayette & in the surrounding neighborhoods all the way to Durkees Run.

Pottawattomies had a close symbiotic relationship with the oak barrens, savannas & prairies.

These are our native people & this is a picture of them near Battle Creek, Michigan in the 1890s.

They burned these areas frequently in flat areas.  This led to fires spreading & burning for days over townships that had few natural fire barriers.  They burned these areas to allow for easier hunting & to lead large foragers to graze on the fresh green grass of prairies in spring.

In fact, they called Benton County "Maskotia" or "land of fire" according to the early pioneer history of the county.

Here is another picture of our native people of our area, the Pottawattamies in one of their few remaining villages in the late 1800s.

This cross section of a +300 year-old Post Oak (Quercus stellata) from Texas shows lots of fire scarring.

Fire scarring is limited to the trees dating back prior to 1832 at the fairgrounds.

This shows fires when any remaining Native Americans were here, then they suddenly stop after the Trail of Tears.  The growth skyrockets with the trees after this time as they grew & spread amidst prairie grass in the rich black soil.

The growth rate slows as the individual trees spread & compete with eachother & grazing of cattle occur.  They widen again as grazing ceases, then the rings tighten as the trees age.

This is a complacent site, which means the water table is relatively stable even in drought.  The trees show less sensitivity to drought.  Tight rings do not necessarily indicate a big drought on a complacent site.

One of the stumps left after the trees were cut.

One of the trees prior to cutting. 

Interestingly, genetics of the White Oaks varied some on the site.  One showed evidence of Bur-White Oak hybridization.

I have seen this natural oak hybridization in old growth oak sites.

In southwestern Indiana, an original barrens site in a prairie converted to a park showed a Black-Shingle Oak hybrid (called Lea's Oak) & a Black-Red Oak hybrid (Hawkins Oak) that was estimated at +180 years old when it fell in a storm.  I couldn't get a good age read because the tree was rotten & hollowed in the middle. 

These are two large, old trees on the fairgrounds site that were not White Oaks.  On the left is a large Black Oak (Quercus velutina) & on the right is Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor).

White Oak acrons gathered at the fairgrounds to sow in beds to perpetuate the fairground genotype.  Since these are so old & have parents that dated back to a very old lineage, I thought it right to save the genes.

Tippecanoe County is in growing pains & so many old-growth oaks have been cut in the past decade, so it is more important than ever to save these trees' genes, which are specifically adapted to our climate.

Since these acorns are the offspring of different parents, my goal is to collect twigs from the remaining few trees left there & in the nearby neighborhood & in the Central Catholic grove to graft to other White Oak rootstock to grow out.  This way, those trees are clones of those very old trees.

This is the Black Oak.

Here are the beds that the acorns were sowed into (with my helper Balto).

The next chapter.......................these are acorns actually from the oldest tree on the grounds (1810).  Its size & girth was very noticeable & the tree stood on the north side of the grounds.

Another acorn from an unknown parent White Oak there that is germinating.

This is the goal.  I hope to grow these oaks to distribute to the community & also return back to the fairgrounds.

These particular seedling is a Post Oak from Daviess County, Indiana (southwest Indiana) from a +200 year old tree.  This post oak was part of a barrens area adjacent to a prairie.  These tree is now surrounded by homes in Odon, Indiana.

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