Second Segment of Chad's Garden...........The 1810-65 White Oaks: Their Genetic Diversity & the Next Generation of Trees from the Site

Analysis of the Tippecanoe County Fairground trees are complete, along with a collection of hundreds of acorns from the site to start the next generation.

Posted: Oct. 5, 2018 4:00 PM
Updated: Oct. 6, 2018 1:36 PM

After collecting acorns & analyzing the trees that were felled at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds, several things can be discerned.

1.  Trees dated back 1810-1865 in the grove with the oldest trees on the north side of it.

2.  Fire scarring is evident only on the three oldest trees from the 1810-1830 period.  Fires date to roughly 1817 & 1820.

3.  This is a complacent site with similar, rich, stable soil moisture conditions throughout, so this is not the best measure of drought.

4.  Explosive growth took place 1840-1860 as trees were "released" & were reclaiming the area.  This, after being on the edge of woods & expanding out into the prairie.

5.  I only found 4 trees that had trunks mostly hollow in the middle & in immediate danger of falling.  All of the others were solid & had many decades, perhaps century left.

6.  What is still interesting to me is that there are NO Bur Oaks at the fairgrounds. You do not encounter those until you move out into the neighborhood south & southeast of the fairground. Some heritage & witness trees have been preserved there. However, there is more Bur Oak there. As you go farther away from wooded areas around the creek north of the grounds, you encounter more Bur & less just solid White Oak.

7.  There was a good amount of genetic diversity within the grove.  There are several "types" of White Oak found.

8.  WHITE OAK GENETIC "TYPES":  This site is probably a crossroads of difference genetic families of White Oak that date back well before European settlement of the area.  Genetics from the White Oaks growing in the well-drained forested ravines in the present-day Murdock Park area may vary from those in groves, barrens or savannas in prairies of the southern or northwestern parts of the county with wetter, black prairie soils.  Further, scrubby original White Oaks on the sand dune prairies & barrens of the Wea Plains varied from these two branches of White Oak genetics.

A.  A couple of trees exhibted very large, circular acorns & bore very, very heavily.  I like to call them "Mastodon Mast White Oak".  So much so that the limbs were bending with mast.  The acorns were impressively large almost like a Bur Oak!

B.  One tree on the south side of the grove I like to call "Leatherleaf White Oak".  The leaves were very thick & leathery like a cross between a Post Oak & a White Oak.  This particular speciman exhibited your typical White Oak acorns, but they were prolific sprouters.  Nearly all of the acorns were already sending out a root as of October 1.  It seems the moment the acorns hit the ground, they sprout a root to send into the soil.

Across the road are several large, equally-old White Oaks that show similar characteristics in that residential area.  There are also several old, old Bur Oaks, as well (& some Black Oaks).

Uniformity of the soils on site would point to these being genetic subtleties & not due to edaphic (soil, moisture, other conditions).

C.  Several large, vigorous trees toward the north end of the grove exhibited very thin, lacy foliage.  The leaves looked like crosses of White, Overcup & a version of Bur Oak.  Many of the deeply-lobed leaves had uneven lobes.  These White Oaks I like to call "Laceyleaf Oak".  This fine-textured foliage also had a unique acorn.  The acorn was smaller & much more oval than any other the others with pseudo-striations on the acorn.  None of the acorns were rooting on the site, but it was a heavy bearer.

9.  Much of the site is White Oak, but there were & still are a couple of old, old Black Oaks.  There are also a couple of younger Red Hickories (aka Small-Fruited Hickory), which likes a similar habitat to Shagbark Hickory.  It reaches its greatest occurrence in the north-central parts of Indiana.  There is also a large, old Swamp White Oak, but it holds it's acorns very late & none are currently falling.

10.  I have divided the genetic types of the White Oaks & have planted upwards of 500 acorns in beds at home.  This grove of heritage & witness trees will live on in these trees I look to grow over the next few years.   

These are nursery beds with 100s of acorns planted.

More beds & have pots of acorns too.  This part is a work in progress.

11.  Early maps & surveys show that the oaks at the fairgrounds were right on the edge of the large Wildcat Prairie, which was connected to Wea Prairie or the Wea Plains.

12.  Early maps & surveys also indicate that the hilly, steep terrain around Lafayette was heavily wooded, a sharp contrast to the open, treeless prairies in the northwestern part of the county & in the southwestern & southern parts of the county.

The fairgrounds were the buffer zone of woodland encroachment & wildfire-induced prairie expansion.

Early land surveys show quite a diversity of species in the forests in the hills around Lafayette.  In the surveys the following species are mentioned:  Black Walnut, Butternut ("White Walnut"), American Sycamore, American Basswood, Flowering Dogwood, Ironwood, Tuliptree, Sugar Maple, White Oak, mostly likely Black Oak, Northern Red Oak, "Hickory", Blue Ash & White Ash, American Beech.

In the surveys the trees were labeled in the notes, "B. Walnut, W. Walnut, Sycamore, Lynn, Dogwood, Ironwood, Whitewood, Sugartree, W. Oak, B. Oak, Red Oak, Hickory, B. Ash, W. Ash, Beech."  "W. Oak" or White Oak seems to be of greatest occurrence.

Words of Swamp Ash & Willow & swamp, slough were written where Market Square & St. Elizabeth downtown is located.

"Laceyleaf White Oak"

"Leatherleaf White Oak"

Here are two large, old Black & Swamp White Oaks growing side-by-side in the northeast part of the grove.  Thankfully, these are not marked to be cut down.

Here is the base of that Black Oak.  I do plant to gather acorns from this tree.  It appears to be the only Black Oak left on the grounds.  However, the Red Oak group (in Indiana, Black, Northern Red, Shingle, Southern Red, Cherryback, Pin, Shumard, Northern Pin, Blackjack Oak) only bear mature acorns every other year.  The White Oak group (White, Swamp White, Swamp Chestnut, Chestnut, Chinkapin, Bur, Overcup, Post Oak) bear them every year.

Cut Black Oak from the site with branch of decay with tree trying to grow over wound (possibly storm damage in the past).

This bur or knob on a White Oak trunk had around 110 rings alone!

Old White Oak cut:

Black Oak cut with decay.

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