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Gosnell Big Woods "Old Growth" Preserve

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  • Gosnell Big Woods "Old Growth" Preserve

    I took a short trip to this area yesterday to do some investigation and learn more about old growth in this region.

    Here's a short description and location information:

    This was not my first visit here, but I'll be quite honest my knowledge was much less the first time, and going back again, it's still quite lacking, but getting better.

    What I noticed -

    The area exhibits some so-called old growth characteristics such as:

    1. Abundance of dead and downed wood. Most trees that were down were beech and hemlock although I saw some cherry.

    2. All age classes of trees from very old to very young. I did not age anything although there were downed logs available to count. I found some info I'll link down below that did the heavy lifting for me there. Beech and hemlock confirmed to be up to 250 years old. There were a number of saplings around, mostly beech from what I saw. I did not see many seedlings but I did find one very new red maple seedling.

    3. Dead standing snags. There were a number of these. Many beech, some ash (I believe) in the wet areas. But also a number of cherry and some hemlock.

    4. Deep organic soils. This didn't exactly jibe. You aren't supposed to go off trail here, but I walked a little in the organic areas and they weren't all that deep. Perhaps this is a bit subjective. The base mineral soil was very sandy in most areas and likely deep loam.

    I would say at least 3 out of 4 of those exist but the entire area is not consistent.

    The "core" area where they have what's called the "lookout" is probably the oldest. It's largely, from what I could see, hemlock, beech and sweet birch (betula lenta). There was at least one red oak there, quite large, but probably no more than 150yo, and some other large trees that may have been tulip poplar (I need to go back with leaves or flowers). I found hickory nuts and walnuts on the ground in the vicinity but I really couldn't tell for certain where they came from. Other sources state old basswood, but I did not see those - perhaps they were further off-trail where I didn't venture.

    As you walk along the trail you dip to a low spot where red maples start popping up and then quickly climb up a ridge - only about 30' or so in elevation, but the forest starts changing drastically. You start to notice cherry and sugar maples and quite a strong presence of red oak. Eventually you top out and stay up high around a number of small depressions and mild slopes. It's now mainly beech and red oak but with scattered cherry and few maples, red and sugar. The sweet birch are still present but less abundant.

    Here I found some interesting trees, quite large, which I think are cucumber magnolias. There's also a stand of tulip poplar here I read from another source, but I think they are off trail a bit.

    Based on other sources - it's speculated that this region is not really all that old. Although I don't know, it may still be representative of this forest type in a drier soil. I'm not convinced that red oak isn't a major component of forests in this part of the world, particularly in elevated areas.

    What I tended to notice was as the site was lower and more mesic (wetter) that there was more hemlock and some red maple as opposed to cherry and red oak on the higher ground.

    I was a little surprised to see very little sugar maple though - I figure this would be more of a dominant component, but it really was not. There are a few very large, and likely old sugar maple here, but only a couple in a 100 acres. I only saw a handful more and they were much smaller.

    Here's a link to a more scientific report. I'll post some pics in a bit:
    Last edited by montcalm; 04-23-2022, 12:37 PM.

  • #2
    Cucumber magnolias?

    Sweet birch:

    Hemlock - Beech:


    Tall and straight:


    • #3
      Some other notes:

      There wasn't much undergrowth at all yet - perhaps I was a bit early, I plan to check again in a couple weeks.

      Beech bark disease is definitely present, but not overly so. My guess was about 50% of the beech had scale. There were surprisingly a number of large, old clear trees. Some had some bubbles but no open cankers and appeared to be healthy.

      I didn't see any (perhaps still too cold) but I believe the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is present. Many of the hemlock looked a little crispy and defoliated.

      Emerald Ash Borer has been decimating this region for quite some time, probably a decade. I really don't even look for live ash much anymore. There were a number of large trees here though before the EAB moved in.


      • #4
        Not sure if I'm going to bother to go back and fix my images, but I visited here again today and leaves were out.

        I was able to get a bit more information here - the trees that I thought were cucumber trees (Magnolia Acuminata), are in fact. Quite large in fact, I've never seen any this big and they aren't exactly common here, although they are native. This is the northernmost part of their range. There are 4 live ones, all seemingly the same age, and one that snapped and the bottom half still standing - it looks similar diameter to the others. They are all in very close proximity to each other in a bit of a "grove" but they don't appear to be planted by humans.

        The others I posted pics of are tulip trees (Liriodendron Tulipifera). This is another southern species that is prevalent and native here. They are quite regular in landscaping so not uncommon. These are quite large for NY standards.

        I hunted for the mysterious hickory and walnuts that were left on the ground, but I couldn't find the trees. I'm thinking those may have been imported.

        What I did notice this time was far more sugar maple - many young(ish), probably in the <100 yo range.

        I did not find any of the large basswood or ash - I did find some younger ones (the ash, dead) but the other large stands must be off somewhere else. I plan to hunt those down at some point.

        I was able to find confirmation of the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid today - and the understory hemlock certainly look worse for the wear. Some that are on the edges of the main forest are hanging onto most of their foliage, but even the older ones have lost most of their lower foliage and only have a small crown section left. Long story short, I don't think they are going to persist much longer.

        Even at this later stage in spring, all the trees have leafed out except the red oaks, which are partially foliated and still with catkins. The ground is still surprisingly sparsely vegetated with only the sparse ferns (which look like christmas ferns) and some grasses. Surprisingly little moss or lichens anywhere. There are a fair deal of tree seedlings popping up though, mostly red maple and beech although there are some sugar maple. On the edge of the forest where it transitions to field there are a number of red oak seedlings.

        I'm by far an expert on this, but here's my take on this place:

        It has a few large, healthy and old beech and a few old(er) hemlocks, which are probably not going to last. The rest of the forest, based on what I see compared to other areas where I know tree ages seems to be in the 150 yo range. The red oaks, cherries, tulip and cucumber trees seem to be all similar aged and none show any signs of being any older. A number of sugar maples are set to succeed these, but it's going to be a long, long time - I'd guess another 150 years. There is also a large component of black birch (Betula Lenta) throughout but none seem to be very old - at least none have any of the square blocky bark I've seen as diagnostic of very old black birch. There is at least one very large, and very old sugar maple that was likely selectively left by humans.

        Overall an interesting place with a lot of very large and beautiful red oaks, some now-rare beech and impressively tall tulip poplars. I don't really think it is "old growth" as in it has not been tampered with. The rest of the property is has clearly been used for agriculture and there are a number of non-natives e.g. Scots pines in other sections.