Bruce Robinson remembers a time when a group standing in this spot could look across a goldenrod field and see the farmhouse on Riverside Road. He remembers planting a Sugar Maple and a couple of Red Oaks at the curve of this path on what would become the “lawn”. He remembers digging long straight trenches to divert water away from paths and a long S-shaped trench in which to plant Norway Spruces – a backdrop for the future Arboretum. He remembers differences of opinion about what should and shouldn’t be planted.
Bruce led a walk on April 14th for a group of Audubon Trail Guides and other friends and told so many fascinating stories… I’ll try to share some of them in this and a couple of subsequent posts:
The Sugar Maples (and Red Oaks… and a Couple of Cherries). There is a Sugar Maple that sits on the hill on the southwest side of the Nature Center building. It is enormous. It is old. It is regal.
When Audubon acquired this property in the 1970s and began developing it as a wildlife sanctuary, there were many discussions about that tree. How can we showcase it? How long will it last? What plans should be made for its eventual demise?
If you look under the Big Maple today you will see that it is “kind of a mess,” to use Bruce’s words. He assured us that the messiness was intentional from the very start. The 30-40 species of plants that grow under the Maple do two things: (1) They provide shelter for wildlife. Indeed, we often see chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits run for cover when we approach with a group of children. (2) They serve to discourage people from getting too close to the tree by providing a little buffer zone.
Back in the 1970s, it was evident that Big Maple had been “in decline” for many years. Bruce assured Audubon founding members that it was sure to be there for another fifty years. He assured us the same thing today. Tree time is so much different than people time… Still, knowing that no tree can live forever, a new Sugar Maple was planted to take the place of Big Maple – some day… generations later. Two Red Oaks were planted the same day.
You can’t tell from this picture, but the Sugar Maple in the foreground (with orange and yellow signs) has a trunk only 1/2 or 2/3 the size of the Red Oaks in the background, although they were all planted on the same day.
Natural succession provided a couple of trees that are undesirable from Bruce’s perspective – one on the north side of the trail between the two Sugar Maples, and one on the south side of the trail near the Red Pine Stand. The Black Cherries grew faster than the new Sugar Maple and are now taller, stealing sunlight. Both sport a feature often found in new forests – forked trunks. In a new forest where there is plenty of sun, trees often produce forked trunks giving them larger canopies – more leaves for doing the work of photosynthesis. As the forest grows around the fast-growing Cherries, competition for sunlight increases. One of the trunks falls away so that the tree can spend its energy getting taller – getting its leaves up to the sun.
Bruce predicted that left alone, each of these Cherries will lose a trunk sometime in the next 4-5 years. He also expressed his opinion that the Cherries should be taken down to encourage the Sugar Maple.
More next post about this walk and Audubon’s natural and man-made history… Click–> Part II ** Part III