My last blog post was about the seasons within central New England’s autumn season and how that was likely driven by its Tension Zone, the area across central New England where more northerly trees either live side-by-side or within spitting distance from their more southerly cousins. Today we took a hike into a small patch of forest in Maynard, old mill town that is said to be the smallest town in Massachusetts. What I saw put a hyper-T on Tension Zone.
I was drawn to Summer Hill Woods for two reasons – the unusually steep topographic relief for the town of Maynard, the environment produced along Summer Hill Road just below Summer Hill, and two sentinel trees on Summer Hill Road that said to me there was something special up in those woods – a twisty oak on the N side of the road (could be 200+ yrs old) and a gnarly hickory on the other side of the road. Guess that is three reasons.
Anyhow, both trees have character and symbolize a southern forest in our midst.
We hiked on the white trail from preserve entrance on Summer St. While the ground was frozen today, I would expect that during mud season and wet years the entrance is mucky.
Once we made it up past the old road, I had to stop and pause at what I was seeing: a young and nearly pure stand of yellow birch. This is a highly unusual thing. I can only remember one other similar forest. Making it more exceptional the habitat in Maynard does not seems central to its distribution. It wasn’t in a wetland or in higher elevation. This stand was on the northfacing slope of Summer Hill.
The shiny, fringed, and gold yellow birch bark was so beautiful in the clear January conditions:
We continued up towards the water towers and I started seeing a variety of oaks – white, red, black, and, perhaps, scarlet.
We made it to the stone wall near the water towers. The ‘wolf’ white oak tree caught my eye and I went to get a closer look:
I could see this tree might have been an elder for the other white oaks in the forest, though I suspect there are other white oaks in Summer Hill Woods might be old, too.
On our way back to the trail, a sapling caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, I thought it to be a mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa).
We continued on and enjoyed the oak-hickory-pine forest.
At the intersection of the yellow and white trails, our son decided we would take the yellow trail. I’m glad he made that choice. It was on that trail where I saw a high density of what appears to be mockernut hickory. I’m not completely positive these hickories are mockernut. They are hard to identify in winter. And, there might be other hickories out there. I need to investigate again after budbreak.
Three stages of what I believe to be mockernut hickory, youngest to older going counterclockwise.
But, there are a lot of hickory out there, which, again, is an unusual thing for where we live. In fact, if you look at a map of the distribution of mockernut hickory, we are in the last major northeastern outlier portion of its distribution and, to me, look to be on the western edge of this outlier.
We continued on and saw a healthy oak-hickory forest, so something more like Virginia or North Carolina (though similar forests can be found in CT, NY, etc). But, on the south side of Summer Hill there is indeed a southern forest type, which is a special thing.
While I did not keep a list [was there to enjoy the day], but I think there are at least 12-16 major tree species there:
– 2 pine species
– 4 oak species
– 1-2 hickories
– 1-2 maples
– 2-3 birch
– American beech
I am pretty sure I saw some elm trees and hophornbeam. This is a special forest in terms of diversity and the type of species present.
Some white oaks along this portion of the yellow trail caught my eye. Their smooth bark suggests they could be old.
While hiking, the idea “200 Year Woods” kept coming to mind. Some trees could be 200 years old. But, with the composition and age of some of the trees, many of the trees today could easily live another 200 years. It is a very special forest and I look forward to exploring it more.