Sunday, March 2, 2014

Back to the Ancient Tupelos

When Saturday morning dawned well below zero, I wondered if anyone would turn out for the hike to a grove of ancient Black Tupelos that Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land And Nature) had organized.  Well, I needn't have worried.  A large group of thirty brave souls bundled up and strapped on their snowshoes to follow PLAN intern Andrew Gillcrist on a two-mile trek to visit these venerable trees that have stood in a Saratoga County swamp since at least as far back as the 15th Century.

Before we headed into the Lincoln Mountain State Forest in Greenfield, PLAN Stewardship Coordinator Devin Rigolino provided some background on this mixed hardwood forest, which consists of almost a thousand acres of forest and wetlands, protected by New York State since 1933 to ensure natural resources preservation. 

Although this state forest is not one of the many tracts owned or managed by Saratoga PLAN,  Devin explained that it is just such incredibly rich natural areas that his organization is attempting to preserve.  By offering nature experiences like this one,  PLAN hopes to increase public awareness of Saratoga County's many natural treasures deserving of protection from commercial development.

And so we set off along old logging roads, keeping up a brisk pace that soon warmed us well, our snowshoes crunching through the deep crusted snow.

After a mile or so of close woodland, we emerged onto a large open swamp, where standing snags held the remains of old Great Blue Heron nests.  Although herons no longer use this heronry to rear their young (water levels have fallen too low to sustain the fish the herons feed on), the old nests are occasionally used by Great Horned Owls.   On a previous visit to this swamp a few years ago, I was privileged to see these magnificent owls occupying a nest.   But not this year.

At last we arrived at our destination.  And there they stood, those ancient Black Tupelos (Nyssa sylvatica), craggy witnesses to centuries gone by, having started to grow in this wetlands long before European settlers arrived in this part of New York.  As this photo reveals, the trees are not really enormous, since this species tends to die from the top down.  They also become hollow as they age, which makes core sampling something of a challenge.  But dendrologists have managed to obtain enough samples to estimate that these trees are at least 500 years old.  (Some foresters have claimed that some trees could be as old as 800 years.)

They certainly do have an awe-inspiring presence!

A couple of years ago, my friend Laurie escorted me to some craggy old Black Tupelos she had discovered in a mountainous swamp at Moreau Lake State Park.  These trees were very nearly as large as the tupelos in Lincoln Mountain State Forest,  and the bark displayed the same pattern of growth typical of very old trees:  one side of the trunk has deeply furrowed bark, while the opposite side is relatively smooth.  This photo below is from one of the tupelos at Moreau.

Here's my friend Sue embracing one of the tupelos in the mountains of Moreau.   We will be returning to this site next weekend, hoping to show our remarkable finds to Andrew Gillcrist, our guide on the hike this Saturday at Lincoln Mountain.  I hope someday that someone will try to determine their age.


The Furry Gnome said...

Amazing! I'm not aware of ever seeing a tupelo in southern Ontario.

Woody Meristem said...

It's an interesting species, growing in wetlands and swamps in the South and on high dry sites as well as wetlands here. At least on drier sites they can reproduce by root sprouts like beech does.
It's a great species for wildlife, large old hollow trees provide escape cover; younger trees with small hollows are used for nest sites or winter roosts; and the fruit, which looks like a miniature olive, is eaten by many species.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Furry Gnome, you won't find Black Tupelos in much of NY State, either, aside from the Hudson/Champlain valley and along the Mohawk, areas where the climate is somewhat moderated by water. I find them quite often in Saratoga County, always in wetlands or along rivers. Obviously, they have been here a very long time.

Thanks, Woody Meristem, for the information about this interesting tree. I credit this tree for inspiring my passion to learn the names of all plants, since the time I first saw it in blazing autumn foliage along the Hudson River at Moreau. I had never seen one before and didn't know what it was. I had to find out, and then I had to know the name of all that grew around it in its riparian habitat. And so I was hooked.

Momo said...

Thank you for following up our most enjoyable and informative trek with your on site handout and this blog entry. Quite an interesting experience for me.