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A recent fascinating New York Times article, Tending the Body’s Microbial Garden, discusses the ecosystem of microbial wildlife that each human contains within themselves.  Trees are not so different. Joan Maloof in Teaching the Trees, Lessons from the Forest, shares the micro ecosystems surrounding each tree. For example how seven types of leaf hoppers live specifically on Sycamore Trees or the Beech Trees that provide habitat for many species: the red-backed salamanders, beech-drops, tway blade orchids, fungus gnats, and many fungal species. She further shares how the ecosystems of the trees of an old growth forest depend upon each other in a complex web of interrelationships.  The book is illustrated using drawings of 18th century naturalist, John Abbot.  The book gives many personal anecdotes on life and teaching biology at a small college.  This book is one of my favorites, it is informative, well written, and inspiring.      

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Typically old trees are big, but what other characteristics do old trees demonstrate. Neil Pederson of the Department of Biological Sciences at Eastern Kentucky University,  summarizes six characteristics in his abstract. 

(1) smooth or “balding” bark;

(2) low stem taper;

(3) high stem sinuosity;

4) crowns comprised of few, large-diameter, twisting limbs;

(5) low crown volume; and

(6) a low ratio of leaf area to trunk volume.


He concludes, "The existence of old trees in the landscape can also be related to life-history traits or land-use histories. Both professionals and lay folk can be trained to identify these traits and environmental conditions. While these characteristics and settings generally signal the potential for old trees, there is no guarantee that they represent old ages. However, these characteristics should aid in the discovery of old trees throughout the EDF.". 


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Photograph by Kathryn Kolb

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The Secret Forest

The soil was alive, the trees emanated old age, and the shade was prolific with pockets of light bursting through.  All expected qualities of an old growth forest.   The unexpected was the sound of airplanes overhead and cars from a nearby major road.   This was my experience at Big Trees Forest  Preserve located smack dab in the middle of one of the busiest sections of Atlanta.  More amazing is that, of the six million inhabitants surrounding the forest, I saw one person on a walk with their dog and another eating lunch at the entrance.   Adjacent to the forest are office building and strip malls that are full of people.   The contrast of the hot parking lot at the entrance and the cool breeze in the forest was tactile. Entry into the forest felt as if you were transitioning in time and space to a different reality.  The forest was a perfect combination of neglect and love.  Neglected by the general populous but observably cared for by those that love it with fantastic trails, maps, and informative designed viewpoints.   These hidden gems are not as rare as you might think.  I can count ten similar forests that I know of in the Atlanta Region.  Have you discovered the secret forest in your area yet?



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