Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve (OH)

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Rand
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Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve (OH)

Post by Rand » Mon Apr 28, 2014 1:53 pm

Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve contains one of the largest contiguous blocks of forest remaining in the gently undulating to frying-pan flat farmlands of Northwest Ohio. While the property is ~ 1000 acres, the largest block of forest is ~435 acres. A smaller 56 acres strip of forest runs along the western border of the property. The usual woodlot size is generally in the 5-10 acre range with a few tracks consisting of multiple adjoining properties approaching 100 acres in size. Another way to put this size in perspective, I’ve used this forest to personally verify that without landmarks you do in fact walk in a circle.

The property was originally owned by a prominent judge and then passed down to his heirs. As the largest remaining track of forest it contained a number of rare herbaceous species and therefore attracted public interest in how the abundant second growth timber on the property was managed. At some point during the 80’s they had a ‘Five year plan’ for a sustainable harvest that according to a local university professor was less sustainable than it appeared. By the mid nineties the family had enough of the meddling and decided to liquidate the timber holdings. Fortunately the state stepped in and purchased the property in 1997 before that could happen. Soon after I was able to hike through it for the first time, and found every sizable tree marked for harvest, numbered sequentially from one end of the forest to the other. They went up to ~3030 if I remember correctly.

Physically the landscape is very flat, with the land undulating only a handful of feet over a hundred yards, with perhaps 10-15’ of total fall from the south end of the property to the north (~1 mile). Drainage is provided by an irregular network of shallow sloughs sluggishly wandering between wide, shallow ephemeral pools that range from sloppy wet to a little more than ankle deep. Spring peepers could be heard singing in nearly all these pools.

A few of the deeper ephemeral pools graduate to perennial shallow ponds. Between the encroaching forest and the open water there is a band of pure and nearly impenetrable buttonbush - a small, tangled mesh of a bush 10-15’ tall (just imagine sloppy-drunk honeysuckle). Apparently buttonbush can tolerate more immersion (and less shade) than the hardwoods, for very few hardwoods can grow in the same space as buttonbush. Silver maple and a few willows inhabit the ragged, boggy edge of the buttonbush tangle and wind throw is common. Ash (now dead from emerald ash borer) and at one point elm filled in the next wettest terrain with swamp white oak and a few sycamores filling in the rest of the seasonally wet areas. Elm mortality seems particularly high in this forest, with few young trees making it over 6”-8” dbh before succumbing (a more usual size is 10”-12”)

The deepest pond is located in the northwest corner and is perhaps 2’ deep. In dry years it dries almost completely, but a 1’ drop in water level in the fall seems to be the average from what I’ve casually observed. A boardwalk has been constructed through the wide tangle of buttonbush that rings this pond to the open water at the center.

The forest network of interconnected pools is clearly visible as the dark splotches in the aerial photo below:
(The northern border of the forest is almost precisely 1 mile long)
aerial.jpg
Compare that to the LIDAR…
lidar.jpg
…and one gets the impression that the tallest trees closely follow the sloughs, and indeed they do:
aerial-lidar-overlay.jpg
The forest composition also varies with the subtle variations in terrain. The wet sloughs with seasonal standing water are commandingly dominated by swamp white oak. Pin oak, green ash, silver maple, and sycamore fill out the assemblage in roughly equal proportions, while spice bush fills the understory. On slightly higher terrain red and white oak become the most common species, with a scattering of basswood, black walnut, black cherry, and chinquapin oak also being seen. A few of the driest looking areas were dominated by groves of sugar maple and beach. Shagbark, bitternut, and red hickory were present but quite uncommon.

The physical character of the forest speaks of heavy human disturbance, for the canopy trees are eerily all the same size from one end of the forest to the other. In most woodlots with a history of high grading there are usually a scattering of much older, short, fat trunked, wide spreading ‘wolf trees’. I’ve found 1 in the whole place. The impression I get is the whole forest was clear felled all at once, 100-150 years ago and then allowed to regrow. Judging by the weathering of the stumps, it looks like the northern 20% (approximately coincident with the seam in the LIDAR data) was subject to a selective harvest where ~ 1/3 of the trees were harvested, starting in the east and moving progressively west over a fairly long period of time. You can see how the canopy looks noticeable more ‘gappy’ on the LIDAR on this region. The southern 2/3rds is largely undisturbed, with the noticeable exception of the large hole in the middle (#2 on the LIDAR map). A scattering of dead hawthorn or crabapple stumps and an abundance of young walnuts makes it look like this region was an old field or pasture (It’s also one of the drier portions of the site). The abrupt linear boundary on the western side of the hole is quite visible in the forest as a row of fat white oaks with many lower limbs on only one side of their trunks, reaching out into the vanished light gap (#3 on the LIDAR map). The young trees growing up in this area appear to be ~40-50 years old.

The far northwest corner was probably an open, savanna like pasture for a long period of time, for the large trees here were more widely spaced, and had larger crowns than others deeper in the forest, but these trees were among the last to be harvested (#4 on the LIDAR map). The southwest corner grades down into old pasture that looks like it was still in use almost up to the point of sale of the property to the state (there used to be an old barn & house on the southern road).

Finally, the trees themselves aren’t all that impressive in the grand scheme of things. My feeling is that is simply due to their age, for all the canopy trees look quite young, with vigorously growing crowns. Given time, the forest will probably resemble more well know landmark forest like Goll or Johnston Woods. The most impressive tree was a Swamp White Oak double, 12’-10” x 117’.
Lawrence-heights.jpg
Three to four years ago emerald ash borer killed every mature ash tree in the forest, but the trees were still standing:
Ash trunk riddled with EIB tunnels
Ash trunk riddled with EIB tunnels
6' 11" x 118' Green Ash
6' 11" x 118' Green Ash
A few other highlight trees:
12' 10" x 118' Swamp White Oak
12' 10" x 118' Swamp White Oak
13' 10" x 104' Red Oak
13' 10" x 104' Red Oak
9' 2" x 125' Silver Maple
9' 2" x 125' Silver Maple
Dense Timber in a Slough
Dense Timber in a Slough
Conjoined Walnut & Sycamore
Conjoined Walnut & Sycamore
Pretty Red Oak
Pretty Red Oak

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bbeduhn
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Re: Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve (OH)

Post by bbeduhn » Mon Apr 28, 2014 3:56 pm

That's a heck of a silver maple! That height is rarely attained outside of some islands in PA.

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Matt Markworth
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Re: Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve (OH)

Post by Matt Markworth » Mon Apr 28, 2014 6:00 pm

Rand,

Fantastic report! The swamp white oak is just shy of the tallest we've documented and the silver maple is impressive too. I'd love to find some tall silver maples. Were there a lot of cottonwoods? Do you think the cottonwoods can make it up to 130' like other sites up there, given enough time?

Matt

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Rand
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Re: Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve (OH)

Post by Rand » Mon Apr 28, 2014 7:10 pm

Matt Markworth wrote:Rand,

Fantastic report! The swamp white oak is just shy of the tallest we've documented and the silver maple is impressive too. I'd love to find some tall silver maples. Were there a lot of cottonwoods? Do you think the cottonwoods can make it up to 130' like other sites up there, given enough time?

Matt
I'm not sure. I only saw a few cottonwoods and their crowns were pretty irregular, like perhaps they were reaching their maximum heights already, so I don't think it was the best site for them. They might require deeper soils, like those found along river valleys do do well.

On the other hand, in the property I grew up on, only a 1/2 drive north of there, a cottonwood planted in 1972 measured ~84' in height, so any limits aren't likely to be climatic.

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Jess Riddle
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Re: Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve (OH)

Post by Jess Riddle » Mon Apr 28, 2014 10:19 pm

Rand,

Really nice write up. I've never had an opportunity to tromp through forests in that region, so it's nice to have a detailed account. It's interesting how different the species composition at Lawrence Woods is from wetlands in upstate New York, both the nutrient poor and nutrient rich varieties. Red maple is a often dominant in the nutrient poor systems and white pine, black ash, balsam fir, and white cedar in the rich fens; doesn't seem to be much overlap at all. Buttonbush in standing water is much more familiar.

I'll third the nice silver maple.

Jess

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tomhoward
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Re: Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve (OH)

Post by tomhoward » Tue Apr 29, 2014 8:30 am

Randy,

Fantastic site! That Swamp White Oak is awesome! The pictures of this oak-hardwood wetland are beautiful, and remind me of the North Syracuse Cemetery Oak Grove, with the huge oaks rising above and around the vernal pool. That Silver Maple is magnificent and I've never seen one so tall.

Tom Howard

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Rand
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Re: Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve (OH)

Post by Rand » Tue Apr 29, 2014 10:40 am

tomhoward wrote:Randy,

Fantastic site! That Swamp White Oak is awesome! The pictures of this oak-hardwood wetland are beautiful, and remind me of the North Syracuse Cemetery Oak Grove, with the huge oaks rising above and around the vernal pool.
When I visited that grove, I too was struck by the similarity. If you look on the aerial Map of Lawrence woods, there is a major pool in the north central region, that I didn't get to this time out, but it does contain a number of really nice single trunk oaks, that may be taller than the one pictured. We'll see.
That Silver Maple is magnificent and I've never seen one so tall.

Tom Howard
If you look carefully it's a little tattered from a major ice storm we had ~5 years ago. Without the storm it would have been even taller. Seems to be recovering though.

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Rand
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Re: Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve (OH)

Post by Rand » Fri Apr 10, 2015 2:38 pm

I returned to Lawrence Woods on Easter weekend. This time I was able to do more measurement in the eastern half of the woods. The highlight of the trip were a large red hickory and red oak. Both trees were so much larger than any other specimen of their species that I think they represent an older generation of trees. There also was a large hollow Pin Oak nearby that recently fell. At 126' tall, the red hickory is now the tallest tree found in the woods.
12' 11.5" x 106.5' Red Oak
12' 11.5" x 106.5' Red Oak
8' 8.0" x 126' Red Hickory
8' 8.0" x 126' Red Hickory
Red Hickory Bark
Red Hickory Bark
(I presume this is Red Hickory bark, and not Pignut)
L2.png
The second group of measurements was in the large slough just north of the old clearing in the middle of the woods. There may be many more large trees in there, but wasn't able to explore too much because of the impending rain, and also there appeared to be an active rookery of Blue Herons nesting there. Generally, sycamores are pretty scarce in the woods, but there are many more in that slough that can be measured after the herons have departed for the season.

I hesitate to calculate a rucker index for the site, because I don't think I've covered enough of the site to make it more than a wild guess (the main block of woods is ~420 acres). Swamp white oak is by far the most prominent oak species in the woods, but there are so many, of such uniform size that it is extremely daunting to select a few to measure. Last fall was apparently a heavy mast year, and the abundant acorn litter making it clear that there are a lot burr oak mixed in with the swamp whites on the same wet ground (The two species being difficult to distinguish from a distance, especially when young). Perhaps 1 out of 5. Beech, sugar maple, and black walnut are also present in the woods, but I've yet to see one that stands out compared to the others.

A final curiosity was a black walnut that uprooted, but kept enough roots in the ground to resume growing:
_MG_8743.jpg

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