A Small Black Oak Wood by
P. M. Eckel
Originally published in Clintonia 17(4): 5-7. 2002.
Res Botanica, April 3, 2003
A Small Black Oak Wood by
P. M. Eckel,
(See Picture Gallery at end)
substance of this paper is an assessment of a small woodlot behind (to the
east of) Niagara University perhaps less than an acre in area at the junction
of Witmer Road (NY Rte. 31) and University Road, Niagara Co., town of
Lewiston. It is about a mile east from the Niagara River gorge and a half
mile west of the Witmer Rd. exit from the I 90, easily identified on road
maps (43º07'N, 79º 01'W). It was drawn to my attention by Dr. Carol Sweeney
woods is a vegetational anomaly occurring in a heavily modified environment
of long use by industry and railroads. It is beside the nucleus of the
hydroelectric power generating facility of the New York Power Authority
(NYPA), occurring just south of the intake canal leading from the reservoir
to the turbines on the northern boundary of Niagara University and nearly
below the great power transmission lines leading from substations near the
reservoir. The landscape to the north and surrounding areas consists of
unmown, apparently recently bulldozed "brownfields". The 1965 USGS
topographic map of this area shows railroad yards with numerous sidings to
the north of what is now University Road, but which in 1965 was a dirt road,
including a line of the New York Central railroad bisecting
surrounding soil is a thin layer over dolomitic bedrock that is frequently
exposed at the surface. The area is wet in the spring (and in places
throughout the growing season) apparently due to poor drainage, the soil
appearing to be a heavy clay over impervious bedrock. Gravelly soil supported
carpets of the moss Campylium chrysophyllum, which seems to thrive
in the wet conditions of spring and the harsh desiccation later in autumn
when surface moisture is confined to low areas and ditching. Polsters of Ceratodon purpureus are also typical of such sterile environments,
especially where there are extensive areas of bare soil. Vegetation in August
included often stunted forms of Sonchus
arvensis var. arvensis, S. oleraceus, Picris hieracoides,
abundant, Centaureum spp. abundant.
Early transition to shrub succession included Cornus rugosa with
stunted Crataegus mollis, patches of Artemisia vulgaris, Cornus sericea, thickets of Salix
interior in low areas, Rhus typhina, Rudbeckia hirta, Solidago juncea, S. cf. canadensis and S. graminifolia. The
transition from this generally barren surface to the old growth forest patch,
shaded and crowded with an utterly different and native vegetation is
striking. Old growth is indicated in the purity of the composition and the
rarity of the species assemblages in addition to the apparent absence of
physical disturbance. Although the hand of man may be said, from a biological
point of view, to be destructive as vital corporations were created and
eliminated in this area, it is curious that survival of this wood seems to
derive from the deliberate construction of a surrounding berm of soil clearly
artificial in origin (although the south boundary seems protected by the
elevated road bed of Witmer Road). This berm may bury by several feet the
bases of the native trees growing on the periphery. Within this protecting
circle the original soil character in which this community developed is
preserved: thin, poorly drained soil over bedrock with vernal pools extending
long into the growing season, and in the lowest places, moist into the
desiccating end of summer. Such berm development exists at
said as much, it seems sad that
composition is unusual for the region, seen in its most general terms.
Kuechler (1964) reported the forest typical of the site to be Northern
Hardwoods dominated by Acer saccharum, Betula allegheniensis, Fagus grandifolia and Tsuga canadensis. He gives no oak or hickory
species as "other components." Adjacent to this forest type,
including areas around the City of
Still, I know of no other wood dominated by Quercus velutina (Black Oak) and Carya glabra (Sweet, or Pignut Hickory) as this one is. Although Black Oak is typical of upland, sandy stations and 10 and 12" dbh specimens grow up on or out of the berm on the east side. This species is also noted in "poorly drained uplands and terraces" (Jenson 1997) The Pignut hickory, too, is typical of upland and dry stations on well-drained soils. It may occur in thin soils "on edge of granite outcrops" (Stone 1997) but also in mesic to wet habitats (Argus et al., 1987). In the middle of the vernal pools are large trees of Quercus palustris (Pin Oak) and and the hybrid Acer rubrum ´ A. saccharinum as well as typical Acer saccharinum.
trees include large specimens of Fraxinus
The woods is a fine place to study Black Oak for those unfamiliar with this tree. One specimen was isolated from the woods by a caretaker of the Witmer road verge, a mown lawn, and is accessible for study, especially in September when its acorns cover the ground. The Carya glabra can be studied also, for its seamless white bark (not shaggy) and leaflets greater than 5 (as in C. ovata) with scales on the leaf surface.
This paper was written in honor of NFBS member Dr. Carol Sweeney for her contributions to floristic information of public interest.
Argus, G. W., K. M. Pryer, D. J. White and C. J.
Keddy, eds. 1982-87. Atlas of the rare vascular plants of
Jensen, Richard J. 1997. Quercus Linnaeus sect. Lobatae
Loudon. In Flora of
Kuechler, A. W. 1964. Potential Natural
Vegetation of the Conterminous
Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological Communities of
Stone, Donald E. 1997. Carya. In Flora of
Zander, Richard H. & Gary J. Pierce. 1979.
Flora of the
NU-Power Authority (probably) woods seen looking west from Interstate 90. The woods stands in great contrast to the surrounding industrial environment and is one of the more important sources of information regarding the nature of the aboriginal forested character of this area.
The west (NU) half of the bisected woodland showing
the mown verge and the woods edge with its Hawthorns, Black Oaks and
The standing water here was not created by the surrounding berms or highway construction, but is the native soil characteristic of drainage poor enough to allow winter and spring precipitation to linger throughout the early growing season. This water regime effectively drowns out the germinating or sprouting seeds of competing species of trees, shrubs and herbs so that black soil with all vegetation absent remains when this water evaporates or percolates down by summer.
This area, in the NU side of the woods, shows a type of vernal pool that favors a peculiar kind of forest type. If the water stood all year, this woods would probably end up being a Red Maple, Silver Maple, Green Ash type of swamp forest. Instead, since the water dries up and often presents a forbidding autumn aspect of dried, cracked clay, this soil type favors a relatively unstudied forest type that favors Oaks and Hickories.
Geomorphological features do not photograph well, but this is a picture of the carefully constructed berm surrounding this small woodland, protecting its botanical and hydrological resources from activities in the surrounding environment. The top edge of the berm can be seen as a horizontal like in the upper quarter of the picture.
Malus coronaria is a beautiful and uncommon native Apple. It grows amid a highly diverse population of shrub species in this unique woodland. There is no Hawthorn with flowers like these. This small tree has no thorns, like a Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.), but the small lateral spurs on the twigs of this species resemble thorns.
These are the fruits of the little native apple in October.