if yer not forest,
yer against us

Fred Breglia
Head of Horticulture

Old Growth Forest Survey Report
Ancient Forest
of Landis Arboretum
Survey Data
Fred Breglia
Head of Horticulture and Operations
Fall 2005 Newsletter

The Landis Arboretum’s most recent land acquisition, which more than doubled the size of the Arboretum, contains a horticultural treasure.

One parcel of land near the Montgomery County line contains one of the oldest forests in the area. This ancient forest is approximately 30 acres in size, and is located in the northeast corner of the Arboretum.

On August 20, a team of old growth forest experts surveyed the site, and found various species of trees ranging from 150 to 350 years in age. “This is a forest that has been untouched since the Revolutionary War,” said Bruce Kershner, an ancient forest authority, and author of
Sierra Club Guide to
Ancient Forests of the Northeast

A fairly diverse range of species comprises the old growth forest. The dominant trees are American beech, sugar maple, hemlock, yellow birch, black birch, and red oak. Other species include striped maple, basswood, black cherry, paper birch, bitternut hickory, American elm, and a few massive grape vines that are hundreds of years old and over 85 feet tall.

Several stands of large American beech make this forest even more unique. Big beech trees growing in the wild are uncommon today due to a fungus disease known as the beech bark complex, which often kills off beech trees before they can attain their mature size.

Why has this forest been overlooked by loggers and developers over the years? The main reason is that topography—the trees are growing on a very steep hillside—helped to protect the site over the past 250 years.

A new trail overlooking the ravine will give visitors a chance to see what our forests looked like hundreds of years ago. The old growth forest is accessible to patrons by walking the Great Oak/Woodland Trail, starting in the corner of the field behind the greenhouse to the Great Oak. From there follow the Acorn Trail until you come to the bottom of the hill. You will take a left at the T-intersection, and follow the signs to the Ancient Forest Overlook Trail. It is approximately three miles round trip from the parking lot to the old growth and back.

The newly acquired ancient forest and the smaller stand of old growth located near the Great Oak make Landis Arboretum an old growth forest headquarters. According to Mr. Kershner, Landis Arboretum has now become one of three arboreta in eastern North America that have old growth forests. The other two are the New York Botanical Garden and Rutgers University.

Winter 2005 Newsletter
Old Growth Forest Survey Report
Fairchild Hemlock Forest
Bruce Kershner

The Fairchild Hemlock Grove is an outstanding example of a pristine old growth forest in a region where forest cutting and clearing after the Revolutionary War led to the virtual elimination of the original forest.

Previous owners of this tract of land did not log the forest because it grows on a steep slope. But the last owner was on the verge of logging when the Landis Arboretum purchased the property in 2005. In fact, a logging road runs along the bottom of the steep slope just outside of the Ancient Forest.

The forest covers about 25 acres on a steep north-facing slope overlooking the Schoharie River Valley. Eastern Hemlock is the dominant tree; Sugar Maple and American Beech are the second most common trees. A total of ten species of trees (and a massive River Grape vine) attain "old growth" status, a relatively high diversity for a hemlock-dominated forest.

The most unique feature of the site is that it is the only known site in the Northeast where Yellow Birch, old growth Black Birch and paper birch grow close together. In fact, old growth Paper extremely rare, since this species rarely reaches 125 years old. The Paper Birch here could be as old as 150 to 175 years. The sun-loving Paper Birch, which does not normally grow in old growth forests, is probably growing here because seeds from the second growth forest on the plateau above blew onto the site, where one or several large trees fell down some time in the past, leaving a temporary sun-lit patch. Since then, the slope's steep orientation allows light to come in from a side angle, rather than from above, as would be the case in most old growth forests.

A second notable point is that the Landis Arboretum is now one of only three arboretums in the Northeast to possess an old growth forest. Even more notable is that its forest is pristine, whereas the old growth forests on the New York Botanical Gardens (NYC) and Rutgers University Botanical Gardens (NJ) have considerable disturbance and tree diseases.

Other unusual features include:

  • Extremely large (7 inch diameter) old growth River Grape, approximately 200 years old. It is very rare for grape vines to attain this size and age.

  • Numerous old growth Hop Hornbeams, up to 240 years old. This small tree is commonly believed to be short-lived to moderately long-lived, but the specimens here range to 240 years old, surpassing all published records.

  • A colony of Oak Fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris), a very uncommon species which has legal protection under state law. It grows with Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides). Both these species are strong indicators of old growth forests and undisturbed very mature forests.

  • Numerous American Chestnut logs lying on the forest floor with very little decay since about 1925. This species was once part of this forest until the devastating chestnut blight destroyed every mature chestnut in North America. The logs are 80 years old, and as living trees, they were 50-75 years old when they were killed. They are really a unique kind of natural "antique."

    Be sure to visit this wonderful forest the next time you are out at Landis Arboretum. This trail is approximately 2.5 miles roundtrip from the parking lot and is moderately difficult. The preferred way to hike this trail starts up at the Meeting House parking lot. Follow the Woodland Trail out past our smaller Old Growth Forest on the way to the Great Oak. From the Great Oak, follow the Acorn Trail to the bottom of the hill, where you take a left. In a few hundred feet you will see the sign for the Ancient Forest Trail. Follow this trail to the Old Growth, about a mile. Seeing the forest the way things used to be is like taking a walk back in time.

    Remember "If you're not Forest, then you’re against us.”

  • The Earth Restoration and Reforestation Alliancewww.championtrees.orgupdated 4/14/2003