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Throw Some Shade

Posted Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Some trees thrive in sunlight, others need deep shade. BNRC land stewards help each tree find its place in the forest, with your help.

Have you ever noticed that some trees grow very quickly, and others take many decades to mature? Or that trees near disturbances and forest edges behave very differently than those in deep undisturbed areas? What’s the best way to ensure the health of a wide range of tree species, to support habitat for wildlife?

Some trees prefer specific environmental conditions; some like wet soil, some dry, some shady and others like full light.

Shade intolerant species are fast growers and they need lots of sunlight (50% or more direct sunlight). At the other end of the spectrum, shade tolerant species grow slowly and in low light (10-20% direct sunlight). Intermediate species can withstand anywhere in between.

Forests are not static—both human and natural changes can change the forest makeup. For example, when lots of sunlight reaches the forest floor in the event of a large disturbance (large forest fire, clear-cut, road etc.) shade intolerant species, such as aspen and paper birch, thrive.

At the other end of the spectrum, yellow birch, beech and hemlock trees have the highest tolerance for shade in the Northeast. In a mature oak forest, for example, small hemlocks are able to survive near the forest floor for decades, growing very slowly with minimal sunlight. A hemlock can be 4 feet tall and 70 or more years old, waiting for a gap to form in the canopy. When you walk into a forest of tall hemlock, yellow birch, or beech, such as at our Boulders reserve in Pittsfield, you know that they waited a long time to reach the top of the canopy.

While every forest has edges, we strive to keep large tracts of forest intact and undisturbed, so that essential species like hemlocks will always have a place to grow in the Berkshires.

So on your next outdoor adventure, pay attention to the forest composition and the story it tells.

You help make sure the thousands of acres of BNRC-owned forests are cared for to protect the trees and the wildlife that depend on them. Thank you!

Help protect forests in the Berkshires: