Field Notes: What’s in the Woods Today? Dec. 27, 2017

by Area Forester Lisa Deaton

Creek Treasures

An important skill for foresters is hopping across creeks without falling in, especially during cold weather.  Last week, I was mapping creeks alongside a cutover to assist a landowner with a Riparian Buffer Tax Credit application.  Wooded buffers along streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay are called riparian forests and help protect our water quality.  Virginia landowners can receive a tax credit for preserving riparian forest buffers along waterways during a timber harvest operation.

Usually, creeks in the Coastal Plain have muddy bottoms, so the gravelly looking area of this creek made me stop to look closer.


The rocky looking objects are all fossils from the Yorktown Formation, which is a layer of bedrock formed during the Pliocene Epoch, 2.5 – 5 million years ago.  There are two fossilized oyster shells in the lower left, and the large scallop shell above them is the Virginia state fossil, Chesapecten jeffersonius.  In the center is a clump of fossilized barnacles.  There are several other familiar shell shapes as you examine the photo more closely.

Creeks and riverbanks in the Coastal Plain can reveal these fossils as water cuts through the exposed outcrops of the Yorktown Formation.  This creek was part of the ocean bed 4 million years ago, but it is 45 miles away from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean today.




Field Notes: A Galling History

by Urban Forest Conservationist Jim McGlone

While leading a forest hike with a landowner and group of her friends, I was brought to a small group of pin oaks that had many of the growths pictured here.

Galling History

The landowner was concerned that it was a disease that would spread and kill all her trees.

This growth, and others like it, are called galls.  Galls form when an insect, usually a small wasp, lays its eggs in a twig.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae give off chemicals that cause the tree to produce these woody swellings to protect the growing larvae.  This particular one is called an oak horn gall.  As the larvae grow older the gall grows thinner-walled, hollow horns.  The adult wasps eventually leave the gall through these horns.

In addition to causing the tree to grow these woody lumps, the chemicals given off by the larvae cause the tree to make more defensive chemicals and store them in the galls.  In oaks, one of the primary defensive chemicals is called tannin, a compound that is very useful to people.  It is probably best known for its use in tanning leather.  But it also creates a rich dark pigment when combined with Iron sulfate.  When mixed with water, this pigment creates a highly prized ink called iron gall Ink.

Oak horn galls and other oak galls played an important role in the history of the United States.   In 1776, Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers knew this and used Iron gall ink when writing the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

So, to answer to the landowner’s concerns, galls cause only minor damage to trees.  But, in 1776, oak galls did major damage to the British empire!

Field Notes: What’s in the Woods Today? Dec. 12, 2017

by Area Forester Lisa Deaton

Lumpy Trees

Sometimes trees respond to injuries or stress (such as a virus, fungus, mold, insects) by growing wood “burls.”  While they look funny on the outside, the wood grain on the inside can be beautiful and is prized by woodworkers.

The photograph at the top of this article is my 6-foot tall supervisor standing next to a white oak stump with numerous burls.

The burl below is growing on an American beech tree.

beech burl front

As I walked closer, I discovered that this burl is truly unusual.  It wraps over the fork in its trunk to the other side of the tree to form a double burl.

Black cherry trees growing in southeastern Virginia are susceptible to black knot fungus, which can cause numerous galls to form on a single tree.

This bowl was made from a cherry burl.

best burl bowl photo

Field Notes: What’s in the Woods Today? Dec. 5, 2017

by Area Forester Lisa Deaton

Baby Longleaf

Last week was finally time to plant a longleaf pine project.  The landowner had spent over a year preparing a 17-acre cutover site for these seedlings.  Longleaf pine is known for its very long needles, huge pine cones, very strong “heart pine” lumber, and the naval stores it can produce.  The longleaf seedlings are in the planters’ bags.

longleaf planting crew

As you can see, the planting crew was ready to go to work early in the morning.  The loblolly pine plantation on the left is 21 years old.  It was precommercially thinned at age 10, understory burned at age 14, and commercially thinned at age 17.  The area to the right of the road was clearcut to make room for the longleaf plantation.

planters on road

In 3-4 years, the new plantation should look something like this:

suffolk plantation

Longleaf pine used to be part of 1.5 million acres of forest in the southeastern corner of Virginia until around 1700.  Its presence allowed for the beginning of the ship-building industry in Hampton Roads.  However, the historic harvest of longleaf lumber and naval stores, the conversion of forest to farm fields, and the exclusion of fire helped lead to the decline of longleaf pine in Virginia’s landscape.  A great deal of research has been conducted on how to reestablish longleaf pine in Virginia.  Our hope is to increase species richness and biodiversity at the northern limit of where longleaf pine can grow.

baby longleaf

One discovery is that planting containerized seedlings in the fall, as opposed to bare-root seedlings in the early spring, is more successful.

open field planting

Sometimes landowners decide to plant agricultural fields back into trees.  These planting rows were “scalped” to remove the roots of grasses that could compete for water, nutrients, and sunlight with the longleaf seedlings.  A “ripper” was also used to break up compacted soil so that the longleaf roots can grow deep.  The ripper is in the “up” position in this photo.  It is the white looking piece of metal.

scalping plow n tractor