Field Notes: What’s in the Woods Today? Jan. 31, 2018

by Area Forester Lisa Deaton

Those Hidden Roots

Homeowners often contact our local Department of Forestry or Virginia Cooperative Extension offices when they are worried that a yard tree might be diseased or dying.

dying pine

This loblolly pine (above) is located on the shore of a tidal creek that flows into the Chesapeake Bay.  The needles and branches in the top of the tree have been dying for the past several months.  We initially thought that the harsh growing conditions of a saltwater shoreline and repeated flooding had finally taken its toll on this tree.  Then we found out that the tree’s roots had suffered through the construction of a home addition and the installation of a lawn irrigation system.  The homeowners thought that as long as the taproot directly under the tree was undisturbed then the tree would be fine.

While pine trees do have a central taproot, evident in the two tree stumps on the right, (below) they also have a large network of smaller roots and fine root hairs like the stump in the center of the photo.

roots 2

The fine roots of live trees are located in the first few feet of soil. Just driving over them with heavy equipment can compact the soil enough to damage those roots. Cutting through tree roots for irrigation systems or utilities (electric wire, cable, etc.) eliminates part of the original root system and creates wounds where diseases can enter the tree.
A general rule of thumb during home construction is to leave the ground underneath a tree undisturbed for at least the breadth of its canopy. A tree’s roots can extend away from the tree a distance of 1 to 3 times its height, which is a consideration for landscape planning, also.

These photos (below) provide a glimpse of the underground root system of hardwood trees.

roots 3roots 4

Here are a few more photos from an eroded shoreline on the York River  (Most of the fine root system of these dead pines has weathered, decayed and fallen off).

roots 5roots 6

Last, but not least, this is an interesting look at root competition.

roots on top of roots

The American beech tree in the upper left is crossing over roots of the sweetgum tree in the center, and another tree or vine’s roots are crossing over top of the root in the foreground.



Field Notes: What’s in the Woods Today? Jan. 23, 2018

by Area Forester Lisa Deaton

English Ivy

English Ivy is a non-native species introduced to North America by European settlers.  In the woods, it is often found near old home sites and cemeteries.  While many homeowners consider it an attractive ground cover in landscaped yards, English ivy can deliver a double whammy in the forest.  It competes with trees and other plants for water, nutrients, sunshine and space on the ground, and then starts to climb everything.ivy in tree tops

Once in the canopy, the vines cover tree foliage and can grow heavy enough to break branches and tree tops.  Because English ivy has the ability to grow in the wild and have harmful effects on our native species, we consider it an invasive species.  English ivy has the competitive advantage of being able to grow in all light conditions, from deep shade to full sun.

Part of our work at the Department of Forestry is to alert landowners to invasive species on their land, with the hope of eliminating them before they become a large problem or spread to adjoining properties.

Many national, state, and local resources have been devoted to the elimination of invasive species in America because invasives can alter local ecosystems in so many ways.  Food chains can be disrupted at their base simply by one native plant disappearing that supports one type of insect required by a larger insect, bird, or animal for food.  Our agency participates in the Blue Ridge PRISM effort, a coalition for regional invasive species management focused on ten counties surrounding Shenandoah National Park. It is interesting to note that on other continents, natural resource agencies work equally hard to eliminate species introduced from North America. english ivy last photo


Field Notes: What’s in the Woods Today? Jan. 10, 2018

by  Area Forester Lisa Deaton

Snack Bars for Birds

Winter is a time of year when people start to notice damage to their trees.  Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are a member of the woodpecker family, and they can drill an alarming number of holes into a single tree in search of sap and insects. poplar sapsucker

This is a large yellow-poplar in Gloucester County.







While the holes are certainly an injury that can allow fungi and bacteria to enter a tree, the holes do not generally cause a great deal of harm.



pine 2 sapsucker

Pecan tree in King William County                   Loblolly pine in Gloucester County

Other woodpecker species common to Virginia are the downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, northern flicker, and pileated woodpecker – the largest of them all.  These species dine mainly on insects and will pull apart decomposing wood on the ground and in standing trees as they hunt for food.

woodpecker log on ground

If you see wood chips or flakes at the base of a tree…

woodpecker flakes base of tree

simply look up, and you will see the tree top that is serving as a “snack bar in the sky.”

woodpecker tree top