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1 October 2010 External Characteristics of Old Trees in the Eastern Deciduous Forest
Neil Pederson
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Because old trees contain centuries of environmental history, investigators are increasingly turning to dendrochronology to create context for current environmental change. While a suite of characteristics to identify old trees has been developed, most of these characteristics are for conifers or trees growing in low-density forests. Given that the diverse Eastern Deciduous Forest (EDF) is dominated by a species-rich, angiosperm-dominated woody flora, old-growth forests are scarce in the EDF, and research permits in natural areas often limit the number of trees that can be sampled, having a suite of characteristics that identify old trees for a wider range of species increases the likelihood of efficiently creating longer depths of ecological history. The common indicators of old (> 250 year old) EDF angiosperms are presented to aid in the recovery and preservation of these living sources of information. Six common external characteristics of old angiosperm trees include: (1) smooth or “balding” bark; (2) low stem taper; (3) high stem sinuosity; (4) crowns comprised of few, large-diameter, twisting limbs; (5) low crown volume; and (6) a low ratio of leaf area to trunk volume. The existence of old trees in the landscape can also be related to life-history traits or land-use histories. Both professionals and lay folk can be trained to identify these traits and environmental conditions. While these characteristics and settings generally signal the potential for old trees, there is no guarantee that they represent old ages. However, these characteristics should aid in the discovery of old trees throughout the EDF.

Neil Pederson "External Characteristics of Old Trees in the Eastern Deciduous Forest," Natural Areas Journal 30(4), 396-407, (1 October 2010).
Published: 1 October 2010
angiosperm trees
eastern deciduous forest
forest history
old-growth forests
tree-ring analysis
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