Belt Woods:  Tree Heights and Forest Structure in the South Woods


                                                                                                         Colby B. Rucker



This study provides the maximum heights reached by forty-two species of trees measured in the South Woods in October 2001.  These laser-derived measurements provide additional proof of the unique quality of this site, and aid in an overall understanding of the role of tree height capabilities in creating the existing forest structure.  Correlations between maximum tree heights, indicator species, habitat influences, and historic references are explored.



                                                                                                   Description of Site


The South Woods is a 43-acre National Natural Landmark located at the southeast end of the Belt Woods natural area, which is a 624-acre mosaic of small fields and woodland located in east-central Prince George’s County, Maryland.  Owned by the State of Maryland, access is by permit, and limited to scientific study. 


Often termed the last example of old-growth forest in the Mid-Atlantic region, the woodland has been of considerable interest for many years.  As early as 1947, studies by Stewart and Robbins showed the site to have unusually high densities of forest interior dwelling birds.  A nearby tract, the North Woods, also was of old-growth character, but its large white oaks and tuliptrees were cut in 1981.  This caused the State of Maryland, with the assistance of others, to purchase 109 acres in 1984, which protected the South Woods.  By 1997, impending residential development necessitated the State’s purchase of an additional 515 acres.  The entire property is designated as the Belt Woods Wildland.


The South Woods is somewhat triangular in shape.  It is bounded on the east by Church Road, and Central Avenue (Maryland Route 214) on the south.  Contours rise gradually from about 140 feet at Church Road to over 180 feet on a crescent-shaped ridge, and then rather steeply down-slope to approximately 125 feet at the southwest corner.  To the north and northwest, remnants of an old forest/field interface form an irregular natural boundary. 


The soils are primarily Collington fine sandy loam derived from a greensand deposit rich in glauconite, and are extremely fertile, as evidenced by the presence of Cimicifuga, Collinsonia, Dioscorea, Heuchera, broad beechfern, lady fern, and several small patches of glade fern and maidenhair fern.  The central ridge is somewhat drier, especially on the south-facing end, where the slopes are Monmouth loamy sand.  The ridge is more acidic at the northwest boundary, where some spotted wintergreen and early low blueberry occur.  An abundance of Smilax rotundifolia indicates wetter Shrewsbury silt loam soils in the low southwestern section and small areas in the northernmost section.  A small nearly level area of Adelphia silt loam occurs at about the mid-point of the Church Road boundary.


The South Woods is dominated by large white oaks and tuliptrees, with occasional large black oaks and northern red oaks.  The northeast section of the woodland is dominated by a dense stand of mature tuliptrees, probably of old-field origin.  Some very large tuliptrees occur, especially in the northernmost portion.  Mature hickories are an important forest component, and are scattered throughout most of the stand. 


In the southwest section, trees of all heights and ages are present, including many large specimens.  In the southeast and northeast sections, the woods is height-segregated more by species than by age classes.  Few submature examples of the larger tree species rise above the understory, even in windthrow openings.  The dense understory consists of flowering dogwood and spicebush, with some blackhaw viburnum, ironwood, and small American beech.  This severely shades the soil, and hinders successful seeding by the larger tree species.  Japanese honeysuckle is common, but seldom a serious factor, due to the dense shade.  Birds are important in spreading seeds of these understory species.   The woods is more open on the ridges and upper slopes, due to the essential absence of spicebush.


The interfaces at the boundaries of the South Woods add some diversity.  Some sun reaches areas above road banks on Church Road, but most of that border is dominated by young hickories.   The southern boundary is influenced by Route 214 and a utility right-of-way.  American elms, river birch and other intolerant species, both native and naturalized, occur here.  At the irregular northwest border, a few river birch, red maple, mazzard cherry, black walnut and sassafras occur with many large side-spreading oaks and tuliptrees.   The adjoining old-field growth, principally tuliptrees and black locusts, is reducing sunlight for the older border. 



                                                                                 Forest Structure: Historic References


The South Woods is often called an example of old-growth forest.  Such is not inappropriate, considering the numerous specimens of white oak over 200 years old, with heights to over 140 feet.  The trunk of a windthrown white oak on the southeast roadside has been sawed at a point forty inches in diameter, and appears to be about 240 years old.   Some tuliptrees may be over 200 years old, but most appear younger, probably in the 120-140 year range.   At least seven tuliptrees are over 150 feet tall.  Many black oaks are quite old, as evidenced by some dieback, and the shedding of outer bark, exhibiting a tight, light gray surface.  Mature hickories occur throughout the stand.  Large northern red oaks are scattered throughout the woods; maximum height is over 140 feet. 


Excepting the transitional borders, there is limited diversity.  This conforms to Chrysler’s statements (Shreve, 1910) regarding the original forests found on these soils.  Chrysler states (p.196) that Collington soils support the most mesophytic vegetation of the region, and (p.170) the original “Forest of Prince George” consisted of “white oak, black oak, hickories and tuliptree, with chestnut on the higher parts of slopes, and with seedlings of the same species.”  Stewart and Robbins (1958) quote Harper (1918):  “Rich moist upland forests, composed chiefly of white oak and tulip-poplar, occur locally and are especially prominent in east-central Prince George’s County on the fertile soils of the Greensand district.”   Chrysler also holds (p.169) that maple and beech were not a major component of the forest.  Therefore, the infrequent occurrence of beech and red maple does not seem to be fire-related.  The hickories show no basal cavities or other fire damage, suggesting the absence of fire for well over a century. 


The map of the 1907 state forest survey (Besley, 1916) shows the nearly triangular outline of the South Woods, much like that of today, and rates the stand as “M,” that being merchantable hardwoods of 2000-6000 board feet per acre.  “M” was the highest rating used for Prince George’s County.  While it is possible that that the board footage was actually higher, the woods was certainly quite different nearly a hundred years ago.  Many of today’s white oaks were 150 years old, and probably pushed board footage well over 6000 feet on some acres, but few of the other trees were mature at that time.  Many areas now predominantly in poplar appear to be old-field forest, and had relatively young trees, perhaps resulting from reduced agriculture after the Civil War.  Such areas had little merchantable timber in 1907, and would have brought the overall average within the “2000-6000” board foot designation.


The rather low board footage of 1907 does not seem to be the result of natural causes.  While pit-and-mound contours indicate the loss of mature trees to windthrow in the past, and large trees show evidence of recent lightning strikes, it appears that prior cutting and agriculture had affected the structure of the woods at that time.  It is said that W. Seton Belt, the former owner, was protective of his woods, but that, in his will, he also allowed for some utilization of timber for farm repairs in the future.  This suggests that cutting of farm timber was an accepted activity during his family’s ownership.  Also, Belt may have endorsed the concept of forestry, and removed many of the less valuable trees.  Use of the more slender oaks for firewood, fences and farm construction might have contributed to the rather open woodland along the ridge and a scarcity of intermediate-sized specimens.  It also would explain the presence of some multiple-trunked oaks and tuliptrees.  Belt became increasingly protective in later years, but it has been more than forty years since his death, and the history of the South Woods remains elusive. 



                                                                                          Tree Heights:  Methodology


The trees measured in this study were of forty-two species, including eight naturalized taxa and several native escapes probably introduced by birds.  Although the non-indigenous species might be shunned by the purist, most are likely to become a permanent part of local woodlands, and it is useful to document their presence.  Maximum heights were quite varied, since some species were represented by immature specimens.  The smaller trees, up to thirty feet in height, were measured directly to within one-half inch, using an adjustable aluminum pole.


The larger trees were measured with a laser, in conjunction with a clinometer.  Dense foliage often made sighting difficult, and care was taken to acquire accurate measurements.  The trunk circumference at breast height (CBH) was also measured.  CBH was recorded to within the nearest half-inch at a point 4.5 feet above the contour passing through the center of the tree’s base. 


Heights reflect the vertical distance between two horizontal planes, one passing through the afore-mentioned basal contour, and the second passing through the highest leaf or twig in the tree’s crown.  The use of a laser avoided errors caused by the top point not being over the tree’s base, or the creation of “false tops” common to clinometer/fixed-baseline methods.  Use of an adjustable pole established a fixed sighting point above screening vegetation, and increased accuracy by eliminating multiple triangulations. 


Tall trees were selected by a quick laser reading.  Once selected, more careful measurements were taken.  Angles were read to within one-tenth degree, and the laser was positioned to eliminate undisplayed fractional distances.  If the pole was not on the basal contour, a level was placed to that point, and a basal adjustment made.  Each measurement component was recorded in the field; final heights were derived later. 


Attempts were made to accurately record the location of each tree measured.  Unfortunately, the dense crown coverage often blocked GPS signals, and some coordinates were not obtained.  The South Woods has been marked with a grid system, which provided some fixed reference points, but many points were hidden in the understory, and some flags have been pulled up.  Since it was often unknown if individual trees would prove to be the tallest of their species, more general descriptions of locations were recorded, referencing natural landmarks, in the sequence in which encountered.  These field descriptions are not included in this presentation.


Although many species were represented by only a few specimens, and only the height of the highest tree is used in the height profile, the method is consistent, and provides much useful information for interpreting the effect of habitat on tree species within the South Woods.  The tallest trees were usually growing under the optimum circumstances existing for that species, which prompts further consideration of such factors.


Field work was undertaken on five dates, between September 30 and November 4, 2001.  It is possible that taller examples and additional species have been overlooked.  If the study is incomplete, in the long term the height structure is changeable; trees grow, and some die; these measurements only reflect the structural composition of the South Woods at the present time.  As presented, these measurements create a height profile that is unique to the South Woods, and should prove useful for comparison with other sites as accurate height profiles are recorded. 



                                                                                                     Maximum Heights


The following specimens were the tallest of their species seen in the South Woods.  The list is divided into height groups, which correspond to general habitat requirements.  It can be seen that there are few dominant species, and the rest survive by their shade tolerance, or by competing for solar access at the edge of the forest stand. 



Mesic dominants:  Moist rich soils.

Tuliptree                 Liriodendron tulipifera             159.9’     12’  5.5”    upper swale, SW section

Northern red oak    Quercus rubra                          144.4’         8.5”    low slope, NE section

White oak               Quercus alba                            143.7’     11’ 1.0”     low slope, mid-E section


Submesic dominants:  Mostly well-drained soils, ridges and south slopes.

Black oak               Quercus velutina                     143.4      14’  2.0”    broad swale, NE section

Sand hickory          Carya pallida                           137.4’        7.5”     small ridge, NE section


Subdominants: Height not adequately competitive, often sunlight-deprived.

Sycamore               Platanus occidentalis                126.7’         7.0”     with tuliptrees, N section

Sour gum                Nyssa sylvatica                         124.1’         5.5”     broad swale, NE section

Sweet gum              Liquidambar styraciflua           118.1’         3.5”     broad swale, NE section                           

Black walnut           Juglans nigra                            111.4’      5’ 11.5”     with tuliptrees, N section    

Pignut                     Carya glabra                              98.5’         7.5”     broad rich swale, NE section

Red maple              Acer rubrum                               88.4’         9.5”     opening, bottom, SW section

Bitternut                  Carya cordiformis                     64.3’                  end of ridge, SW section


Forest/field and roadside interfaces:

Southern red oak      Quercus falcata                       100.6’        5.5”     old border, N section

Mazzard cherry        Prunus avium  (naturalized)        89.2’        4.0”     old edge, NW section

Bigtooth aspen         Populus grandidentata              80.6’     4’ 10.0”     S slope, border SE section

American elm          Ulmus americana                       73.4’        3.5”     edge, S section

Black locust            Robinia pseudoacacia                 71.5’        2.0”     old edge, NW section

River birch              Betula nigra                                68.4’        5.5”     edge utiity r/w, SW section

Paulownia               Paulownia tomentosa (nat’d)      46.8’       1.0”     open bottom, SW section 

Hackberry               Celtis occidentalis                      44.8’        5.5”    dry bank, S edge

Sassafras                 Sassafras albidum                      42.0’        6.0”    old edge, NW section

Bradford pear         Pyrus calleryana  (nat’d)            40.7’      0’ 10.0”    slope with tuliptrees, N section

Willow oak             Quercus phellos                          36.6’         6.0”    dry bank, S edge

Black cherry           Prunus serotina                          32.2’         4.5”     top of road bank, NE section

Red mulberry          Morus rubra                               29.3’         2.5”     edge, mid-S section

Mimosa                  Albizzia julibrissin  (nat’d)          24.3’         9.0”    road bank, mid-E section

Silver maple            Acer saccharinum                      19.9’      0’ 10.0”    edge, S section

Eastern  redcedar    Juniperus virginiana                  17.0’         8.0”    top road bank, NE section

Ailanthus                 Ailanthus altissima  (nat’d)        14.1’         8.5”     S edge, SW section

Peach                      Prunus amygdalus  (nat’d)          8.3’          -            roadside, SE section


Understory species: Shade-tolerant. 

American beech       Fagus grandifolia                      62.1’     1’ 11.5”     mesic ridge, SE section

Norway maple         Acer platanoides  (nat’d)           59.3’     1’ 11.5”     near mesic edge, SE section

Ironwood                 Carpinus caroliniana                48.5’        5.0”    moist bottom, SW section

Fl. dogwood            Cornus florida                           38.2’               low open slope, NW section

American chestnut   Castanea dentata                       34.4’     0’ 11.0”    low slope, SW section

Boxelder                  Acer negundo                            27.8’        9.0”    slope with tuliptrees, N section

American holly        Ilex opaca                                   25.3’        4.5”    swale, SW section

Pawpaw                  Asimina triloba                          21.6’        7.5”    shady swale, mid-E section 

Black haw               Viburnum prunifolium               19.1’        3.0”    with tuliptrees, N section

Crape myrtle           Lagerstroemia indica *              17.1’        5.0”     mesic opening, N end ridge

Spicebush                Lindera benzoin                        15.3’        4.5”     mesic opening, NE section

White pine               Pinus strobus (escape)                7.4’        -              bank, old border, NE section 


* tentative identification (escape)




At least five species set new state or national height records.  The tallest tuliptree in the South Woods measured 159.9 feet, and another 159.6.  These are the tallest trees of any species accurately measured in Maryland, surpassing a 157.6-foot tuliptree measured in the spring of 2000 at Chase Creek Woods, in Anne Arundel County.  They also exceed an unconfirmed historic Maryland record:  a white pine near the Savage River in Garrett County is said to have measured 159 feet tall (Besley, 1938).  Among eastern hardwoods, only trees in the Southern Appalachians are known to be taller; tuliptree has been accurately measured to 175.5 feet, and one white ash reached 163 feet.   Five other tuliptrees in the South Woods exceeded 150 feet.  These specimens are still growing rapidly, but significant increases in height may be limited by divergence of the upper crown.


The tallest white oak was 143.7 feet.  This is the tallest white oak accurately measured in Maryland, and easily exceeds a 118.0-foot specimen at Chase Creek Woods.  It is surpassed by a 147.6-foot specimen in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Many historic records have been in error.  The Maryland Forest Service listed a 149-foot Anne Arundel County white oak in 1990, but recent laser measurements showed it to be 104.5 feet.  A Calvert County white oak listed by the Maryland Forest Service as 158 feet in 2001 was remeasured at 92 feet. 


Northern red oak was less abundant, but many large specimens with broad crowns exist, especially on the ridge, where heights were unremarkable.  A specimen on a rich swale in the northeast section reached a height of 144.4 feet, which is the tallest accurately measured in Maryland, exceeding a 135.5-foot specimen at Chase Creek Woods.  It is second only to a 152.9-foot specimen discovered near the Whitewater River, in South Carolina, in January 2004.


Old black oaks were frequent, especially on the central ridge.  A very large specimen in a mesic swale was also the tallest, with a height of 143.4 feet, which is the tallest reported in the eastern United States.  In Maryland, it exceeds a 135.6-foot specimen at Chase Creek Woods, and an unconfirmed 140-foot Baltimore County specimen listed by the state in 2001.


Sour gums were rather shade-tolerant, and occupied an important subdominant position.  One specimen was 124.1 feet in height, which appears to be the tallest accurately measured, exceeding a record of 121.0 feet in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 


Although few of the hickories approached the 137.4-foot height of the tallest specimen, bark contours suggest that most are quite old.  Sweet gum, black walnut and sycamore reached heights over 110 feet, but were not height-competitive with tuliptree.  Most examples were sunlight-deprived; therefore, these species were not present in sufficient numbers to appreciably affect the overall structure of the stand. 


A correlation between record heights and optimum habitat was noted.  Certain indicator plants were often in the immediate vicinity of exceptional specimens.  Useful examples were Collinsonia, broad beechfern, maidenhair fern, and glade fern.  These were not abundant, but occurred with the tallest tuliptrees, northern red oak, black oak, beech and spicebush.  These species, especially glade fern, which is rare in Maryland, also occur with the tallest tuliptrees and tallest northern red oak on similar soils at Chase Creek Woods, in Anne Arundel County.


Structurally, the South Woods is an old stand of unusually tall trees gradually acquiring characteristics associated with old-growth.  Pit-and-mound contours, lightning injury, dead snags and large fallen trunks are frequent.  Many black oaks are senescent, with frequent dieback, but the white oaks, northern red oaks and tuliptrees show fewer infirmities.  Hollow, senescent, or oversized specimens of the latter species were seldom encountered.   In many areas, the canopies appear to be height-segregated by species of rather uniform height and, perhaps, age.  The north and northeast sections are dominated by tuliptree, probably of old-field origin.  Here, and in the central and southeast sections, there are few submature examples of the larger species.  Various factors, including the longevity of the essentially continuous upper canopy, prevalence of tuliptree, and the density of the dogwood/spicebush understory, seem to have contributed to this situation.  The few windthrow openings receive but limited sunlight, remain dominated by the understory, or become affected by the growth of riverbank grape, Vitis riparia.  The southwest section, in some ways less spectacular, is more typical of steady-state old growth; windthrow is much more frequent on the heavier soils, diversity is greater, and more specimens of different age classes are present.


Due to the longevity of the taller species, the overall structure of the South Woods is quite stable, but some changes may be expected.   The diversity of tree species along the perimeter borders will gradually be diminished by the rapid growth of an adjoining old-field forest to the north and northwest, and the prevalence of young hickories in the roadside thickets at Church Road.  Continuing loss of flowering dogwoods to anthracnose will affect the structure of the understory.  Pawpaw may be expected to spread vegetatively.  American beech will increase in height, creating an intermediate canopy.  Ailanthus may become a problem if not controlled, but the other naturalized tree species should remain of infrequent occurrence.  Invasive vines and plants are of concern, especially Celastrus orbiculatus, Euonymus fortunei, Hedera helix, Rosa multiflora and Polygonum perfoliatum.  These will spread beyond control and cause serious damage if not quickly eliminated. 


There is evidence suggesting that farm activities, including the abandonment of open land and some selective logging, have played an important role in the existing forest structure.  This is but one viewpoint; it is likely that there will be varied opinions regarding the South Woods, which should guarantee continuing interest and study.  Despite its limited diversity of habitat, the South Woods is complex, and illustrates the many ways in which a forest reacts to the activities of man, and the undeniable influence of exceptional soils and time in allowing individual trees to reach their full height potential.





The author wishes to express his appreciation to several individuals who have made this study possible.  First, I am indebted to Mrs. Pamela Cooper of the Western Shore Conservancy, who graciously provided access into the South Woods preserve.   Mrs. Cooper’s continuing stewardship has been instrumental in protecting this irreplaceable site.


The assistance of Mr. Wayne Longbottom was important in locating numerous additional plants, including indicator species that were valuable in establishing a correlation between tree heights and habitat.  A plant list assembled by Mr. Longbottom has been incorporated in Appendix “B.”


My appreciation is also extended to Mr. Robert T. Leverett of Holyoke, Massachusetts, who has been a leader in refining methods for the accurate measurement of tree heights, and provided important height data through the Eastern Native Tree Society.



                                                         Appendix “A”:  Comments on Heights of Individual Species


Tuliptree:    Tuliptree was common throughout, especially in the north and northeast sections.  While few specimens maintained a central leader above 100 feet, many exceeded 10’ CBH, and heights over 140’ were not unusual.  Most exhibited a rather uniform bark pattern, and were probably 120-140 years old.  Some trees in the southwest and northeast sections appeared to be contemporary with the white oaks; one at the northern boundary measured 14’ 8” CBH and 131.3’ tall.  Seven trees were over 150 feet.  The tallest tuliptree was at the head of a broad swale in the southwest section; competition between its two upper leaders promoted a height of 159.9’; CBH was 12’ 5.5”.  The second tallest example was located on the west slope, above a glade fern site in the southwest section, and was 159.6’ tall with a CBH of 10’ 7.5”.  A tree beside a white oak log in the northeast section was the third tallest at 153.7’; it also had a CBH of 10’ 7.5”.  In the northernmost portion, the more dominant of a pair of old trees was the fourth tallest, with a height of 152.9’ and a CBH of 12’ 2”.  The fifth tallest, at 152.5’, had a CBH of 11’ 2”, and was located below a glade fern site in the southeast section.  The sixth tallest measured 152.3’, and was located in a swale on the west side of the ridge, below the second-tallest tree.  This tree is quite old, and the base is weakened by decay on the northwest side. The trunk measured 15’ 9” CBH, which is the largest of any tree in the South Woods.  A tree north of a tall sycamore in the northeast section was seventh at 152.1’ tall, with a CBH of 12’ 5”.


Northern red oak:  Although heights were not remarkable on the drier soils along the ridge, large examples occurred throughout the stand.  A handsome specimen was seen in the northwest boundary.  Another, in the northeast section, had a broad crown, measured 12’ 11” CBH and 134.0’ in height.  A more slender specimen in the northeast section was taller, being 144.4’ in height; CBH was 7’ 8.5”.   This tree was at a low elevation with spicebush, Collinsonia and tuliptree.  A nearby large double-trunked specimen of similar height has fallen recently.


White oak:  This species is the oldest component of the South Woods.  Numerous old specimens were seen.  The crowns were usually quite irregular.  Most of the white oaks are of similar dimensions; it appears that competition has deterred the development of trees with broad symmetrical crowns or unusually thick trunks.  One of the largest was 11’ 1” CBH, and was the tallest, at 143.7’.  This tree maintained a central leader, and was located at a low elevation off Church Road, south of the pawpaw site.  The presence of Collinsonia indicates cool moist soils of high fertility. 


Black oak:  Black oak was an important forest component, but seldom height-competitive, except along borders, and on the driest sites, especially the central ridge and south slope, where it was a frequent co-dominant.  Many specimens were quite old, with an accumulation of outer bark being shed, leaving a rather uniform light-gray surface.  The crowns were often heavy-limbed, and quite irregular, limiting height increase, but their breadth assured solar access despite the proximity of taller tuliptrees.    A large specimen on dry soil in the south section was 10’ 3” CBH, and 117 feet tall.  Large examples also occurred in the southwest section, where one measured 135.3’ tall, with a CBH of 9’ 6.5”.  The most impressive was a straight-trunked specimen in a broad swale on the northeast side of the central ridge, with broad beechfern.  CBH was 14’ 2”, height was 143.4’.


Sand hickory:   Examples of this species occurred throughout, and were somewhat height-competitive on the drier soils of ridges and upper slopes.  The globose fruit and seven narrow leaflets provided tentative identification, but a more careful examination should be conducted.  The tallest measured was on a small ridge aligned with the high point of Church Road in the northeast section.  Height was 137.4’, CBH 7’ 7.5”. 


Sycamore:  But two specimens were seen, both in the northeast section, and probably of old-field origin, with tuliptree.  CBH of the taller was 5’ 7”, height 126.7’.  Height was barely competitive; the other, to the east, with sweet gum, has been overtopped by tuliptree.


Sour gum:  Examples of all sizes were found in most areas, particularly the upper portions of the central ridge.  A specimen at the north end of the Church Road border had a CBH of  7’ 8”.   Most heights were not remarkable, and all specimens were at a severe height disadvantage.  The tallest were in swales in the northeast section, with tuliptree.  One slender specimen, which was shedding its outer bark, had a CBH of 5’ 4” and a height of 112.8’.  The largest, not far from the northeast woods boundary, was 6’ 5.5” CBH and 124.1’ tall.


Sweet gum:  A few specimens were seen with tuliptrees off Church Road. The largest were near the woods boundary in the northeast section; one measured 6’ 3.5“ CBH and 118.1’ tall, but was not height-competitive with nearby tuliptrees.


Black walnut:  Four examples of similar diameter were found with spicebush and tuliptree in the northeast section.  All were at a height disadvantage, and had limited access to sunlight.  The tallest was 111.4’, with a CBH of 5’ 11.5”.


Southern red oak:  One specimen of this familiar coastal-plain species was seen on an upper slope in an old west-facing border in the north section.  Although the prevalence of greenbrier suggested wetter soils than usual for the species, the warm sunny exposure was typical.  Height was 100.6 feet; CBH was 6’ 5.5”. 


Pignut hickory:  This species appears to be of infrequent occurrence, and may be expected on the more mesic sites.  The necked fruit provides identification.  A specimen in the southwest section was 97.5’ tall.  A slender example on a rich swale above the largest black oak was taller, at 98.5’.  CBH was 3’ 7.5” 


Mazzard cherry:  Few specimens were seen.  An old example of this naturalized species remains in the old northwest border, where it is somewhat height-competitive.  Height was 89.2’, CBH 6’ 4”.


Red maple:  This species occurs on low ground in the southwest section.   Although rather shade-tolerant, this species was absent from most interior areas.  A few specimens were seen in the northwest border.  The largest specimen was found in the southwest section; height was 88.4’; CBH measured 4’ 9.5”.


Bigtooth aspen:  But one specimen was seen, on a natural south-facing border slope in the southeast section.  Height was 80.6’; CBH was 4’ 10”.


American elm:  This species is common in the borders facing Central Avenue, and occasional in windthrow openings.  The largest specimens were along a utility right-of-way, in the south section.  The only old example was seen here; this shapely tree had a 9’ 3.5” CBH, and a height of 73.4’


Black locust:  This intolerant species was common with tuliptrees in comparatively recent old-field growth beyond the northwest border, but infrequent in the South Woods borders.  Some occur in an old-field area that forms an extension of the southwest section, and a few near the utility right-of-way.   A double-trunked specimen in the old northwest border was 71.5’ tall; the larger stem was 3’ 2” CBH.


River birch:  A few specimens occur in the open woods with remnants of the old northwest border, at its interface with an old-field growth of young tuliptrees.  One measured 57.0 feet.  This species was more frequent in the south-facing border in the southwest section, where one old tree was seen.  The tallest was 68.4’, with a CBH of 4’ 5.5”. 


Bitternut hickory:   Mature trees were much less common than sand hickory, but small examples were frequently seen.  The unique bud served for identification.  The tallest measured was on a slope at the south end of the ridge, in the southwest section; CBH was 3’ 0”, height 64.3’.  Taller examples may occur.


American beech:   Smaller specimens were frequently seen in the thick understory,  especially on the east side of the main ridge.  Continued growth of these trees will create a mid-level canopy, intermediate between the dogwoods and hickories.  The largest example, with a  CBH of 3’ 11.5”, and a 56.2 foot height, stands between two very large tuliptrees near an old border in the north section.    A taller, but more slender specimen was found on a low ridge with glade fern and Heuchera in the northeast section; CBH was 1’ 11.5”; height was 62.1’. 


Norway maple:  Several specimens of this non-native tree were seen.  The largest, found at a glade fern station near Church Road, was 59.3’ in height, with a CBH of 1’ 11.5”.  A smaller specimen was seen near another glade fern site, on the southwest side of the main ridge.


American hornbeam (ironwood):  Examples were common, especially on the lower elevations.  This species contributed to the dense understory, with spicebush and flowering dogwood. The largest trees were on a silty lowland in the southwest section.  One measured 2’ 5.0” CBH and 48.5’ tall. 


Paulownia:  Several examples were seen in windthrow openings on a fertile lowland in the southwest section.  The tallest was 46.8’, with a CBH of 3’ 1”. 


Hackberry:  This species is usually associated with neutral or alkaline soils.  Several small specimens were seen in the understory.  A larger example, on a steep dry bank on the south border, was 44.8’ tall and 2’ 5.5” CBH.


Sassafras:   This species is infrequent throughout, with the largest examples remaining with remnants of the northwest border.  Although sassafras is somewhat shade tolerant, the adjoining old-field forest is rapidly obstructing sunlight necessary for the survival of these trees.  Maximum height was 42.0’, CBH was 2’ 6”. 


Bradford pear:  This ornamental species is rapidly becoming naturalized.  Several specimens were seen.  The largest was in the north section; it measured 10” CBH and 40.7’ tall.


Flowering dogwood:  A numerous and important component of the understory, dogwoods were most plentiful on upper slopes and ridges, but also occurred with spicebush on lower elevations.  Many specimens have been killed by anthracnose.  Large examples are no longer common; the maximum seen was 2’ 0” CBH and 38.2’ tall.


Willow oak:  Several small specimens less than four feet tall were seen near the northwest border.  Several willow oaks have been planted at a subdivision across Church Road.   The small acorns of these trees may be distributed by birds.  The only mature example was found on a steep bank at the southern boundary.  This bank may have formed the roadside of the original Central Avenue.  The low stature of this tree was probably due to the dry situation.   CBH was 4’ 6”; height was 36.6’.


American chestnut:  One specimen was seen near the base of a steep west-facing slope, near a large tuliptree, at the southwest end of the central ridge.  Height was 34.4’, CBH 11”. 


Black cherry:  Only a few small specimens were seen.  All were in sunny border situations.  One at Church Road, in the northeast section, was 32.2’, CBH 1’ 4.5”.  The essential absence of black cherry was unexpected, since this familiar species is distributed by birds and young trees are somewhat shade-tolerant. 


Red mulberry:  Associated with rich soils, perhaps ten immature examples were seen within 50 yards of Church Road, roughly 100 yards from Route 214.  Another was in the southeast corner.  The largest specimen was in the south border; it had a height of 29.3’ and a CBH of 1’ 2.5”.  This species has been greatly reduced by disease elsewhere, and mature specimens are rare.


Boxelder:  Occasional small specimens were seen, especially on low elevations in the southwest section.  A slightly larger example was found on a slope with large tuliptrees in the northern section.  Height was 27.8’, CBH 0’ 9”. 


American holly:  Several small specimens occur in the more open woods on the ridge.  A mature specimen, on the northeast side, was 24.5’ tall, with a 1’ 4” CBH.

A slightly larger tree was found  in a swale in the southwest section.  Height was 25.3’; CBH was 1’ 4.5”


Mimosa:  One specimen of this naturalized tree was seen at the top of a steep bank on Church Road.  Height was 24.3’, CBH was 1’ 9”.


Pawpaw:  This species was seen at perhaps ten locations.  Most occurrences consisted of a dozen or less sub-arborescent specimens.  A large patch of young trees was seen in a swale perhaps 200’ off Church Road.  The largest was 21.6’ tall.  Probably recently introduced by wildlife, this species may be expected to spread vegetatively. 


Silver maple:  One specimen of this native species was seen in the south border.  It is not considered indigenous to the site, and the source is unknown.  Height was 19.9’; CBH was 10”.


Blackhaw:  Small examples were frequent on mid-slopes, but few reached tree stature.  The two largest were near black walnuts in the northeast section.   Maximum height was 19.1’, CBH was 1’ 3”.


Crape myrtle:  This is a very tentative identification of two vigorous young upright trees with compound leaves of 7-15 entire glabrous leaflets.  The tips are abruptly acuminate, and the bases round-tapering to a very short petiole.  The bark is red-brown, as is the rachis.  The foliage was still green on November 4.  Height was 17.1’, CBH 5”.


Eastern redcedar:  The side-branching structure of the perimeter thickets provides few niches for this upright species.   A young specimen, 17.0’ tall, was seen in the open woods above a steep bank on Church Road.


Spicebush:  Although forming a continuous low canopy on rich moist soils in the northeast section, and common on the lower slopes facing Church Road in the southeast, few specimens of arborescent stature were seen.  The maximum height measured was 15.3’. 


Ailanthus:  Two small examples of this naturalized species occur in a sunny edge paralleling Central Avenue.  Height was 14.1’, CBH 8.5”.  This species will likely spread by root-sprouts.


Peach:  Several young examples of this somewhat naturalized species occur at the southernmost edge along Church Road.  The source of these trees is unknown.  Maximum height was 8.3’.


White pine:  One specimen, an escape of unknown origin, was seen by a barbed-wire fence at the north end of the Church Road boundary.  Height was 7.4 feet.




                                               Appendix “B”:  Additional Plants Encountered in the South Woods


Although many herbaceous species, such as mayapple, were no longer visible in October, the following plants shared habitats with various tree species.  Some were represented by only a few specimens, but many were useful indicators of soil characteristics, and the overall effect of elevation, exposure and other habitat characteristics.  Attention to plant distribution was valuable in locating and interpreting optimum habitat for each tree species.   The typical habitat is given, and conforms well to the Belt Woods sightings.



Berberis thunbergii                   Japanese barberry (nat’d)      Rich moist low open woods

Corylus americana                   American hazelnut                  Rich moist open woods

Euonymus alatus                      Winged euonymus (nat’d)      Moist open woods

Euonymus alatus var. apterus  Smooth euonymus  (nat’d)     Moist open woods

Ilex verticillata                         Whorled winterberry              Swamps and wet swales

Ligustrum vulgare                    Privet (nat’d)                         Low wet woods

Rosa multiflora                         Multiflora rose (nat’d)            Moist open woods and edges

Rubus occidentalis                    Black raspberry                     Edges and woodland openings

Rubus phoenicolasius               Wineberry  (nat’d)                 Rich moist edges & openings

Vaccinium  vacillans                Early low blueberry                Dry open acidic woods

Viburnum acerifolium              Maple-leaved viburnum          Rich dry sandy woods

Viburnum dentatum                  Southern arrowwood             Low rich sandy soils



Amphicarpa bracteata            Hog peanut                             Moist rich low woodlands

Celastrus orbiculatus              Asian bittersweet (nat’d)         Woodland borders, openings

Euonymus fortunei                  Wintercreeper euon. (nat’d)    Moist rich open woodlands

Hedera helix                            English ivy (nat’d)                   Moist woodlands

Lonicera japonica                   Japanese honeysuckle (nat’d)  Moist woods and borders

Parthenocissus quinquefolia   Virginia creeper                      Woodland borders

Passiflora lutea                       Yellow passionflower              Rich moist woodland borders

Rhus radicans                          Poison ivy                               Moist woodlands and borders

Smilax glauca                         Glaucous greenbrier                 Dry sandy open woods

Smilax rotundifolia                 Common greenbrier                Wet woodlands and edges

Vitis riparia                             Riverbank grape                     Moist woodland borders



Adiantum pedatum                 Maidenhair fern                    Moist rich shady woods

Asplenium platyneuron          Ebony spleenwort                 Rich dry rocky woods

Athyrium felix-femina            Lady fern                              Rich shady moist woods

Botrichium dissectum            Common grape fern               Low rich woods

Botrychium virginianum        Rattlesnake fern                    Rich deciduous woods

Diplazium pycnocarpon         Glade fern                             Rich moist neutral shady woods

Onoclea sensibilis                   Sensitive fern                        Moist rich woodland openings

Polystichum acrostichoides    Christmas fern                      Shady woodland slopes

Thelypteris hexagonaptera     Broad beechfern                  Rich shady deciduous woods

Thelypteris noveboracensis    New York fern                     Moist thickets in low woods


Other herbaceous plants:

Aplectrum hyemale                 Putty-root                             Rich low hardwood forests

Arisaema triphyllum               Jack-in-the-pulpit                  Rich moist woods

Chimaphila maculata              Spotted wintergreen             Dry rich acidic forests

Cimicifuga racemosa              Black snakeroot                   Rich open deciduous woods

Cinna arundinacea                 Wood reedgrass                   Moist woods and swamps

Circaea quadrisulcata            Enchanter’s nightshade          Moist rich forests and ravines

Collinsonia canadensis           Richweed                              Rich moist woods and ravines

Desmodium nudiflorum          Naked-flowered tick trefoil   Dry rich deciduous woods

Dioscorea quaternata             Whorled wild yam                 Rich moist open woods

Dioscorea villosa                    Wild yam                              Wet open woods

Duchesnea indica                    Indian strawberry (nat’d)       Moist fields and open woods

Galium aparine                       Bedstraw (nat’d)                    Moist open woods and edges

Geum canadense                     White avens                          Woodland borders    

Phytolacca americana             Pokeweed                             Low grounds and rich soil

Pilea pumila                            Clearweed                             Cool moist shaded places

Polygonatum biflorum            Solomon’s seal                      Woods and thickets

Polygonum perfoliatum          Perfoliate tearthumb               Wet borders and openings

Sanguinaria canadensis          Bloodroot                              Rich open woods

Scutellaria integrifolia            Larger skullcap                      Dry to moist open woods

Heuchera americana               Common alumroot                 Rich woodland slopes

Tipularia discolor                    Cranefly orchid                      Rich, sandy deciduous woods

Tovara virginiana                   Virginia knotweed                 Rich woods and thickets

Uvularia perfoliata                 Perfoliate bellwort                 Moist woods              

Verbena urticifolia                  White vervain                        Rich woodland borders