The overstory consists of relatively fire-resistant trees (recall that this woodland plant community was sustained by periodic hot fires).
There are only eight true card-carrying members of the shortleaf pine-oak-hickory woodland overstory. They are post oak, white oak, southern red oak, black oak, blackjack oak, mockernut hickory, black hickory and the shortleaf pine. The first three are shown in this blog and the others will follow in future blogs addressing woodland grassland restoration.
Post Oak; Quercus stellata
Seven members of the shortleaf pine-oak-hickory overstory can also be found growing downslope along the draws within the mixed hardwood-loblolly forest community, which is a shady forest. The one exception is the Blackjack Oak. It requires abundant sunlight and can survive only in an open, sunlight-filled woodland.
You will notice that the overstory member trees of this woodland community all have tough bark with deep furrowed ridges, or, as is the case with white oak, thick scales or plates. These bark characteristics offer protection from the hot fires that raged through the grassland groundcover. It’s easy to see why thin-barked trees such as beech, iron wood, water oak, maple, elm, etc., that normally grew downslope where fires were cooler burning, did not survive those lightening-strike induced hot fires in the grassland groundcover of the ridges and upper slopes of the hills two hundred years ago.
White Oak; Quercus alba
However, due to many years of fire suppression, the downslope fire-sensitive species have crept uphill, causing the open woodland to become a hybrid shady forest. And that new dark forest effectively shut down the sun-loving tallgrass prairie ground cover of the beautiful woodland grassland that existed in northwest Louisiana so long ago. This is one of the reasons why hot fires, not the relatively cool-burning fires of shady forests, are necessary to sustain a grassy, open woodland.
Southern Red Oak; Quercus falcata
Johnny Armstrong, Author
Rescuing Biodiversity (publishing in June 2023) tells the story of Johnny's attempts at Wafer Creek Ranch to preserve a vanishing Louisiana ecosystem and restore the animal and plant species that once lived there.
“An avowed student of life and restoration ecology, Johnny Armstrong expertly teaches us how to restore an imperiled southern ecosystem based on deep research, firsthand experience, and delighted observation of the species that return to his beloved Wafer Creek Ranch. Driving his devotion is the alarming truth that loss of biodiversity poses a threat on par with climate change and his impassioned belief that society can alter that trajectory, one acre at a time.”
Cindy Brown, Executive Director
Land Trust for Louisiana
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Kelby Ouchley, Author
Bayou Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country
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Shadowshine, An Animal Adventure
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