Goshen News, Goshen, IN

January 11, 2013

THE DIRT ON GARDENING: Why do trees grow where they do?


— It’s fast approaching my annual trip to South Carolina for a week of golf (and hopefully warm sunshine) and it made me think about trees and how they differ from location to location.

Many states create state golf courses in their forests and woodlands which typically are well maintained with the best of amenities since funds to operate these facilities are from the tax coffers. With the revenues generated from a healthy participation of eager sports enthusiasts I’m guessing they are self-supporting.

I’ve noticed, however, from state to state how the trees differ and have often wondered why. Through research and observation some of my questions are answered.

A state course we regularly play in South Carolina (a beauty) is predominately tall pines — I’d say at least 90 percent — with the rest being hardwoods. Now these trees have been there for a long period of time because of their size, but I scratch my head as to why all the pines?

Well, I know for a fact that pines are prevalent in the south especially central and east coast states, because I’ve been to them all, but just what makes them grow there and dominate much of the land.

There’s no reason other than conditions are perfect as far as soil, climate, moisture, topography, length of season and on and on.

From the beginning of time trees grow where they do because of the aforementioned reasons but also because of past human disturbance and natural disasters over time.

How often have forests and the surrounding tundra and environment been disturbed and changed by a devastating fire or hurricane or even catastrophic ice storms. These events all play into what we have today.

We play on other courses in the south as well that are more typical of our area with many hardwood trees and sparsely dotted with pine but, for the most part, courses lean heavily to the infamous southern pine.

A few years ago I played at a state park golf course in Kentucky in the fall of the year that was probably 80 percent hardwoods. I kicked myself for not taking a camera. The color in the fall was a breathtaking sight in the heavily wooded rolling hills that reeked of nature at its finest.

In the northern hills of Michigan once again you are surrounded by many pines, albeit a different strain, but nonetheless in the environment they desire.

Topography plays an important role, as well, in what will grow in certain locations such as slope, aspect, and of course elevation (effective climate). In the west and higher elevations of the Rockies it’s easily visible (from the tree line) where growth ends because of frigid temperatures and lack of oxygen at those levels.

Tree diseases also alter forestation and aren’t limited to only certain areas. Who can’t remember, other than our current generation, the wide-scale devastation caused by Dutch elm disease? About the only good that came from this were the massive amounts of morel mushrooms that could be found.

Currently we’re dealing with yet another culprit, the emerald ash bore taking its toll in our surrounding area.

We pray a disease won’t destroy our crown jewels— the mighty sugar maples of Goshen.