Friday, February 17, 2012

5 Different Types of Forest In The GSMNP

Five forest types dominate the Great Smoky Mountains. Together these forests sport more than 130 species of trees, and 4,000 other plant species. They represent all the major forest types along eastern North America. As elevation increases within the park, temperature decreases and precipitation increases. Each 1,000 feet of elevation gained is the equivalent of moving 250 miles north. The additional precipitation classifies small sections of the Park as a rainforest. All five types can be seen at once from Campbell Overlook, two miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road (US 441).

The spruce-fir forest caps the Park's highest elevations. Most areas above 4,500 feet support some elements of this forest. It is best developed above 5,500 feet. In terms of climate the spruce-fir forest relates to areas such as Maine, and Quebec, Canada. The main components of the spruce-fir forest are red spruce and Frasier fir. Other important species include yellow birch, mountain-ash, hobblebush, and blackberries. The balsam woolly adelgid killed 95% of the Frasier firs over the past decade. Accidentally introduced from Europe, this tragedy threatens the fate of the entire forest type. The Park sprays to control the insect, but this is a labor consuming process that needs to saturate each tree. Environmental pressures, including acidic deposition and ozone present further threats.

A northern hardwood forest dominates the middle to upper elevations from 3,500- 5,000 feet. It mixes with many species from other forest types, but is characterized by sugar maple, American beech, and yellow birch. These forests resemble those throughout much of New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and southern Ontario. The northern hardwood forest, specifically sugar maples, produces the most brilliant fall color.

Drier ridges in and around the Park hold a pine-oak forest. Despite plentiful amounts of rain, these excessively drained slopes dry out often, and fire is a regular part of these forest communities. In late 1996, the Park began controlled burning to prevent unintentional fires from threatening lives and property. This also insures natural regeneration of species requiring fire for propagation. Major species include red, scarlet, black and chestnut oaks, along with table mountain, pitch, and white pines. Some areas also have hickories.

A hemlock forest often grows along streambanks. Water temperatures remain cold year- round, and this cools and dampens the air. Hemlocks survive better in these conditions than any other species. Hemlocks dominate streamsides throughout the Appalachians. An insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid is moving south and west. It threatens every hemlock in the eastern united States.

The cove hardwood forest lines the valleys throughout the Park. It is the Smokies most diverse ecosystem. Important species include, tulip poplar, American basswood, red maple, sweet gum, yellow buckeye, black birch, and dogwood. This lush, diverse forest enjoys warm temperatures, a long growing season, and plentiful rainfall.

Other Trees

Sixty years ago, the most common Park tree was American Chestnut. About 30% of the Park was chestnut forest. Due to a disease, chestnut blight, every adult chestnut in the eastern United States died. Loss of the chestnut heavily impacted animals depending on the nuts for winter fat. Scientists continue to work search for hybrid chestnut species that can resist this disease.

Black walnuts are common near homesites. Often planted in yards, walnut wood was valuable, and the nuts made good food.

Black cherry is another valuable wood and food source. The cherries are a favorite of bears when they ripen in August. Cherry trees are often damaged by climbing bears.

Tennessee's state tree, tulip poplar, is abundant in the Park. Builders favor it for cabins. It grows long and straight, striving for the sun without pause.

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