The natural ecology and cultural history of the Colonial Point red oak stands

TitleThe natural ecology and cultural history of the Colonial Point red oak stands
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication1987
AuthorsAlbert DA, Minc LD
Pagination80 pp.
InstitutionUniversity of Michigan Biological Station
CityPellston, MI

The physical characteristics, stand composition, and disturbance history of Colonial Point were investigated to determine those factors responsible for the establishment and distribution of the Colonial Point red oak stands. Drainage conditions only partially explain red oak distribution. Red oak does not become a dominant species where drainage conditions are poor to somewhat poor. On the other hand, red oak does predominate on sites with drainage class ranging from moderately well drained to well drained. However, red oak is also found on a broad range of soil textures, from sand to sandy clay loam. Thus, it appears that soil texture in itself is not important in determining the location of sites dominated by red oak. Red oak requires disturbance for establishment. Within Colonial Point Forest, red oak is not presently regenerating except on open sites, such as in old fields and along road edges. In the past, similar large openings in the canopy could have been created by a major windthrow. However, windthrow disturbance does not appear to be responsible for the past widespread establishment of red oak. Mature red oak predominates in areas with low to medium windthrow, and no signs of widespread recent windthrow (within the past 150 years) are visible in red oak-dominated areas. Fire appears to have been the major factor which created openings for red oak establishment. Plots located in red oak dominated areas were characterized by high levels of charcoal. Much of the charcoal was that of beech and sugar maple, indicating a conversion of northern hardwoods to forests dominated by red oak after fire. Two main episodes of burning can be documented for Colonial Point. Clearcutting of existing red oak stands by European settlers in the late 1800s to early 1900s resulted in the successful stump sprouting of the oak forests, generating the small multi-stemmed red oak dominated stands in the southwestern and northwestern corners of the tract. However, historical documents on land use in the 1840s and 1850s, verified by the timing of red oak establishemnt, indicate that the traditional Indian agricultural practice of burning to clear fields gave rise to the red oak stands which dominate much of Colonial Point today.