February Post for Berwick – Trees in the Acadian Forest

The Future Forest: Young Naturalists in the Acadian Forest of Berwick

Into the deep snow went 15 snow shoed Young Naturalists on a sunny February morning in a 30 acre wood in South Berwick. The mission was to learn trees and say what the forest would look like in 100 years. We passed through a stand of straight, grey-trunked, 50 year old popple—the Big Leaf Aspen—and slid down a slope past a big Eastern Hemlock into a changing woodland. The Young Nats learned the difference between the Balsam Fir and the Hemlock… between the firs and the spruce..Alex said, “you can roll spruce needles”, a great key in the field. We argued about whether White Spruce really do smell like cat pee! It was cold though sunny and we lit a fire and talked about the trees that were all around us. We divided into groups. Each group studied a different tree and we counted live and dead adult trees as well as the young trees down a “transect”, an imaginary line going through the forest until it changed to swamp. The Red Maple group saw that their tree had globe-like red buds and red twig tips. There were some big ones but a lot were in bunches, all joined at their base. They sucker form stumps. White Ash team looked for helmet-like brown buds, and grey and angled twigs. The adult trees had bark like corduroy pants which is a super key if you were born a hundred years ago and had ever heard of corduroys. Which brings us to the conifer trees..the Hemlock, the Fir, the spruces (Whites Reds and Blacks) and the Larch. The Larch group found it hard to tell the living from the dead. They looked for knobby twigs, the knobs along the twigs were the spur shoots that grow so slow and will make the needles in the spring. Their trunks were like the spruce’s but had larger plates of bark. The Spruce group looked for all spruces and knew about the rollable, prickly needles but had to tell dead spruce from dead fir by the small plates on spruce bark. The Fir group had long flat needles and smooth bark and saw a pile of Charlie Brown Christmas trees in the understory. The Hemlock group had a few big adult trees whose boughs went to ground level showing small flat needles and sometimes, the very small cones produced by these large trees. Here is the data we collected…


Live Dead Young % dead





Red Maple


























What will the forest look like in a hundred years? We  agreed that White Ash and Red Maple will be part of this future forest. There were very few dead trees and a lot of live.  Young ash trees were everywhere. We agreed that Larch is a goner because it had no young trees and most of the adults are dead. These adults are about 85 years old, almost 30 metres tall and up to 50 cm in diameter. Too bad but part of the plan and Larch is usually a wetland tree. The big dead Larch are also part of the wildlife plan and a Pileated Woodpecker flew down twice and worked looking for grubs in a dead snag and then came back and gave a White Ash a cleaning and a check over (see photo site @ http://nature1st.net/ync/category/photos/). This is the largest woodpecker in North America. It favours mature woodland and may help control beetle outbreaks. The male woodpecker will excavate a hole in a dead tree for a nest to attract the female in spring.  The Hemlock would have covered much of this north flank of the South Mountain and can live to be 500 years old. We know the big ones from last year’s trip to the Kentville Ravine. Although there were fewer adults, the adults were big. We all thought that Firs would still be in the forest but the Fir were mostly small and except at the swamp margin, most of the Fir looked sick. There were more dead spruce (44%). We didn’t separate Whites from Red or Blacks but it looked like the big dead spruce had been Whites and that Blacks (hairy twigs) might be around in a hundred years at the swamp edge.

 HUNDRED YEAR FOREST= ASH, RED MAPLE, HEMLOCK (with FIR understory and in the swamp). This forest may become the same as a small patch of nearby old-growth (http://nature1st.net/ync/category/photos/). Hemlock and fir are both shade tolerant and ash and red maple have some shade tolerance.

To protect our forests for Young Naturalists, we need to know the original Acadian Forest old growth state in every community in Nova Scotia. One down!