Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fast forward

I don't think I stopped thinking about what I saw today until I hit the gym for a truncated run around the track (and only then because I was peeved that the gym was so crowded tonight. I'm never there this late.). I spent a very long day in the heart of the scattered chert and igneous woodlands in the St. Francois Mountains, a cloudy, dreary day, but one spent in utter awe. I returned to the site of the May 8, 2009 derecho, an area that wasn't salvaged and was left in its natural state following a natural disturbance so great that NOAA has added "super" to its now historic name. No one in Missouri had ever heard of a "derecho" before that warm day, but those impacted by it now know what it looks like when it travels through intact woodlands. If the tree didn't bend to the ground, it was uprooted. Thousands of trees crashed to the ground in the Ozarks that night.

So I went back to the site with a long fire history, an area that was in decent enough shape before the derecho--a plant list of over 900 species that rivals any other assemblage in the Missouri Ozarks in species richness. Much of the site is dominated by white oak-black oak, with scattered pine. There's a rare-to-the-St. Francois Mountains dolomite glade here with lots and lots of Spiranthes magnicamporum (the one with the overwhelming scent). Hog damage is here, too, of course. The area impacted by -not damaged by- the wind event, however, is reminiscent of an ecosystem restoration 20 years in the future. It would take many years for fire alone to have this impact, and dragging skidders into the fragile understory for largescale thinning wouldn't have the same beneficial effect, either. The assemblages here have changed, nay, reverted to the historic records of the area: post oak, scarlet oak, pine, with an understory of black gum, hazelnut, and vaccinium. Oh, the many occurrences of "hazel undergrowth" in the GLO land survey records of the early 1800s in the Ozarks...and I had never seen it before, hazelnut dominant in the understory.

But the prairie grasses and forbs in the woodlands! Aster patens is thick. Why, these prairie plants were there all along, just waiting for release, the Sporobolus asper, Indian grass and big bluestem. I could literally kick myself for not setting up monitoring transects here (but I will next growing season).

The message I read from the awe-inspiring site is that if you allow natural processes to occur, if you don't go in and try to repair impacts that occurred naturally, high quality native ecosystems can fend for themselves if they had integrity to begin with and hadn't been damaged to hell by unnatural human-induced processes.

I ran into Aster sericeus today on the dolomite glade and focussed my $100 point and shoot camera on the leaves so you could see how silky and totally sexy it is, especially when nestled in an equally sexy landscape.


Nickelplate said...

How long before the place in the first picture becomes a regular forest again?

Allison Vaughn said...

Probably about 20 years. I was really impressed at another area in the St. Francois Mountains that was hit by a tornado in 1985. I can't tell where the tornado went through.