What is a forest?

The forest ecosystem is characterized by the trees that come to mind whenever we hear the word forest.  The trees that the forest ecosystems support require sufficient amounts of precipitation to support the trunk and leaves that the trees must support.  Forests are more than just the trees, however.  A forest will tend to grow in distinct layers.  The canopy is where the tops of the trees grow close together and often block most of the sunlight from reaching the ground below.  In the shaded understory, young shade tolerant tree species may slowly grow, waiting for a fallen tree to allow the sunlight through so they can shoot up into the canopy above.  The shrub layer also contains the shorter plants that are able to survive with less sunlight, while the forest floor is home to mosses and fungi that are responsible for decomposition in the forest. 

There are two types of forest currently on the CSR property.  The first is the Oak forest which is becoming increasingly rare in Minnesota according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website.  The reason for this is that these oak forests require disturbance, like fire, in order to remain or they will eventually be overtaken by the more shade-tolerant northern hardwood species like basswood and maple.  For the past 100 years, fires in Minnesota have been suppressed making these oak forests less common.  The wide, low branches on these oak trees indicate that these trees grew in an open area without any other tree shading them.  This fits with the fact that most oak forests in Minnesota were pastures at one time.  Although this forest has some of the characterisitics of an old-growth forest, it is not an old-growth forest.  The fact that they are less common, however allows them to be considered old if they have been undisturbed for shorter periods of time than the typical old-growth forests.

The second type of forest seen on the property is the cultivated poplar plantations.  The straight lines seen in the tree plantings are clear evidence that these trees were planted by people.  The planting of these poplar trees in the state of Minnesota was especially popular in the 1990s when they were planted for the paper making industry.  In addition to paper, they were also considered a potential source of bioenergy because of their rapid growth.