Welcome to the John C. Buchanan Native Tree Collection Trail. You are about to enter an area rich in plant and animal life. It is an outstanding example of biodiversity. Here you will learn about biodiversity and find out why it is important to people. Along the way you will meet some interesting Georgia trees.
This walk takes about 45 minutes and ends at the edge of the Memorial Garden near this spot.
1. American chestnut (Castanea dantata)
At the next stop you will learn more about biodiversity, but first meet the American chestnut tree. A native Georgia tree once abundant in the northern part of the state, the American chestnut tree provided large nuts eaten by people and a host of wild animals. The wood made excellent lumber, and the bark was widely used for tanning leather. But the American chestnut tree has been virtually wiped out by a fungus brought into the United States on infected Chinese chestnut lumber around 1900. Eventually, the wind-born spores of the chestnut blight fungus will reach this tree too. Scientists are working on a cure for the blight, and we hope the American chestnut tree will prosper again in this forest someday.
2. Variety is the spice of life
This wise proverb holds true for forests as well as people. Let's rearrange it to provide a good definition of biodiversity: "Variety of life is the spice." Variety of life is what biodiversity means. As you move through this forest, you will see it has many different kinds of plants and animals. It has biodiversity. Speaking of spice, you are facing two interesting plants: the pawpaw tree on the left and sweetshrub on the right. Crush and sniff a leaf of each if you like. These interesting smells are brought to you by biodiversity
3. Open-grown White Oak (Quercus alba)
The large spreading limbs on this old white oak tell us it did not always grow surrounded by other trees. As a young tree, it enjoyed the open growing conditions provided by the pasture. Yes, this part of the forest was once a pasture. Fifty years ago cows grazed around this oak. Cows ate and trampled many of the native plants that grew here. Animals that depended on those plants moved out. Biodiversity took a back seat to the needs of a farmer and his growing family. The farmer's son grew up and dedicated this land as a place for the preservation of biodiversity. "For everything there is a season," another wise proverb. As you move further along the trail you will pass into a part of the forest less disturbed by the farmer's plow and his cows.
4. Race For The Sun
These tall white oaks dominate the forest. They have won the race for the sun that began the moment this forest started to grow. From now on, they will rule the sunny forest canopy along with hickories and yellow poplars. But, there are other roads to success here. Notice the lowly dogwood tree on the opposite side of the trail. It is adapted to the deep shade of the forest understory where it prospers below the mighty oaks. Later we will meet trees growing between the oaks above and the dogwoods below. This layering effect increases as a forest develops, a sign of increasing biodiversity.
5. Rings Of Time, Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata)
This big shortleaf pine is a living time piece. Locked inside its woody trunk you will find concentric growth rings laid down, one ring for each year of its life. You probably don't need to count those rings to know this tree is quite old. It is likely one of the oldest trees here, and it tells us this part of the forest is old as well. During its long life, a wide variety of plants and animals have made their homes here. During the first century of a forest's life, biodiversity steadily increases with time. And time is still ticking away in this old giant.
6. The Ebb And Flow Of Forest Life
Did you notice the trunks of many dead pine trees here. You are looking at a beetle kill, a bunch of pines destroyed by the tiny but formidable Southern pine beetle. It's part of a natural process called plant succession. A young forest has mostly pine trees, but as the forest grows, the pines give way to a variety of hardwood trees and shrubs. The pine forest becomes a mixed pine/hardwood forest, and eventually a hardwood forest when most of the pines are finally gone.
How far along do you think this forest is?
7. Piedmont Spring Seep
This is a place of ferns. The boggy soil of the seep provides ideal habitat for the cinnamon fern with its huge fronds, and the royal fern a close relative with fronds that look more like leaves. The delicate fronds of the Southern lady fern are here, and the winged fronds of the chain fern. Near by, New York fern grows. What is New York fern, a mountain plant doing here? Thompson Mills Forest is located where the rolling hills of the Georgia Piedmont meet the North Georgia mountains. Where these mighty regions overlap, plants from both regions mingle, using the rivers and streams as highways. Can you see where this is leading in terms of biodiversity? More habitats mean a greater variety and number of plants and animals. Biodiversity takes a giant leap.
Distinctive bark and mitten-shaped leaves make the sassafras tree easy to identify. The tag helps too! Years ago folks made tea from sassafras roots. Those same folks probably sweetened their tea with honey made from nectar of sourwood blossoms from trees like the tagged one nearby. Both trees are here in the subcanopy but for different reasons. The sassafras, a sun-loving tree is trying to get out of the subcanopy and into the canopy above where it can flourish in full sun. The sourwood will stay here in the subcanopy just below the dominate oaks and hickories and above the dogwoods where it will prosper on the light that filters through the taller trees. Each forest plant has its special place where it plays a unique role. Scientists call it the plant's niche. Animals and people have niches too, and older forests have more niches than younger forests.
9. Niche Switch
Remember the American chestnut tree? A whole host of animals including man depended on it for food and fiber. When it disappeared from Georgia's forests it left an empty niche. Fortunately, oak trees could do the job of the chestnut tree, though not as well, and they filled the empty niche. Without biodiversity, we sometimes loose the niche switching plants that keep things going in the face of disasters like the chestnut blight.
Choose a path. The left fork in the trail leads back to the edge of the Memorial Garden near where you began this walk. The right fork continues on. It will take about 20 more minutes to complete. You will walk through a living medicine chest and rest a while in a beech glen. Then, when you're ready, you can return to the Memorial Garden a few hundred feet from where you started.
10. Pawpaw Paradise
You are moving through a huge pawpaw patch, acres of it! The fruit of pawpaw is a laxative. The leaves were used as a compress applied to boils and abscesses. The seeds contain a chemical once used to kill head lice. A yellow dye was once made from the fruit, and rope was made from the strong inner bark fibers. Recently, an anticancer drug was distilled from this plant and is now being tested. Who knows what useful drugs may come from other wild plants like the pawpaw? By preserving biodiversity, we are saving a storehouse of plant compounds that may some day benefit people.
11. Another Fork In The Trail
Our way is the left fork in the trail here. The right fork goes up to a small granite outcrop 100 feet from here and then on to the Pinetum. Take a look at the small granite outcrop if you like before returning here to continue. Prickly pear cactus grows and blooms in the thin, dry soil up there. Contrast the granite outcrop with the rich, moist beech glen you will soon enter. There is a wide range of habitats between these two extremes, still another reason for the rich biodiversity found here.
12. Beech glen
Linger here awhile if you like. Take in the sights, sounds, and smells of this peaceful place. It is one of the favored spots in this forest. Look for the old beech tree carved with initials and a date long ago. You may come back here whenever you wish, because someone cared enough about nature to set aside a piece of it for everyone, forever.
When you're ready, follow the trail across the bridge and out to the last stop at the edge of the Memorial Garden, about 800 feet from here
13. Garden edge
You are at the edge of the Memorial Garden. Walk up hill in the Garden and you will soon see where you are parked. We hope you enjoyed the Native Tree Trail walk. Have a wonderful day.