control of runoff, prevention of soil erosion, forest soil development, retention of snow melt, flood prevention and water flow, positive influence on climate, the cycling of essential nutrients, removal of air/other pollutants, wildlife habitat, improved water quality and fish environment, noise abatement, greenbelts for moisture storage zone, reduction of wind erosion, provision of food for streams, reduction of glare and reflection, as well as social, recreational, and aesthetic value This forest results from a disturbance or land-use change and ranges in age up to 10 years. Hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, fire, or human actions, such as abandoning fields or pastures, or logging and reseeding can be the causes of this age of forest. The young forest has many young trees, weeds, wildflowers, native grasses, and some shrubs and brambles. The plants and characteristics of this forest provide food and cover for wild turkeys, rabbits, grouse, deer, bear, and many songbirds including bluebirds, goldfinches, song sparrows, and indigo buntings. Insects are plentiful, making these excellent areas for birds to raise and feed their broods. The middle-aged forest is made up of trees of relatively small diameter. Some of the grasses, weeds, and shrubs have been shaded out giving this forest the
characteristic of a more open woodland area. This period usually ranges from 10 to 70 years. As the forest develops, leaf litter begins covering the forest floor and the brushy cover understory and food for small wildlife becomes scarcer. The midstory tree level produces an increased amount of mast, seeds and fruits, including wild cherry, wild grape, mulberry, hickory nuts, holly berries, persimmon, beech nuts, sassafras, black walnuts, acorns, black gum, pecans and flowering dogwood.
The mature forest is characterized by trees of large diameter and a diverse understory. Development of the understory may result from the natural thinning process that removes suppressed or damaged trees, due to disease or insects, or selective timber harvesting. The falling of larger trees allows more sunlight to reach the midstory or forest floor. This light encourages the growth of woodland wildflowers, ferns, herbs, and shrubs containing berries such as huckleberry and blueberry. Wildlife benefits from the understory development. Mature forests may remain for a century or more until disease, insects, age, pollution or other factors begin the cycle again.
An important component of a mature forest for wildlife is the snags, which are standing dead or partially dead trees. Mature forests also have cavity trees, or den trees. These are live trees that have at least one nesting site. Mature, large trees with some type of damage, such as broken off tops, large broken off branches, large wounds or scars, or holes make good cavity nesting trees. These trees can provide permanent shelter for squirrels, raccoons, opossums, flying squirrels, owls, or even gray foxes. They are also the sites favored for seasonal dens by North Carolina's black bear. These forests also offer a wide variety of recreational opportunities and produce good saw timber for homebuilding/furniture.
Important micro-ecosystem in a mature forest that becomes habitat for a variety of bacteria, fungi, and insects, which live under its bark or within its tissues. Downed logs are used by wildlife for nesting, foraging, roosting, perching, hiding, feeding, and displays. A wide range of animals from insectivorous birds to game animals uses these logs. Woodland salamanders may lay their eggs under the moist decaying log, snakes may hide under or in them, rabbits may use holes in them to hide, insects, spiders, shrews, squirrels may sit upon them eating a nut, birds use them looking for insects to eat, lizards, and many more animals. Downed logs are also important because as bacteria and fungi, the main decomposers, break them down, essential nutrients are returned to the forest ecosystem to aid the growth of new vegetation. Some new trees, ferns, or weeds may actually be found growing on the downed logs. The five primary functions of roots are to anchor the
tree in the ground to provide support, to store food for future growth, to take in nutrients and water from the soil, to transport the water, nutrients, hormones and
sugars, and they produce some hormones. Roots tend to grow in two patterns: surface-rooted and deep-rooted. Surface-rooted trees extend roots laterally in a wide area below the tree. Deep-rooted trees have taproots that extend down into the soil strata. Larger roots grow smaller roots called rootlets, which act as an extension of themselves. In many species, the rootlets grow even smaller, fine, hair-like roots called root hairs, which take in nutrients and water from the soil.
The southern pine beetle is about the size of a single grain of rice, but it is the most damaging insect, causing millions of dollars of damage to southern pines each year. It mainly feeds on the loblolly, shortleaf, pitch, and Virginia pines, but it will feed on any pine tree that is dead, dying, or weakened by some other force of nature. Pine trees are often attacked by more than one type of beetle at the same time. Each beetle attacks a different section of the tree; the southern pine beetle is usually found in the lower portion of the tree just above the stump while the Ips beetle are usually found higher up on the tree's trunk. It can kill a pine tree by itself. It does this by boring through the bark of the tree and making galleries, or paths, which look like the letter S. Females lay their eggs on the sides of these galleries. When their eggs hatch, the larvae eat through the cambium, or living part, of the tree. This stops the flow of water and nutrients to other parts of the tree, killing it. The adult beetles also eat the cambium of the tree. Blue stain fungus, which lives inside the beetle, is excreted in its waste and hastens the tree's death by also blocking water and nutrient intake. The first signs of an attack are small lumps of pitch on the outside of a pine tree. These pitch tubes are about the same size as a kernel of popcorn. When the beetle bores into the bark, the tree produces pitch to try to keep the beetle out. Weakened trees cannot produce enough pitch to keep the beetles out. The next symptom is the small S shape paths, or galleries, found on the inside of the bark. The last and most noticeable symptom is the needles changing from a healthy green color to yellow, red, or brown in color. Once the needles of the tree have started to change colors, there is little that can be done to save the tree. The gypsy moth is an exotic species that mainly attacks deciduous trees. First introduced in the United States in 1869 by a French scientist living in Massachusetts, it continues to spread south and west. The gypsy moth is the most destructive defoliator in the U.S. It is only harmful to trees during the larval, or caterpillar, stage of its life. This stage begins as leaves start to emerge. When they have eaten all the leaves from their host tree, they crawl away and find another tree. The mature moth lays its eggs on or near hardwood trees so the new larvae will have an immediate food source when they hatch. The adult gypsy moth dies shortly after it has laid its eggs. Tree species most commonly attacked by the gypsy moth larvae are oaks, apple, sweet gum, speckled alder, basswood, gray and white birch, poplar, willow, and hawthorn; but hungry larvae will eat leaves of most other trees including conifers. Some trees and shrubs appear to be resistant to the gypsy moth larvae, including ash, yellow poplar, sycamore, butternut, black walnut, catalpa, flowering dogwood, balsam fir, red cedar, American holly, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and arborvitae. The real danger to trees happens when they are attacked by gypsy moths several years in a row, preventing the tree from making adequate food through photosynthesis because the larvae defoliate the trees. One such ecosystem, found in North Carolina, is the long leaf pine forest. Organisms found in fire dependent ecosystems often have special adaptations that enable them to survive the fire and/or use the fire to their advantage. In the past, fire has burned the long leaf forest, on average, once every three to five years. To survive fire, the long leaf pine has an unusual growth pattern: During the first few years of its life, known as the "grass stage," it doesn't appear to be growing. It looks like a small clump of needles growing from the ground. The actual tip of the tree is not visible, because it is surrounded by dense needles. The real growth is going on underground. It sends a thick and sturdy taproot deep down into the soil. This large root provides all the water and nutrients the young tree needs and firmly anchors it in place. If a fire burns through the area during this stage, it may burn up the needles that protect the tip, but rarely burns the actual tip of the tree. The burned needles are quickly regrown by the young tree. Usually after seven or eight years, noticeable growth begins. The long leaf may grow three to four feet a year once it begins the pole stage of its life. The tree is tall enough after one year's growth for its growth tip to escape wildfires, provided there is not much fuel on the forest floor. Another adaptation is the thick bark of the mature tree, which protects the inner, living tissue from harm. The fires stop natural succession by killing young turkey, blackjack, and post oak that would eventually prevent the growing long leaf pines from receiving enough sunlight. The seeds of the long leaf pine need cleared ground to reach the soil and germinate. The fire clears the forest floor and returns nutrients to the soil, favoring the tree's reproductive success. Some other pine species are also adapted to fire; the cones of the pond pine will open and drop their seeds only in the heat created by fires. weather, topography, and vegetation (Ground fuels are vegetation close to or built up on the forest floor. They include forest litter, such as leaves or pine needles, limbs, downed logs, and low growing plants, such as weeds, shrubs, and young trees. These fuels are the primary means for the spread of wildfire. The build-up of ground fuels poses a serious threat of
wildfire. Fires that begin in forests with a heavy accumulation of fuels spread rapidly and often move up through shrubs, vines, and small trees to the tops, or crowns, of the trees. The fuels that allow the upward spread to the crowns are called ladder-fuels, and the resulting crown fires are devastating to the forest.)
Mountain cove forests are found in the remote areas of the North Carolina Mountains. They are home to some of the oldest, largest trees in the state. Their rugged and remote location has saved them from logging and other human development. Common trees in the mountain cove forests are tulip poplar, yellow buckeye, hemlock, and sugar maple. Other plant life found in this ecosystem includes trilliums, may apples, yellow-flowered violets, and foam flowers. Many ferns grow in this area, including the walking fern and the Christmas fern. The mountain cove forest is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, such as the black bear, bobcat, and a large number of salamander species - including the red-spotted (or Eastern) newt. These forests provide a temporary home for a wide variety of migratory songbirds. Spruce fir forests, or boreal forests, are common in the northwestern part of the United States and New England. In North Carolina, they only exist at the highest elevations, above 5,500 feet. This is a coniferous forest composed mostly of Fraser fir and red spruce. At first glance, these trees may look similar, but their leaves are actually very different. The leaves of the Fraser fir are flat, narrow, and straight. The leaves of the red spruce are more needle-like, pointy, and slightly curved. The climate and vegetation of these forests are different from elsewhere in the state, and many of its species are unique or unusual. It is the southernmost limit of the range for the tiny saw-whet owl, and it provides habitat for a subspecies of Northern flying squirrel. Today, the spruce fir forest is slowly being destroyed by air pollution and acid rain. It is thought that the air pollution is weakening the trees allowing the Balsam woolly adelgid to finally kill the fir trees. It is important that we protect this unique forest, because it provides habitat for many endangered and threatened species, as well as, species of special concern. These include the Northern flying squirrel, Weller's salamander, long-tailed shrew, Rugel's ragwort, spreading avens, and Heller's blazing star. Piedmont stream forests are common in North Carolina. They often vary a great deal in size. There may be only a small strip of trees surrounding a stream, or they may be a much larger stand of trees with a stream running through it. No matter the size, they provide a home for a large number and variety of wildlife species. In fact, they are home to about half of the 200 species considered to be endangered, threatened, or of special concern in North Carolina. Some plants found within the piedmont stream forest are oaks, hickories, red and silver maples, river birch, persimmon, ferns, vines, weeds, bushes, and many types of wildflowers. Common animals in the piedmont stream forest include the southern leopard frog, salamanders, mink, turtles, deer, opossum, raccoon, southern short-tailed shrew, big brown bat, and southern flying squirrel. Fresh water mussels are often found in the streams of these forests. Many of the animals in the piedmont stream forest are nocturnal. The piedmont stream forest is important because it is often the only remaining habitat for wildlife in some cities. They provide a long "edge" habitat. These areas serve as cafeterias and highways for many wildlife species, making them important areas for food supply and movement from one area to another through highly developed regions. Many of the rarest mussels are found in piedmont streams, and these forests act as a buffer and help protect the area's water quality. These forests are composed of deciduous trees that grow in the floodplains of rivers and streams. The bottomland forest floods annually and is home to special trees like the tupelo gum and bald cypress. On the higher drier areas, oaks, sycamore, beech, hickories, elm, and sweet gum trees grow. The bald cypress looks similar to a coniferous tree because of its needle-like leaves, but it is actually a deciduous tree. It is related to the giant redwoods and sequoias found in the western part of the United States. The bald cypress grows knobs that are known as "cypress knees." These knees grow straight up from the roots and help the tree taken in oxygen when the area is flooded. Cypress knees can grow as tall as five feet. Bald cypress trees in general can be quite large. They can grow to five or six feet in diameter, well over one hundred feet tall, and be 500 to 600 years old. The oldest bald cypress trees are found along the Black River and are estimated to be more than 1,600 years old. Bottomland hardwood forests are home to a wide variety of plant and animal species. Common animals are wild turkey, barred owl, pileated woodpecker, water moccasin, bobcat, great blue heron, wood duck, and migratory birds and waterfowl. Common plant species are sedges, wild grapes, privet, and giant cane. Trees of the forest include cherrybark, willow, water, overcup and shumard oaks, black willow,
sycamore, sweet gum, pawpaw, shagbark and water hickories, and red and silver maples.
The longleaf pine forest found in the coastal plain is a fire dependent ecosystem. Fire is necessary for the native plants and animals to survive and not be taken over by other species. Many of the organisms found here have developed adaptations that allow them to survive fire and grow in spite of it. The dominant tree is the longleaf pine. Its dependence on and adaptations to fire have been discussed previously. Other plants found in the longleaf pine forest are turkey oak, Michaux's sumac, wiregrass, and sandworts. Some animals of the longleaf pine forest are the red-cockaded woodpecker, fox squirrel, gray fox, pigmy rattlesnake, Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Carolina anole, tree frogs, and Eastern king snake. The longleaf pine forest once covered much of the coastal part of the Southeastern United States from North Carolina through Florida. Much of this habitat has been lost, and the longleaf forest is quickly disappearing. The forests were cut for naval stores, harvested for timber, and cleared for development and other human activities.