In the twentieth century (and for centuries before), it was believed that ancient, never-cut forests were mainly very large, widely scattered trees which shaded the ground between them to such a large degree that few younger trees could survive. As a traveler in the 18th century described it, this kind of forest was supposed to be so open between the huge ancient trees that you could drive a horse and carriage through the forest with no problem.
But as I write in my new book, The Moon in the Nautilus Shell, the last remaining uncut forest in New Jersey, Hutcheson Memorial Forest, doesn’t look anything like that folktale forest.
And on the grounds of the New York Botanical Garden, right in the heart of New York City, exists another never-cut forest, the Thain Family Forest, featured in the video above. Just this week I was fortunate to be taken on a tour of that forest and while there, shot some video footage that shows how the old-growth forest looks. Like the Hutcheson Forest that I describe in my book, Thain Family Forest is crowded with many small trees and shrubs, of many sizes, filling much of the space between the reimaining large, older trees. This is what a real old-growth forest east of the Mississippi River is like.
For comparison, I have included a still photo of a second-growth forest (land cleared and probably recleared many times since European settlement of America), about 25 miles north of the New York Botanical Garden--the same kind of forest. Compare the two. Do they look different to you?
Another Visit to the Thain Family Forest at the New York Botanical Garden
The Thain Family Forest was so fascinating to me that I made another visit to it, this time with Ralph Gardner, who writes the “Urban Gardener” column in the Wall Street Journal. We were fortunate again to be joined by several of the Botanical Garden’s staff, including Travis Beck, the garden’s Landscape and Gardens Project Manager, Jessica Schuler, Manager of the Thain Family Forest, Stevenson Swanson, Science Media Manager, and Todd Forrest, Vice President for horticulture and living collections. Each had much of interest to add about the forest, the effects of Hurricane Sandy, and about the Garden in general. (Travis, by the way, has a book coming out early next year, Principles of Ecological Landscape Design, to be published by Island Press. Travis’s book is timely. As we become more urbanized, landscape design becomes more important.)
It was a beautiful, cool, fall day, and we had a wonderful time on this tour. I am a great fan of the New York Botanical Garden. It has so much to offer — the entire place not just the uncut forest. Ralph Gardner has a country place full of woods and is an avid bird watcher, so he was full of good questions, the kind that naturalists like myself and the Garden’s staff enjoy puzzling over. In today’s (December 12, 2012) Wall Street Journal, Ralph Gardner devoted his column to our visit. He has a charming writing style, light but informative. Having come from a writing family, I especially appreciated it. Particularly fun for me was his statement about data being collected in the Thain Family Forest, and that “Those readings will hopefully help determine, before it's too late, whether the bucking meteorological bronco we're currently riding is just a typically feisty pony or one of the horses of the apocalypse." You can find the article at The Wall Street Journal.
I just want to add one thing. Even though Ralph refers to me as climate-change skeptic, I fully recognize that we are in a warming period and have been since the mid-19th century, which poses major problems for us and raises many legitimate questions. However, new data lead me to question that carbon emissions are the primary cause of global warming. In fact, new research shows that changes in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lag behind changes in temperature. Climate science and related sciences are moving very fast, and as new data and analyses come in, it’s important that we consider them carefully. I will be adding some updates about climate change in another post.