Yesterday morning’s lovely, quiet snow turned to freezing rain in the afternoon. In the evening, it really began to rain hard, and continued for hours. Around 11:00, I started to hear crashes from limbs breaking up on Sapsucker Ridge — the side of Plummer’s Hollow dominated by black cherry, red maple, and other weak, fast-growing trees. By two in the morning, when I finally went to bed, the rain had almost stopped, but there was still a constant barrage of crashes. I feared the worst.
When I got up, I found the spicebush (Lindera benzoin) outside my front door pretty badly savaged, and the top of a half-dead red maple had smashed down through the small lilac next to my walk. It was a mess. But the spicebush had undergone a lot of pruning over the years to keep it from getting too bushy and blocking my walk, so the long limbs didn’t have much support. I don’t think it was representative of how well spicebushes fared in general…
or witch hazel, or a lot else that grows in our maturing oak woods on Laurel Ridge, the side of Plummer’s Hollow that my porch faces.
As I walked around the trails on Laurel Ridge, I found downed branches here and there, but not much other damage.
Oak trees are especially good at weathering ice storms, as we’ve discovered over the years. It makes sense that species which evolved to bear heavy nut crops would have pretty sturdy architecture.
Young oak trees of several species frequently exhibit marcescence, meaning they hold onto their leaves all winter for some reason. Even these trees were bowed but not broken by the ice.
I haven’t made a close inspection of the other woods yet, but the view from across the field isn’t that bad — we’re not seeing a whole lot of newly broken snags, as has happened in the aftermath of some previous ice storms. The problem is that those areas keep trying to grow back with the same species of trees, preserving those stands in a state of arrested development or worse. Some areas have simply remained open, choked with aggressive ferns that crowd out tree seedlings and heavily browsed by white-tailed deer — to say nothing of the effects of changes in soil chemistry by decades of acid deposition on the thin, rocky slopes. I very much fear that as “global weirding” brings ever more frequent ice storms, Pennsylvania’s forests, unnaturally dominated as they are by black cherry and red maple, will slowly convert to savanna. Those portions dominated by oaks, however, will probably be fine — barring the spread of some new disease or insect pest. (Climate change favors that, too.)
We’ve had very good success with our deer hunting program here, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle, and one of the few over which a landowner can exercise real control. It won’t stop us from feeling vulnerable and helpless when the next ice storm hits.