Blacklick Woods Seasonal Naturalist
Old-growth forests are ecosystems at their best. I have found that a walk through one of these forests is always a worthwhile experience. From luscious treetops to colorful flowers, diversity abounds and there are always treasures to be found. My personal favorite treasures to look for are the many fungi that can be seen in these forests. There are always an assortment of fungi species popping up in an array of colors all over the place. After spending a little time in an old-growth forest I was amazed at the diversity of life that surrounded me and I decided to learn more about what made these forests such fantastic places.
What is an old-growth forest?
The definition of an old-growth forest is not clear cut and can change depending on the area. In general, old-growth forests contain trees at varying stages of life, extensive biodiversity in plants and animals, and abundant amounts of growth as well as decay. Here in Ohio, old-growth forests must have trees older than 150 years, trunk diameters that are at least 12 inches or larger, and a high density of trees. There must be decaying trees present and plenty of saplings and underbrush plants. A huge part of supporting all the life in these forests comes from dead matter like logs, dead branches and dead leaves.
Why are old-growth forests important?
Old-growth forests hold huge importance to the health of our ecosystems. These forests are far more than just old trees. Within an old-growth forest, there is abundant biodiversity. Having a wide variety of all forms of life is healthy. It benefits the entire ecosystem by keeping plenty of nutrients cycling in all parts of the forest. These forests also produce top soil rather than damage or destroy it. Decaying plant and animal matter adds to the soil health and provides living plants with rich soil to grow in. Perhaps the most important role of an old-growth forest would be the storage of carbon. The trunks of trees are quite effective in storing large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. The carbon remains effectively contained within the wood of the tree until it dies and decays, and even then it takes many years for the carbon to be released from logs. Increased carbon in the atmosphere is one of the main culprits of climate change, so having plenty of trees to retain and store some of that carbon is extremely beneficial.
Old-growth forests can be found throughout the United States. Here in the midwest many of these forests have been severely damaged due to extensive logging and agricultural clearance. However, there are about 30 that remain, a few of which can be found in your Metro Parks, such as the forests in Highbanks, Sharon Woods and Blacklick Woods.
Old-growth forests are some of the most beautiful places to visit if you have the chance. You never know what interesting animals you may come across or fungi you might see — it’s always an adventure!