In This Forest, There Are Very Few Younger Oaks To Replace Those That Are Dying, So The Forest Is Gradually Shifting Into A Beech-Maple Forest. This Pattern Of Forest Succession Has Been Well Studied In A Similar Ohio Forest.
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Dysart Woods. The Authors Of That Study Seemed Puzzled By The Changing Forest Composition And Speculated About Causal Factors Such As Fungus, Pollution, Drought, Or Understory Cover. They Noted That “Browsing By Deer Is Possible, But Unlikely.” But Data Released By The U.S. Forest Service Shows Whitetail Deer Populations Rising Quickly In Ohio. And During My Visit To This Ohio Forest, I Was Entertained By A Number Of Deer Snorting And Running Past.
Whitetail Deer Prefer The Taste Of Oak Saplings To Beech Or Maple. In Pennsylvania’S Cook Forest, A Small Area Was Fenced Off To Exclude Deer And Thereby Study Their Effects. The Results Were Visually Striking. Inside The Fence, The Ground Was Covered With Oak Seedlings While Outside There Were None. I Think The Reason For The Change In This Ohio Forest Is Quite Clearly The Increasing Deer Population, But What To Do About That Is A Completely Different Question. Humans Deserve Much Of The Blame For The Deer Population Increase. As We Opened Up Habitat By Cutting Dense Forests And Creating Farm Fields, The Deer Population Multiplied; As We Hunted The Larger Predators For Skins, Sport, Or Safety, The Deer Population Expanded Even More.
Some Ecologists Would Like To See Almost Every Whitetail Gone, But I Don’T Count Myself Among Them. The Forest Is Changing Because Of An Animal; The Animal Is Influenced By Human Actions. Who Is To Blame? What Should Be Done? I Found A Quiet Spot Off The Path And Sat In The Forest As It Was While The Oaks Still Towered Above Me. According To A Sign Here, Some Of These Ancient Trees Were Producing Acorns When The Mayflower Landed At Plymouth Rock In 1620. So Much Has Changed Since Then.
In My Shady Spot Off The Trail, I Was Surrounded By The Low, Parasol-Like Leaves Of Mayapples. This Plant Always Grows In Colonies. In Early Spring, Clusters Of Green Umbrellas, With Deeply Undulating Edges, Open On The Woodland Floor. Many Of The Plants Are Just A Single Leaf With A Central Stalk. These Single-Leaved Shoots Will Not Produce Any Flowers Or Fruit, But Stalks With Two Leaves Will Form A Large, White Flower In The Crotch Between The Two Leaves. The Flower Cannot Pollinate Itself; It Depends On An Insect To Bring Pollen From A Different Mayapple. That May Seem Simple When You See A Colony Of Hundreds Of Shoots, Many Of Them Flowering, But Most Of Those Are Genetically Identical And Thus Self-Incompatible, Meaning They Cannot Pollinate One Another.
If The Flower Is Pollinated, It Forms A Greenish-Yellow, Egg-Shaped Fruit.
The Fruit Is More Noticeable Than The Flower, Because By The Time It Ripens, The Leaves Have Begun To Wither. The Pulp Of The Ripe Fruit Can Be Eaten Raw Or Used To Make Jelly, But Eating The Roots, Leaves, Seeds, Or Green Fruit Would All Cause A Vicious Case Of The Runs. There Have Also Been Reports Of The Roots Causing Birth Defects And Miscarriages. Personally, I Have Never Tasted The Fruit, Because I Never Wanted To Risk The Possible Side Effects. I Put It Under The Heading Of “Not Worth It.”
The Mayapples Here Today Are Past Flowering And Have Beautiful, Angular, Yellow Spots On The Leaves. They Are Infected With A Rust Fungus. The Latin Name Of This Fungus Species, Podophylli, Is Very Similar To The Genus Name Of The Plant, Podophyllum, Because This Fungus Can Only Live And Reproduce On A Mayapple. No Mayapples, No Mayapple Rust. The Life Cycle Of The Rust Fungus Is Very Complex Much More Complex Than That Of Its Host.