After a morning of solid rain on Sunday, May 6, the weather was accommodating for the afternoon’s Old-Growth Forest Walk led by MRG Executive Director Rod Christie. Participants were guided through a portion of the Preserve not regularly open to the public to learn about what makes the old-growth forest in Mianus River Gorge Preserve so unique and so important to manage.
We learned that key to the above-ground health of old-growth forests is the age and complexity of the soils beneath them. These soils are the result of centuries of evolution and adaptation, hosting and nourishing a rich community of flora and fauna. In the case of the Gorge, we have learned that the soils contain hundreds of species of mycorrhizal fungi that are critical to a hemlock seedling’s germination and growth, as well as the tree’s ability to use the nutrients in the soil. These fungi do not exist in the adjacent lands that had once been cultivated.
We also learned why it’s a good thing when the forest looks “messy.” Downed trees in the forest may serve as a reservoir of water, provide habitat for insects and small vertebrates, and continually replenish the soil by slowly releasing nutrients. Rod showed us a good example of a “nurse” tree on which tiny beech and hemlock trees were beginning to grow.
An added benefit of the walk was an opportunity to see a variety of wildflowers that all seem to be blooming at once after the prolonged winter.