Monday, October 11, 2010

Old Growth with Sugar

I think when the term “old growth” is cast about, most people picture an ancient conifer forest.  I know I do.  The forests of the Cascades and Olympic Peninsula are what immediately come to my mind.  Others may see the true boreal forests of the far north or perhaps the tropical rainforests.  I’m confident most folks don’t think of Sugar Maples.  So, while old growth always gets my spirit moving, it was with added fascination that Sarah and I found ourselves in a virgin forest dominated by sugar maple (Acer saccharum).
Old growth sugar maple forest in the Grande Anse Valley.

We were in Nova Scotia.  Cape Breton Highlands National Park, to be a bit more specific.  The Grande Anse Valley was our precise location.

The northern peninsula of Cape Breton Island is mostly a high plateau surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean.  Carving into this table-like terrain are numerous steep valleys carrying streams and rivers from the interior of the island to the sea.  The top of the “table” is uninterrupted boreal forest.  The valleys are often filled with hardwood communities and the transition is abrupt as you drop from atop the plateau into a valley like the Grande Anse.

Notice the abrupt color change from the dark boreal forest of the uplands to the hardwoods of the valley. 
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / J. Pleau

The forest floor here is entirely covered with tiny maple saplings.
The forest we explored in the Grande Anse was 97% comprised of sugar maple.  Most interesting was the presence of trees in every stage of life.  Some were 350 years old, others were only a few decades, and the forest floor was blanketed with the spring’s saplings.  All sugar maples!  
Sadly, there is very little of this old growth Acadian forest left.  Cape Breton Highlands National Park protects most of the old growth deciduous forest in Nova Scotia, with 80% of it being in the Grande Anse Valley and  surely the best virgin sugar maple stand you’ll see anywhere.

1 comment:

  1. Nifty! A Kirby blog!! This makes me inordinately happy, as does the subject matter. :) Looking forward to reading about your journey as I figure mine out, too. Of course, you've got a head start on me by a good sixty IQ points and a heck of a lot of knowledge.

    Before my great-grandfather (and then later, my grandfather, as well) went bat-shit-greed-crazed, we had 120 acres of fairly pristine woods out in Mason. Great-grandpa would cull the sick and rotten trees, and would occasionally cut a few more to stockpile wood for winter burning, but by and large, the trees were old and gorgeous. There were many sugar maples, along with huge, silvery, wonderful beeches, various other nut trees, giant white and red oaks...

    I miss those woods dearly, and I hate the stupid gravel pit that has replaced much of them.