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Keystones to a healthy ecosystem

Posted: Thu Sep 30, 2021 2:05 am
by patriceinil
I copied this from an email that I received from my county’s forest preserve district. It was put together by the Nature Foundation.

They are having a plant sale and this is their advertisement but I thought the information was of value to share about the different types of Oak trees and how they help the local ecosystem.

Ignore the sales pitch and look at the information on these 3 varieties of Oak trees and how they help support the wildlife, the soil and other plants around them.


When it comes to pollinators, native plants and ecosystems, you might here the term, "keystone plants." What are keystone plants and why are they so important? Coined first by American ecologist, Robert Paine in 1969, keystone species are those that tend to have a disproportionately large effect on the abundance and diversity of other species in an ecosystem. Originally a term used in masonry, keystones are the center stone at the summit of an arch which lock the whole together. Keystones are the most important stone and, as Paine observed, keystone species, in a very similar way, support other species in their ecosystem and help them to coexist. If you remove the keystone in the arch, or in the ecosystem, everything falls down. Keystone plants, like oak trees, are essential to the success of other plants, animals, and fungi in those food webs. Without oaks, the food web all but falls apart.

Excerpts from Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W. Tallamy


Now in it's fourth and final week, the Oaktober! Native Tree & Shrub sale closes on Saturday, October 2, 2021. While most native trees and shrubs are sold out, we do have a few oak species left including Swamp White Oak, Shingle Oak and Chinquapin Oak. Quantities are limited. We know oaks are a commitment because of their size, but they do so much good! These three species have some unique features which make them excellent candidates for trouble spots, urban sites, parkways and compacted soils. Interested? Take a closer look!

Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)
As the name suggests, this oak typically grows in low-lying and swampy areas — often moist bottomlands or river banks. But it grows just as well in an urban or suburban setting. Because it's adapted to growing in wet, mucky areas, it is also able to tolerate soils with low oxygen levels - which are frequently found in the built environment where soils are heavily compacted. One would think this species requires saturated conditions to survive, but surprisingly it has been able to tolerate high temperatures and drought conditions. If you've lost ash trees due to the emerald ash borer, swamp white oak could make a great replacement. It's also a great choice for a shade or street tree, with the ability to grow at a moderate pace and live more than 300 years. It’s the kind of tree you plant for not only your enjoyment but for the benefit of generations to come. Plus, its acorns are an important source of food for many birds and mammals. Acorn-eating birds include the Wood Duck, Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Ring-Necked Pheasant, Monk Parakeet, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Common Grackle, Rusty Blackbird, Brown Thrasher, Red-Headed Woodpecker, and Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria)
Not easily recognized as an oak due to an atypical un-lobed leaf, shingle oak makes an excellent parkway tree. In fact, it might be one of the best oaks for a park or street-side setting. It adapts well to pruning, holds onto its leaves through the winter, and when planted with other shingle oaks, can even make a hedge. Early settlers in North America used this tree to make shingles, leading to the common name - shingle oak. The species name - imbricaria - is derived from the Latin word imbricatus, which means overlapping. Shingle oak is an easy oak to grow and adapts to various sites. While it prefers rich, moist, acidic soil (low pH) and full sun, it is tolerant of drought, urban conditions and slightly alkaline soil (pH slightly higher than 7).

Chinquapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)
In nature, this oak grows in shallow soils that are calcareous, or derived from limestone. Typically, such soils are alkaline meaning they have a high pH. However, this oak can tolerate medium acidic to highly alkaline soils and it does very well growing in basic soil. It is well-suited for urban areas due to its tolerance of poor, compacted soils. It is also somewhat tolerant of shade and drought. Perhaps one of its best features is its acorns which are a high quality food source. Mice, squirrels, voles, other small mammals, and white-tailed deer consume the acorns of chinquapin oak. In earlier times, acorns were an especially important fall food item for the black bear and the abundance of the fall production of acorns could affect black bear reproductive success during the following year. Birds enjoy the acorns too. Chinquapin acorns are a particularly important food item for the red-headed woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, northern bobwhite, and blue jay. Other bird species that feed on acorns include the ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, ring-necked pheasant, wild turkey, common crow, northern flicker, grackle, blue jay, brown thrasher, tufted titmouse, starling, lesser prairie chicken, chickadees, nuthatches, and waterfowl.

Re: Keystones to a healthy ecosystem

Posted: Thu Sep 30, 2021 9:27 am
by Farmfresh
My turkeys spend a lot of the day under the neighbors oak trees. They gobble (pun intended) those acorns. So do the sheep. Most people probably don't even consider a tree as a source of poultry and livestock feed, but an oak - outside of the fence to keep it safe in the case of sheep - can provide a lot of animal feed. So can a maple tree and also a mulberry.

Re: Keystones to a healthy ecosystem

Posted: Thu Sep 30, 2021 1:42 pm
by patriceinil
I’ll have to see if my chickens will eat the massive amounts of maple seeds that drop out of my dead neighbor’s humongous maple tree. My other neighbor has an oak but I don’t recall seeing any acorns on their tree.

Re: Keystones to a healthy ecosystem

Posted: Thu Sep 30, 2021 2:12 pm
by Rhodie Ranch
We have acorns everywhere. I can turn my ankle if I step on them wrong. Nobody eats them.

Re: Keystones to a healthy ecosystem

Posted: Thu Sep 30, 2021 10:43 pm
by Farmfresh
I guess technically YOU could. They used to make a flour out of acorns, but as I understand the process it takes a lot of time and effort and tastes pretty nasty even when you are done. Too bad you don't have some turkeys or pigs to make use of them.