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Deciduous Forest


A temperate deciduous forest is characterized by a collection of broad- leaved trees such as hickory, maple, oak, poplar, and sycamore; the scrubs and bushes that make up an understory canopy layer; and finally, an herbaceous moss ground layer. Rainfall must be adequate (thirty to sixty inches annually) and evenly dispersed throughout the year. These forests grow in areas where the climate is fairly moderate with significant seasonal climate changes which include long and warm summers, and cold, but not too severe, winters. The trees in these forests survive the winters by shedding their leaves in the fall and becoming dormant until spring.

Today, Indiana's forests, often referred to as "woods," are a "small fragment left from a vast green expanse, rich, varied, and ecologically resilient” (Petty 110). Most of the forests in Indiana are categorized as secondary growth forests—that is, they were at one point cleared by human beings and now have gone through, or are going through, the process of regrowth. This process is not a quick or an easy one. First, a layer of early weeds, forbs, and grasses gives way to larger brush such as briars and goldenrods. Then a collection of young saplings begins to take form. Anywhere from ten to fifty years later, small trees, shrubs, and flowering herbs begin to flourish.

This process has not replicated, and may never replicate, the size or magnitude of the trees of Indiana’s almost extinct old growth forests, which is the term for "forests that have suffered little or no logging or livestock grazing, and appear largely as they did prior to European colonization." Old growth forests are known for their "deep, multilayered canopies, abundance of shade-tolerant understory plants, [and] plentiful snags and downed trunks" (McManus 48).

Often, but not always, old-growth forests are noted for the size of the trees. For example, the tulip tree, which is the state tree, on average reached a diameter of eleven feet and a height of 110 to 168 feet in the late 1700 and early 1800s. Today, the largest tulip trees in the state are a pair of secondary growth trees in Hemmer Woods, Gibson County, that measure only five feet in diameter and just over 150 feet in height.

Prior to settlement, it is believed that Indiana was home to approximately 2.2 billion trees—or about 400 trees per current Hoosier resident. In fact, "accounts from Native Americans, settlers, and the Government Land Office show that Indiana was over eighty-five percent forestland as recently as 200 years ago" (United States 4). Sadly, this is hardly the case today. For example, in southern Indiana, which has the most continuous forests in the state, road construction to meet the increased demand for access to the smaller forests has been a topic of much discussion. Fortunately, in the northern part of the state, "it appears that forestland is rebounding and new forested habitat is being developed for wildlife" (United States 5).

See also deforestation.


McManus, Reed. "American Roots." Sierra Nov.-Dec. 2002: 48-57.

Petty, Robert O. "Origins: The Deciduous Forest." The Natural Heritage of Indiana. Ed. Marion T. Jackson. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997. 110-12.

United States. Department of Agriculture. Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry. "What Is the History of Indiana's Forests?" Forests of Indiana: A 1998 Overview. By Barbara Tormoehlen, Thomas L. Schmidt, and Joey Gallion. Sept. 2000. 13 Nov. 2002