The history of your woodland | Living the Country Life

The history of your woodland

With some observation, you can learn about its past

Every woodland has a story of how it came to be. If the land has been in the family for some time, you’ve probably heard tales about the tornado that wiped out the trees or when a fire roared through. A woodland that is new to you may not come with the historical knowledge, but there are ways to look into its past.

Josh Vanbrakle is a forester and author of a book called “Backyard Woodland.” He says if the area was farmed in the past or the trees were taken out for some reason, the land comes back in a predictable way. Grasses come first, then woody shrubs, then transition to trees.

"What’s really interesting with that progression is that you can see that even after the trees grow up. Because the trees come in around the same time, they all tend to be about the same height," says Vanbrakle. "So, you go out there, you see all those trees are basically the same height, there aren’t a lot of shorter trees underneath, that can give you a sense that this land probably used to be farmland, pastureland."

Perhaps you’ve found the remnants of a stone foundation, indicating there was once a homestead on the property. Vanbrakle says lilac bushes are another good indicator.

"These are not native plants to the U.S., they were brought in by colonists who wanted something from the homeland, so they would often plant lilac right near their house as something beautiful that they wanted to see," he says. "So, I’ve gone out into the woods and you see this wild, gangly lilac bush. There was probably a cabin there at some point."

By reading the rings of a fallen tree, you can decipher years of drought, years of plenty, and scar damage if a fire went through.

Learn more about seeing your forest for the trees

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