Characteristics of dry-mesic old-growth oak forests in the Eastern United States

  • Authors: Spetich, Martin A.; Jenkins, Michael A.; Shifley, Stephen R.; Wittwer, Robert F.; Graney, David L.
  • Publication Year: 2022
  • Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
  • Source: Earth
  • DOI: 10.3390/earth3030057


Dry-mesic old-growth oak forests are widely distributed remnants across the eastern U.S. and are expected to increase in number and extent as second-growth forests mature. In this study, we synthesize published and unpublished information to better define the species, structure and extent of these forests. Mean site tree density for trees >=10 cm dbh ranged from 341-620 trees ha-1. In the eastern part of the region, most stand basal areas were >23 m2 ha-1, compared to <=23 m2 ha-1 in the westernmost stands. Overall, woody species diversity was relatively low compared to old-growth oak forests on moister sites, with tree species per forest ranging from 5-18. The most common species among the stands were white oak (Quercus alba), northern red oak (Quercus rubra), and black oak (Quercus velutina). Shrub and vine species per forest ranged from 1-10, with common species or genera including Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), Vaccinium spp., and grapevines (Vitis spp.). Within the southern Appalachian Mountains, rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia L.) were common. Herbaceous species per stand ranged from 4-51, with the highest richness occurring in a southern Appalachian oak-hickory forest. The maximum within-stand age of the large trees ranged from 170 to over 365 years. The mean density of standing dead trees >=10 cm dbh ranged from 31-78 ha-1 and the volume of coarse woody debris >=10 cm in diameter averaged 52 m3 ha-1 . We more fully describe the characteristics of these forests and fill gaps in the collective knowledge of this increasingly important forest type. However, over the past 20 years, there has been scant research on these forests, and older research studies have used a variety of research plots and methods. A uniform approach to surveying these sites is needed to gain a better understanding of these forests before we are faced with caring for an increase in old-growth forest areas.

  • Citation: Spetich, Martin A., Michael A. Jenkins, Stephen R. Shifley, Robert F. Wittwer, and David L. Graney. 2022. "Characteristics of Dry-Mesic Old-Growth Oak Forests in the Eastern United States" Earth 3, no. 3: 975-1009.
  • Keywords: forest structure, white oak, species composition, tree age, old growth, physiographic regions, forest dynamics, succession
  • Posted Date: September 13, 2022
  • Modified Date: September 14, 2022
  • Print Publications Are No Longer Available

    In an ongoing effort to be fiscally responsible, the Southern Research Station (SRS) will no longer produce and distribute hard copies of our publications. Many SRS publications are available at cost via the Government Printing Office (GPO). Electronic versions of publications may be downloaded, printed, and distributed.

    Publication Notes

    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.
    • Our online publications are scanned and captured using Adobe Acrobat. During the capture process some typographical errors may occur. Please contact the SRS webmaster if you notice any errors which make this publication unusable.
    • To view this article, download the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader.