For a community only 65 miles from the heart of Manhattan, Redding is extraordinarily well endowed with woodlands. More than half the Town is forest, and that estimate hardly begins to count all the patches of woods on developed homesites.
The woods of Redding fall within a zone known to botanists as the central hardwoods. It is a forest in which the oak is predominant; red oak, mostly, though black and white and chestnut oaks get mixed in here and there with the hickories (shagbark, pignut and bitternut), black birch and white ash, dogwood and ironwood, beech, tulip poplar, hemlock, and the maples, both sugar and red.
Trees tend to congregate in habitats to their specific liking. Thus, on some rocky highlands and exposed ridgetops, one may encounter chestnut oaks with their deep-furrowed bark, the scraggly pitch pine, and lowbush blackberry. Other oaks seem to prefer the mid- to low-slope habitats, along with the hickories and the mountain laurel. In cool, rocky ravines, one often finds hemlocks and black birch; in swales and swamps, red maple and high-bush blueberry, and out in the abandoned fields succeeding to forest, red cedar and aspen.
Ferns and mosses occupy much of the forest understory. On a single hundred-yard stretch of trail in the Saugatuck Falls Natural Area, for example, as many as six different species have been noted; elsewhere, some horsetail and clubmoss and ground pine are common.
The thing to remember about the forest is that it is forever changing, albeit slowly. At the time of the first settlement, the American chestnut was probably the dominant hardwood species-some say in large part because of its resistance to fire. Lightning strikes no doubt razed vast tracts of woodland in prehistoric times, and so did the Indians who torched the woods around their villages to encourage the growth of berries and deer browse. Though the chestnut as a species survived the torch, and later the axe, it did not prevail against the chestnut borer in the early years of this century. In a few places along the trails of Redding, one can still see the weather-bleached stumps or standing skeletons of these forest giants. And, who knows? Maybe, someday, the chestnuts will come back again. In the meantime, beech have been stressed by a bark fungus, and oak are under periodic attack from the gypsy-moth caterpillar. The hemlocks are under serious siege by wooly adelgid and scale.
It is conceivable that in two hundred years, the maples will be dominant in Redding. Such are the breaks of the game when the rules are set by Nature. By ourselves, we could do a lot worse. ❧