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  • Writer's pictureSam Bilhorn

Roots to Canopy: Understanding the Growth and Development of Forests

Updated: Jan 22, 2023

The Race for Sunlight

sunrise over forest

In a forest, the race to acquire sunlight is a crucial aspect of a tree's survival. It is a process known as succession, where different species of trees compete for sunlight, and over time, the composition of the forest changes. A deeper understanding of this process allows for better management of your whitetail property.

Early Succession: Shade Intolerant Trees

new forest sprouting

When a forest first starts to grow, shade-intolerant species, such as aspen, poplar, willow, and cottonwood, are the first to establish themselves. These trees grow quickly and reach for the sun, trying to acquire as much light as possible. However, these shade-intolerant species are generally short-lived and are eventually taken over by moderately shade-tolerant species, such as hickory, cherry, elm, red, and white oak.

Late Succession: Moderately Shade-Tolerant Trees

beech forest

As the forest matures, the moderately shade-tolerant species dominate the forest, creating a closed canopy condition where very little sunlight reaches the forest floor. Only very shade-tolerant species, such as boxelder, maple, ironwood, and beech, can grow under these conditions. It is at this stage that a forest can become limiting

for deer, as the undergrowth is sparse

and the sight distance is long.


By understanding the natural process of succession, we can better understand the history of the growth on our properties and anticipate what changes may be coming. In our next article, we will explore how we can intervene and positively impact our habitat and hunting by managing the succession process on our whitetail properties.



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