Old Fields

Once a crop field, lawn, or pasture is left fallow, a number of herbaceous and woody plants begin to colonize the area in a process known as “plant succession.” An early stage of plant succession, known as an “old field community” develops when woody vegetation, such as young trees and shrubs begin colonizing the site. Old fields still maintain a field-like appearance, but now there are also young trees and shrubs growing there. Old fields have a mixture of soft, herbaceous plants like grasses, forbs, brambles, and sedges, along with scattered woody plants like cedar, flowering dogwood, redbud, wild cherry, maple, and elm. The “pioneer” species that typically colonize these sites are plants that have wind-dispersed seed or seed that is disseminated by birds or other animals. The fact that these seeds can be dispersed greater distances increases the likelihood that it will be deposited in these young communities.As an old field matures, an increasing number of trees invade the site, so that a forest eventually develops. The only way to maintain this old field habitat is to reverse plant succession by mowing, burning, cutting down trees, etc.

Credit: frederick.forestryboard.org - Mike Kay

Old fields are transitory in nature, usually persisting for 10-15 years before they are replaced by a young forest community. Therefore, these habitats are becoming a rarer occurrence in Frederick County, where open land is farmed or converted into homes, lawn, and other uses. As this community vanishes, the wildlife that is dependent on these habitats, such as loggerhead shrike, bob-o-link, and quail, becomes scarcer. Providing and managing for this type of cover will benefit many species that are in a state of general decline throughout most of the East Coast.

Article by FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 10/15/2017