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News and events

News & events

A forest out from under a lake

November 12, 2014

What WAS there? Once a vibrant wetland, then a well-stocked lake, and now in the process of restoration, Kimages Creek has experienced a great deal of change over the last 100 years. VCU graduate student Rick Ward is working to identify the flooded stumps in order that the wetland forest can be restored as well as possible to its former state.

Under the guidance of Dr. Ed Crawford, Ward has developed an 11-step process that begins in the wetlands, locating stumps by GPS and flagging them for mapping. A cross section of a stump (“cookie”) is carefully sawn from the stump, bagged and labeled. Once back in the lab, the cookies are dried in an oven and sanded on one face. After being given an approximate age by counting rings, the samples are placed under a microscope and compared to known samples, examining pores of early and late wood.

Using as reference a number of scientific publications, Ward works to discern the historical tree species found in the wetland area. He can determine which species were able to grow in both upland and wetland areas, and which species are “obligate wetland” and must grow there, like the Black Willow.

Starting with porosity and growth rings, there are 11 steps in Ward’s taxonomic identification code that can lead to identification of a genus of a tree. Because of the variety of conditions under which trees can grow, narrowing down to the species isn’t always possible.

So far, 46 extant species have been found, with the Sweet Gum tree being the most prevalent species along the edge of the wetlands. In terms of the historical forest, Ward and his team have only identified 15 species that comprise the over 5,000 stumps that have been located. The Nature Conservancy has been helping VCU Rice Rivers Center to restore the wetlands, having planted approximately 25,000 trees and shrubs thus far.

It was 1862 when Confederate and Union troops pulled out of the area, having clear cut the trees for fuel and sight lines for battle. Based on his research, Ward estimates that it took approximately 35 years for the forest at Kimages Creek to start flourishing once again. And now, with the help of The Nature Conservancy, Dr. Crawford, and Richard Ward, as well as other graduate and undergraduate students, the wetlands at Kimages Creek are well on their way to returning to their natural state for the first time in over 100 years.

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