This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
This is an interesting and very important subject, which has occupied my mind for many years.
My observations lead me to believe that when forests are cut down by the woodman's axe, and the fires kept out, they, in the main, reproduce the same species, as there are nearly always enough trees left to seed the ground, and, if a pine forest, decayed logs, brush, etc, to protect the young seedlings from the sun till they can take care of themselves.
Where a settlement is formed, and cattle allowed to run in the cut down woods, is an exception, as in that case the seedlings are destroyed as they appear. In a burnt forest everything is changed, all vegetation is swept away, even the soil is changed, and the surface soil, if thin, is destroyed.
It is very interesting to me to watch the process this burnt land has to pass through before it is re-clothed with timber. The first tree that will make its appearance is the Aspen, Populus tremuloides, a tree which naturally grows on low moist lands; this tree predominates, as far as I have noticed, in the burnt forests in Colorado, Wyoming, Dakota, in the Black Hills, in Minnesota, Manitoba, Wisconsin and Northern Michigan. In Wisconsin, and in the Black Hills, it is mixed with the White Birch; in North-eastern Wisconsin sometimes the White Birch predominates.
The Aspen is well adapted for this purpose, as when a fire runs through the forest and destroys all other trees, it, being in the damp places, even if burned to the ground, throws up suckers from the roots, forming trees; seeds when young, the seeds ripen in spring, fly like thistle down, and germinate immediately. The burned surface is the very best place for small delicate seeds like these to germinate. Indeed they could not germinate except for the land being burned over ; for it is a noticeable fact that where a land slide destroys the timber, you never see the Aspen taking its place.
It is easily to be seen that the coniferous trees have not an opportunity to reproduce themselves, for a fire destroys both the trees and seeds, except that sometimes Pinus Banksiana may be found in Northern Wisconsin, and Pinus contorta at high altitudes in the Rocky Mountains, mixed with the Aspen in burnt forests; but as both these species have very hard and persistent cones, the fires may not always consume them ; in that case it would be very likely to burst the scales and put the seeds in proper condition to germinate. Be that as it may, the fact is apparent that these are the only two kinds that can be found reproducing themselves under such circumstances as are related above.
Next to the Aspens and White Birch are other kinds of trees and shrubs, such as have seeds that are blown to great distances, or such as remain for long periods in the ground or are carried by birds.
Where the oak and pine forests are contiguous, the oaks will be found gaining on the pine lands. This may easily be accounted for as the oaks renew themselves from the roots, or rather from the stumps, while the pines never do. Besides this, acorns may be buried by squirrels, etc.; at all events the oaks are encroaching on the burnt pine lands, where they stood adjoining and partially intermixed - as they always are - before the fire.
A few oaks, and now and then a few black cherry, are the only valuable trees to be found on the millions on millions of acres of burnt forest lands. It is certainly time that some method should be adopted to prevent the frequency and extent of these lamentable fires ; no one, who has not travelled over the forest regions, can form a correct idea of their extent. In most cases they are the result of carelessness, and even recklessness, by which millions of acres that would reproduce valuable timber, merchantable during the next generation, and the next, will be found by our descendants grown up to worthless trash compared to the noble forests of valuable timber we have had in our day.
I have given you the facts as they are. Individuals, like myself, can only deplore, but are powerless to prevent such wanton recklessness Editors of journals like yours, and the public press generally, should arouse the people, the State governments, or whoever the duty devolves on, to see that some plan is adopted to check this terrible waste.