Natural Community: Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest

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Rock Creek Park

This natural community, wide-ranging in Rock Creek Park, is peacefully pleasing to the eye.


Created by Grace Novak, Explore Natural Communities Intern Summer 2015, NatureServe.

Bird sounds from American Yellow Warbler, recorded by John Baur,; Wood Thrush, recorded by Martin St-Michel, Licensed under Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0

Music: Two Together, by Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0

Photo: Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest, by Sam Sheline, courtesy of NatureServe. Shared under Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0


Podcast time: 1:40 minutes

The most common natural community in Rock Creek Park, the Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest is a fascinating place to find a wide range of beautiful wildlife. It can be found along hilly trails, making it an extremely accessible place to learn exactly what makes up a natural community.

The Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest has a canopy of oaks, American beech (Fagus grandifolia) and tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera) all rooted in acidic soil.  It occupies the middle to lower slopes of the hills. In case you weren't sure, the word "mesic" means the soil is neither too wet, nor too dry—perfect for the kind of vegetation that grows here.

In the understory, you'll usually find the spindly mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shrub and the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), which has leaves shaped like Christmas stockings that stay green in the winter. There is also the small parasitic plant called beechdrop (Epifagus virginiana) which grows under the American beech tree, sucking nutrients from the roots of the tree.

This natural community has a peaceful open feel and is especially beautiful in autumn with its colorful mix of leaves in the canopy. Most likely you'll see the American beech tree more than any other kinds of trees. Historically, oaks were selectively cut from the forest as they were a preferred timber species, making more room for the beech trees to grow. The suppression of wildfires since the early days of the park has probably also played a role in the success of American beech, whose thin bark makes it vulnerable to damage by fire.

As the hallmark natural community in Rock Creek Park, the Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest is a very special place for the plants that grow here and the animals who call it home.

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