Natural Community: Oak - Beech / Heath Forest

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Rock Creek Park

In this natural community on steep hillsides lives the American beech tree, whose smooth bark is susceptible to unwanted graffiti.


Created by Alison Shapiro, Explore Natural Communities Intern Summer 2015, NatureServe.

Sounds: Harp Magic/Dream Sound Effect, by Audio Productions (
Music: Enchanted Valley, by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0

Photo: Graffitied bark of American Beech, by Grace Novak, courtesy of NatureServe. Shared under Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0


Podcast time: 1:38 minutes

Dark lines crisscrossing the trunks of the trees—“Dave and Cindy forever”—carved, etched in the forest for eternity.

Here in the Oak - Beech Heath Forest, the smooth gray surface of the beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) provides ample opportunity for visitors to immortalize a relationship or two, for better or worse, by carving names, numbers and signs on the bark of the tree.

But beware: the delicate trees of this community become susceptible to disease when wounded, even by love.

Lovebirds' hearts aren't the only things fluttering in this part of the park. Songbirds such as the wood thrush, American robin, and ovenbird as well as several different types of woodpeckers make their home here on steep, shady hillsides above the creek.

Shrubs, which include pink azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), hillside blueberry (Vaccinium pallidum), and black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), are an optimal hiding spot and food source for birds and small mammals. In addition, the forest houses dense colonies of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), which help keep the numbers of non-native invasive competitors like bush honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) or garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) down.

The canopy includes our graffitied tree (the American beech), along with a mix of oaks. The soils in this natural community are generally acidic and poor in nutrients. Moss forms large patches along these steep, rocky hillsides.

So show a little love to this natural community; don’t break the Beech Tree's heart and bark!

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