The Garden Muse — Ponder the importance of hardwood trees in the landscape

Published 10:00 am Saturday, February 5, 2022

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I have been thinking about the trees lately. Maybe because it is winter and the color scheme of nature here in South Central Virginia is evergreen and a multitude of shades in gray and brown.

Hardwood trees are categorized as having broad leaves, produce fruit or nuts, are mostly deciduous and go dormant in the winter. Some species you might find on yours or your neighbor’s property include Oaks, Maple, Ash, Hickory, Walnut and Quaking Aspen.

Here in Virginia most all hardwood trees this time of year are dormant and appear devoid of any signs of life from a distance. But if one looks closely the signs of life are there. The most noticeable of them is the presence of small leaf buds at the ends of the tree’s branches. Intact healthy-looking bark without any sign of fungus and limbs that are limber and green on the inside are additional signs the tree is alive.

Trees in general but especially hardwood trees growing in any specific place can tell us a lot about the soil, climate, health, and other environmental conditions of the area.

Their role in the environment’s ecosystem is especially important. Many woodland plants and fungus rely on them for their very existence. Hardwood trees are primary in providing food, shelter and nesting sites for wildlife. Some woodland critters we all take for granted like the Deer, Opossum, Squirrel, Racoon, Bear, Owl, Turkey, and Bats just to name a few would be extremely hard pressed to survive without our hardwood mixed forests. Although many are considered ‘pests’ by society today, they are all especially important to the balance in the circle of life.

Hardwood trees also collect and store carbon from the atmosphere. They stabilize river and stream banks and reduce soil erosion. These are all important to the health of Virginia estuaries.

Many of us take advantage of the beautiful hardwood mixed forests to enjoy recreational activities like hiking, hunting, fishing and bird watching. Most of these activities do not exist in Pine monocultures.

I hope that I may have sparked an interest within you to look closer at the sometimes not-so-obvious beauty of the old growth hardwoods in the landscape.

For more information on and tips for identifying hardwood trees you can visit Virginia’s Department of Forestry at

Dawn Conrad is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Herbal enthusiast, Writer and Fiber Artist. She can be contacted at dawn@mygardenmuse. com.