Fire Key to Reviving Dogwood Trees in Eastern Forests

Focusing on flowering dogwood trees, a new study by Purdue University researchers takes a look at forests in the Eastern United States and how timely burning may help revitalize the ecosystem.


| June 11, 2010



Flowering dogwood trees are the subject of a recent Purdue University study.

Flowering dogwood trees are the subject of a recent Purdue University study.

iStockphoto.com/Philip Dyer

West Lafayette, Indiana – Proper and timely burning of some Eastern U.S. forests could help revitalize flowering dogwood trees, which benefits a wide range of species, a Purdue University report shows.

Dogwood trees act as a calcium pump, pulling the nutrient from deep in the soil and depositing it on the forest floor with their fallen leaves each autumn. It's an important source of nutrition for a variety of species in a forest ecosystem, says Michael Jenkins, assistant professor of forestry and natural resources. Fungi, insects, snails and other organisms that live on the forest floor feed on the calcium-rich leaves, and many birds and mammals consume the protein-rich berries.

"During fall migrations, these berries are an important food source for many songbirds," Jenkins says.

But Discula destructiva, a fungus thought to have been unknowingly brought to the United States from Asia, has caused a serious decline in dogwood populations in recent decades. The fungus kills a tree's foliage and then girdles the tree by creating cankers on the trunk.

"The disease has expanded across much of the flowering dogwood's range in North America," says Jenkins, who co-authored an article published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management with Eric Holzmueller of Southern Illinois University and Shibu Jose of the University of Missouri. "It pretty much decimates dogwood populations. In some cases, we have seen more than 90 percent mortality."

Jenkins and his colleagues studied the effect fire has on revitalizing the dogwood population in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. He said in forests where there have been two fires over a 20-year period, dogwoods have survived the disease.





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