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Article #14, August 1998
By Bill Cook

            Ever noticed that almost everyone likes babies?  People, puppies, fawns, chicks, cubs, colts, caterpillars, and even tadpoles.  Yet, so many people either seem opposed to or appear indifferent towards baby trees.  I guess I can sort of understand that.  I, too, relate more to young animals than tree regeneration.  Yet, without forest regeneration we will not have forests.

            So, how do trees reproduce?  All trees have flowers and fruits.  Some species even have male and female trees.  If you look close enough at the right time of the year, you can, indeed, find tree flowers.  Some are quite showy but most are inconspicuous.  Tree fruits we are probably more familiar with.  There are apples, peaches, pears, and plums, but there are also nuts, acorns, helicopters, cones, samaras, berries, and cottonballs.

            Most trees reproduce with seeds, but some trees commonly use other strategies.  Stump sprouts are produced by oaks, paper birch, red maple, and basswood.  Root suckers account for most aspen regeneration.  Most rare is layering.  Cedar can grow roots from live stems or branches that lie on the ground.  New trees can form in this manner.  Sprouts, suckers, and layering are  asexual reproduction methods, meaning there is no mixing of genetic material between individuals.

            Most of our forest regeneration occurs naturally, with no need to plant.  Knowledge of regeneration strategies and species requirements for light, soil, humidity, temperature, and moisture are key elements in prescribing forest practices.  Some seeds require exacting conditions for germination.  If you think about it a minute, it makes sense that different trees have different sets of reproductive requirements and strategies.  Aspen suckers, for example, require full sunlight to survive.  Thatís why clearcut aspen produces a luxuriant young forest (reproduction from clearcutting is why some people are opposed to baby trees!).  On the other hand, sugar maple seedlings can survive under fairly shady conditions.  However, theyíll need more light to achieve tree status.  Some seeds need bare mineral soil.  Others can work their roots through a layer of dead leaves.  Most jack pine cones require 120 degree temperatures to open their cones for seed release.

            Many agents reduce regeneration success of trees.  Mammals, birds, and insects eat lots of seed.  Fungi kill germinants and young seedlings.  Weather can drown, bake, beat, and freeze little trees.  High deer populations will eliminate almost every seedling and sapling of most tree species in an area.  Actually, the odds are pretty much stacked against the survival of an individual seed or seedling.

            Forest management practices carefully consider reproductive strategies of the trees in a particular forest stand.  Knowledge of species requirements for light, moisture, soils, weather, and other factors are used by foresters to develop management plans.  Research and decades of experience have proven the success of many forestry techniques.  Forest regeneration can be manipulated to provide a particular kind of future forest.  To maintain a desired species mix and meet the objectives of a particular ownership, call a forester.  Thatís what we do. 

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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