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White Oak Nature Trail

Clark State Forest

This 143-acre nature preserve contains a dry upland slope and moist cover with contrasting varieties of trees, shrubs and wildflowers. It is located in Clark State Forest, the oldest state forest in Indiana. In March 1903 state legislation provided for the purchase of 2,000 acres, which today has increased to more than 24,000 acres.

The self-guiding trail is a 0.9 mile long loop with 25 marked stations beginning at the registration box.


Trees and Sites on the Identification Trail

  1. This nature preserve is named for the dominant tree here-the white oak. Gray bark divided by vertical furrows; leaves deeply cut into lobes, without spines on the ends.
  2. Clark State Forest is managed for good forestry practices. Its multiple use practices include picnicking, camping and fishing.
    The nature preserve land is reserved for walking, and observing nature. If this white oak was located in the forest management area, it would be marked for cutting. However, in this preserve everything will remain in its natural state.
  3. Culling dead or nonmarketable trees permits better growth of other nearby trees. But here in the preserve, this scarlet oak, about 40 feet off the trail, will remain until it dies, falls over, and decays. Thus organic matter is recycled into the soil. A lightening strike several years ago caused its center to decay.
  4. Three feet in front of the post is an American beech. Smooth, gray bark; toothed, waxy leaves attached alternately along the stem. Fifteen feet beyond is a white ash: Opposite compound leaves. To the left of the beech is a red maple: Opposite, simple leaves cut into lobes; teeth along entire margin.
  5. This maple leaf viburnum is an example of an understory shrub, and is common here. Maple-shaped leaves, hence the name; white flowers faintly tinged with pink open in spring; Thrives in shade, where it will grow a little more than 2 feet tall.
  6. As with all pines, this Virginia pine sheds its needles throughout the year, whereas hardwood trees lose their leaves each year. It is native in the "Knobstone" area in Floyd, Clark, and Washington Counties only, but has been planted or naturally seed from plantations elsewhere. Two needles in each cluster.
  7. Located 30 feet from the trail is a shagbark hickory. Shaggy plates of gray bark; compound leaves with 5 leaflets. The nuts are relished by squirrels.
  8. Oaks and hickories create the oak-hickory forest type. Here is a pignut hickory. Dark gray bark not shaggy; compound leaf has 5 leaflets which are smaller than the shagbark; the nuts are also smaller and have thin husks.
  9. Another oak here, the Chestnut oak, belongs to the white oak group, but the leaves, on the sprouts to the left, Do not have deeply cut lobes. It is a slow grower, and is found in large numbers on the high dry knobs. Dark gray bark, with vertical deep furrows between wide, hard ridges; large acorns.
  10. Recycling of decayed plant and animal matter returns their nutrients to the soil to be used again by the forest. An example of recycling is this scarlet oak that died in 1985. It is being allowed to decay naturally.
  11. This stream bank exposes the soil profile of Rockcastle silt loam. The silty clay topsoil (surface layer) is not more than 1-3 inches thick, and overlays the subsoil in light, olive-yellow and gray horizons. The soils here are types found at lower elevations of the "Knobstone" area and are derived from sandstone, siltstone, siltstones, and shales. Small rocks and finer materials eroded from higher elevations can be seen in the streambed.
  12. Please do not cut initials in the trunk of this American beech-it permits diseases and curtails growth. Smooth, gray bark; simple leaves with prominent parallel veins. The green fronds of Christmas ferns grow along the trail, as you walk to the next station.
  13. Another hickory found here is this bitternut hickory. Light gray, relatively smooth bark; compound leaves with 5-9 leaflets. The small thin-shelled nuts have a bitter taste.
  14. There are 2 hard maple species in this woods, both tapped for sugar water: black maple has larger and thicker leaves than sugar maple. Oppositely attached, simple leaves with 3 large and 2 small lobes. This section of the trail is on a cooler, north-facing slope, where beech, maple, oak, and hickory mixtures are found-a mesophytic (moist) forest type.
  15. Here in this cool, moist site is the red oak. Light, shiny streaks of bark on the upper trunk; simple, alternate leaves with pointed lobes which are not deeply cut; the acorn cup covers no more than 1/4 of the acorn.
  16. As you walk along the trail, look and listen for signs of animal life, such as tracks, dens, nests, calls or songs, shed snake skins, feathers, and hair caught in the bark of trees. Please leave your finds where they are so others can see them too.
  17. This small tree that grows in moist ground in the understory is the blue beech (hornbeam or muscle tree). It never reaches a height of the larger trees. Smooth, gray bark with hard ridges; alternate simple leaves with fine teeth along the margins.
  18. This diseased white oak has a light patch of bark 4 feet above the ground. "Smooth patch" or "white patch" disease is caused by a fungus. It does not kill the tree, but often causes constrictions of the trunk.
  19. One of the earliest trees to change color in the fall, the black gum turns bright red. Dark brown bark, fairly smooth now, will become deeply furrowed into rectangular ridges when older; alternate elliptical leaves with smooth margins. Flowers are highly favored by bees, juicy fruits are consumed by many birds and mammals.
  20. The post oak leaves are extremely variable in shape, but generally have 2 large lobes midway to the tip and 2 smaller lobes toward the base. This cross-like shape gives the tree its other common name. Crucifixion Oak. Grows crookedly; gray, deeply furrowed bard. It is slow growing.
  21. A small understory species, the serviceberry, also called juneberry, shadbush, and amelanchier, is the first to bloom in the spring. Alternate, simple leaves have fine teeth along margins; clusters of white flowers.
  22. The forest floor is often covered with small shrubs. Round leaf greenbrier, in front of the post, is a common shrub here. While heavy stands make foot travel difficult, it provides protective cover for birds. Square stem with short spines; round-shaped leaves.
  23. Here again is a red maple(review station 4). It prefers moist soils, Do you see the differences between these leaves and the other maples you have seen today?.
  24. A blooming flowering dogwood is a sure sign of spring. Small tree; simple, opposite leaves; twigs and branches appear to telescope each other.
  25. Fifteen feet form the trail is a black oak. Dark brown, furrowed bark; leaves have 3 large, deeply cut lobes and 2 smaller lobes; the acorn cup covers about 1/2 of the acorn.

This ends the self-guiding trail. We hope you have enjoyed your walk as well as the surrounding beauty and diversity nature has to offer.

Directions: From Henryville, in Clark Co., go north 0.9 miles on U.S. 31 then turn left on the main forest road. Park in the picnic grounds on the right after crossing the I-65 overpass. The preserve is across the road (south) from the picnic grounds parking lot.

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