Mixed hardwood forest opening on to earthwork fortifications at Fort Harrison
Richmond National Battlefield Park has forest communities of various types and successional stages across its many units. From early successional to old-growth forest, visitors to the park have the opportunity to observe the dynamic changes that occur as a forest stand ages. In general, although the representative species may differ with geographical location and environmental conditions, the general process is similar in all forest successional pathways. Certain tree species, with high reproductive rates and rapid growth, are well-suited for colonization and are first to establish in a disturbed area. Over time, these species are outcompeted by species that tend to grow and reproduce less prolifically, but are better competitors and have longer life spans. The process of succession is often set back by natural disturbance, such as wildland fire, which starts the cycle again.
The forest at the park's Cold Harbor unit is representative of an eastern, upland forest with dry, sandy soils. Forests such as these establish first in pine, followed by a mixed oak dominated community with an herbaceous understory that thins with age. However, because the forest at Cold Harbor is regularly disturbed with prescribed fire, it remains suspended in an earlier stage of succession with loblolly pine as its dominant canopy species. Beaverdam Creek is representative of a floodplain/riparian wetland community. Such communities tend to retain their dense herbaceous understory throughout succession, and are dominated by such hardwood speces as birch, sycamore, tulip poplar, and sweet gum. The forest at Gaines' Mill is representative of a late successional mixed hardwood forest. It is presently dominated by large white oak, beech and holly trees with a sparse understory. Many of the park's oldest trees can be found within this forest.
The various forest types and successional stages found within Richmond National Battlefield park provide suitable habitat for a diversity of species with a wide range of ecological needs. The park strives to protect these valuable habitats as it carries out its goal of managing and interpreting the historic landscape.