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Why Meadows Become Forests

Eastern red cedar seedling in an old field

Plant community succession: Why meadows become forest.

The normal plant community in the New York City to Philadelphia region is forest. This region receives an average annual rainfall of roughly 44 inches, distributed throughout the year. This means that woody vegetation will become established in undisturbed sites, given sufficient time (including dry, sandy soils of back dunes and pine-barrens). Periodic disturbance of storms, fires or clearing is what keeps some sites open. Without human interference, fire is a very infrequent cause of disturbance in this part of the country. Unlike the western United States we rarely have dry lightning, the regular cause of fires in the west. In the northeast, according to NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), lightning is almost always accompanied by rain. With few exceptions (some pine-barrens species), our native plants are not adapted to fire. […]