Duke in Pics: Growing Duke Forest

Duke Forest staff and volunteers plant 2,000 trees in a morning

Craig Hughes and Jenna Schrieber cary Longleaf Pine seedlings in Duke Forest.
Craig Hughes and Jenna Schrieber cary Longleaf Pine seedlings in Duke Forest. Photos by Jonathan Black.

Amid the hundreds of already mature plants and trees, Sara Childs pushed a shovel through the layer of dirt and clay in Duke Forest.

She dug a half-foot hole for a Longleaf Pine seedling, one of 2,000 planted last Friday during a volunteer event in the Couch Mountain area of the Durham Division, near the intersection of Hillsborough Road and NC-751.

“It’s always a good day to be in the forest,” Childs said.

Longleaf Pines have been planted in various locations in Duke Forest since the 1930s. Last week’s planting provides a buffer around an experiment to understand which Longleaf progeny lines perform best under a variety of conditions across the Southeast.

Here are some moments from the Feb. 23 event, which drew about a dozen staff and volunteers.

Craig Hughes, grounds and maintenance technician for Duke Forest, and Jenna Schreiber, assistant director for Duke Forest, carry Longleaf Pine seedlings

Craig Hughes, grounds and maintenance technician for Duke Forest, and Jenna Schreiber, right, assistant director for Duke Forest, carry Longleaf Pine seedlings to the planting site in the Couch Mountain section.

The Longleaf Pines seedlings come as

The Longleaf Pines seedlings come as “plugs,” which provide soil and nutrients to help the trees establish. Longleaf Pines can grow as high as 115 feet and be as wide as 28 inches. More than 100 species of trees have been identified in Duke Forest. The major forest types are pine, pine-hardwood, upland hardwood and bottomland hardwood.

Tom Craven, forest supervisor, uses a pole to measure and mark the six-foot separation distance needed to plant the Longleaf Pine seedlings.

Tom Craven, forest supervisor, uses a pole to measure and mark the six-foot separation distance needed to plant the Longleaf Pine seedlings.

Teresa McCauley clears twigs from a marked spot where she'll plant a Longleaf Pine seedling

Teresa McCauley clears twigs from a marked spot where she’ll plant a Longleaf Pine seedling. It was McCauley’s first time volunteering with the forest.

“I like the woods,” said McCauley, a Graham resident. “Being out in nature keeps me sane.”

Kelly Horvath, who is getting her Master of Environmental Management in the Nicholas School, and Boba Sowa, a volunteer, plant Longleaf Pines

Kelly Horvath, who is getting her Master of Environmental Management in the Nicholas School, and Boba Sowa, a volunteer, plant Longleaf Pines during the Feb. 23 event.

“I try to give back to the forest as much as I can,” said Sowa, who’s been volunteering for five years. “Plus, it’s a great way to get in exercise and meet people.”

Planting a Longleaf Pine seedling requires digging a hole about half a foot deep before tightly packing dirt around the tree roots.

Planting a Longleaf Pine seedling requires digging a hole about half a foot deep before tightly packing dirt around the tree roots.  

Sara Childs, director of Duke Forest, digs through a patch of dirt and clay.

Sara Childs, director of Duke Forest, digs through a patch of dirt and clay.

“It’s a perfect day for planting because the air and ground are a bit moist,” she said.

Volunteers and Duke Forest staff worked for about four hours to plant trees around the Couch Mountain area of the forest's Durham Division.

Volunteers and Duke Forest staff worked for about four hours to plant trees around the Couch Mountain area of the forest’s Durham Division.

“We couldn’t do many of our projects without the help of volunteers,” said Jenna Schreiber, assistant forest director. “We’re very lucky to have such a hardy group who are always willing to get their hands dirty and work hard to help advance the teaching and research mission of the Duke Forest.”

Now that the seedlings are in the ground, Duke Forest staff will do a monthly check on the conditions of the Longleaf seedlings.

Now that the seedlings are in the ground, Duke Forest staff will do a monthly check on the conditions of the Longleaf seedlings. The trees are estimated to grow about 100 feet.