The Margaret Finley Shackelford Orchard Complex Seed Orchard

The Margaret Finley Shackelford Orchard Complex is underway at Ames Plantation in cooperation with the University of Tennessee. Named for the Trust’s Founder, the orchards will eventually produce locally adapted hardwood seedlings for an array of species. These seedlings will be selected on the basis of genetic qualities that lead to improved timber production and wildlife habitat.

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The work is supported by an initial grant of $334,000 from the Trust. These funds and additional Trust funds since that time enabled the Seed Orchard project and hiring of an orchard manager, building renovation and purchase of supporting equipment commenced. The cooperative effort represents a project that simultaneously encompasses research, natural resource management, and true conservation. Dr. Scott Schlarbaum, Professor and Director of the UT Tree Improvement Program and Dr. Allan Houston, Professor and Director of the Ames Forestry and Wildlife Programs are co-project leaders for the cooperative effort. Dr. Schlarbaum has noted that the project represents a "holistic" approach toward improving Tennessee’s forests and directly addressing the needs of wildlife.

A 60-acre tract was set dedicated for the establishment of these orchards and a supporting Complex. In all about 100 acres support the effort. An existing building on the 60-acre site has been renovated for working space, shop, office, and other supporting facilities, including a small dormitory. 

Before orchard trees can be planted, 10-foot-tall electric, solar-powered fences were must be erected to keep deer from eating the valuable seedlings. Approximatly 5 miles of fencing has been erected since the beginning of the project, representing a total 160,000 lineal feet of wire. With unusually wet weather it was a herculean effort to get the fence up and working before spring arrived in full force. Although conditions were often less than optimal the crew continued to work effectively and maintained good spirits throughout the effort.

All Shackelford plantations were evaluated for survival, growth, and condition durin the winter of 2004-05. Survival was generally excellent, e.g., > 90 percent, with the exception of the black walnut test. This plantation was planted (2003) in the large field west of the headquarters building and it was the only plantation not protected by a deer fence. At the time of planting, we felt that this species would be likely to escape deer browse and the fall rubbing associated with a buck’s mock fighting and removal of velvet from the antlers. Time and deer have proven us wrong, even with special TWRA nuisance-animal removal permits that allow hunting out-of-season. The deer proved as adverse to removal as they were prone to venture into the fields. After a number of mosquito- infested nights removal efforts were abandoned and the deer remained in possession of the field of battle. 

Planting involved plot layouts, which also included strategies to allow for future growth of the orchards as new species and genetic lines within a species were added, digging auger holes, and finally putting seedlings in the ground, carefully, one-at-a-time by hand. These species are also mainstay wildlife components in the eco-systems where they were found. For example, cherrybark oak is the finest red oak species in the world, famous for timber production, but also invaluable as bottomland mast producer. 

Orchard seedlings represent 2 years of work as seed have been collected from wild trees in the fall, grown in Georgia State nurseries during the following summer, lifted from the bed and graded the next winter. Only the best seedlings, as determined by first order lateral root physiology, were planted in the complex. The trees were transported from Georgia and stored in a mobile cooler until the planting sites were ready. One site was established on recently harvested bottomland. The tract was treated with herbicides during the fall of 2002 and the heavy amounts of residual woody vegetation prevented fencing. Bulldozer work during the summer of 2004, along with additional work in 2005 will prepare the site for planting of bottomland hardwood species during the winter of 2005-06. 

To collect the seed and assist with other Shackelford activities, Cornelia ‘Leila’ Pinchot was hire for the fall of 2004 and winter 2005.. Leila is the great granddaughter of Giffort Pinchot (pronounced Pin-cho), the first American forester, first Chief of the USDA Forest Service, and primary architect of our National Forest System. She was named after Cornelia Pinchot, Gifford’s wife. Leila came recommended by Sandra Anagnostakis, Connecticut Experiment Station, who cooperates with the UT Tree Improvement Program on butternut. 

Testing how this seedling culture can affect silvicultural techniques is also underway. An upland timber stand was harvested using what is generally known as a "selection cut.” Post-harvest openings in a hardwood stand were created in places where several large, neighboring trees had been removed or where the residual trees were of low economic or wildlife value. These openings were generally about an acre in size. Without existing oak regeneration in the stand prior to harvest, it usually will not successfully regenerate to oaks. Often, less desirable and less wildlife-friendly species will invade and capture the site. 

Ami Sharpe, a graduate student in the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee, is examining the “response of northern red oak seedlings to environmental conditions in these group and also in single tree selection openings,” using seedlings that were developed from the Shackelford Orchards. The study reflects a direct research application to allow development of hardwood regeneration techniques that here-to-fore have not been possible. The orchard work and advancement of seedling cultures allow this work to be on the cutting edge of science. 

Ami’s part of the effort will be completed within a year. However her project, along with additional research involving already planted white oak, will continue for the long term. Ami’s work is very complicated, including measurements of available light, soil types and moisture regimes, topographic maps of all plots, aspect, and family designations (i.e., essentially the pedigree for all seedlings). The soil work alone has required enormous effort. Her work is developing unique results and has direct bearing on how the Shackelford orchards can influence the health and value of future forests. The work will allow matching seedlings to microhabitats and compare field and orchard performance.

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Some of the seedlings in these studies easily exceed 15 feet in height. The results of the study will contribute to the understanding of what parameters are most important to allow seedlings to grow. This information will lead to the formation of precision forestry techniques and a holistic management scheme for hardwoods that includes crop tree enhancement techniques (discussed in other parts the Ames webpage).

The work has been noted in the scientific community. For example, the Bicentennial Southern Silvicultural Research Conference held in Memphis during the winter of ‘05 requested a field tour of the study. The conference draws an audience from across a wide spectrum of the Nation’s professional and academic forestry and wildlife experts. The field tour was successful and the number of attendees was higher, here, than for any previous tour during the course of the Conference’s existence (over 25 years). This indicates the interest in these orchards and the silvicultural strategies that arise from them. 

The Orchard Complex is developing well and requires continuous maintenance. But progress in being made on many fronts, ---from seedlings that will grow into producing hardwood seed trees and produce seedlings for additional research and further improvement, but more importantly for distribution onto a landscape where they will make a very positive impact on the health and sustainability of forest, industry and wildlife habitats ---to new ideas and silvicultural concepts, that can be directly applied to making forest regeneration predictable and successful, increasing growth and having a system that is acceptable to private landowners.