The Great Florida Outdoors: Coppice

Dr. Robert Norman, Clinical Professor, Dermatology, Nova Southeastern University

What is this called?
a. coppice
b. copse
c. thicket
d. brushwood
e. all of the above

The four, similarly-sized, water oak tree trunks in the photograph all sprouted, at virtually the same time, from one, original stump, the diameter of which they now fairly delineate by their collective width. In other words, they sprouted from a single stump, created when a tree much wider/larger than any of the current four stems are, was presumably cut down. The sprouted trunks are, therefore, clones of the same tree and are utilizing the same root system as the tree whose trunk was felled. These newer stems genetically are the same tree, even though they are a younger, smaller (in individual diameter), and multi-stemmed version of its former self. This ability to re-sprout new stems from a stump or roots is called coppicing. Since they are smaller and younger than the tree they replaced, it may seem like the former, larger tree trunk was their parent, but they are actually one and the same organism. Not all trees have the ability to coppice, but some are quite good at it. For a classic example, coastal redwoods of California frequently coppice from the stumps of felled giant trees, but their relatives, the giant sequoias, do not have that ability.

In summary, coppice is also called copse, thicket, or brushwood, and by definition is a dense grove of small trees or shrubs that have grown from suckers or sprouts rather than from seed. A coppice usually results from human woodcutting activity and can be maintained by continually cutting new growth as it reaches usable size for commercial production. However, coppicing can occur naturally from wind damage or large herbivorous animals.

Evidence suggests that coppicing has been continuously practiced since pre-history and coppiced stems are often characteristically curved at the base. This curve occurs as the competing stems grow out from the stool (the base of the tree when it is cut down near the ground) in the early stages of the cycle, then rise up towards the sky as the canopy closes. The curved stems may allow the identification of coppice timber in archaeological sites. Timber in the Sweet Track in Somerset, England (built in the winter of 3807 and 3806 BC) has been identified as coppiced lime. Coppicing maintains trees at a juvenile stage, and a regularly coppiced tree will never die of old age; some coppice stools may therefore reach an immense age that can be estimated from its diameter. Certain stools are so large–18 feet across—that they are thought to have been continually coppiced for centuries.

Thanks to naturalist Jim Buckner for help with this article. Jim showed me these water oaks during a hike at San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park.

Get out and enjoy the Great Florida Outdoors!

P.S.
In a recent article posted on July 20, 2019 Aish.com called “Science and God” by Dr. Gerald Schroeder, he wrote “The 12th century physician philosopher theologian, Moses Maimonides, wrote that if you want to find God, the first place to look is in nature. He writes in The Guide for the Perplexed, published in 1190: Study the science of nature (in Hebrew: madah teva) if you want to comprehend the science of God (madah Elokoot). Science has indeed discovered God and it did so as it unraveled the secrets of nature.

Dr. Norman is an advanced master naturalist graduate of the FMNP program from UF and a board-certified dermatologist based in Tampa and Riverview. He can be reached at 813-880-7546.

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