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Town Analyses > Hinesburg > Ecological Landscape

Plant Communities

The Hinesburg landscape that is familiar to us today is one of farms and forests, wildlife and people. It is hard to imagine that immediately after glaciation the landscape had been scoured of all soil and all life. Hinesburg was barer than the top of Camel's Hump! As the climate slowly warmed, spores and seeds spread northward from forests further south, and vegetation colonized the landscape. The weathering of rocks and till over time, and the movement of nutrients in water, allowed for soil development. As plants took root, and wildlife colonized, ecosystems formed from the interaction of living and non-living elements.

Today, plant communities in Hinesburg reflect human history on the land. They also vary with respect to the geologic history of the town, and the resultant soils on each side of the Champlain Thrust Fault. The calcium-rich sediments that were deposited in the Iapetus Ocean and later in Lake Vermont today support rich soils in the western portion of the Town. Had these areas not been cleared for agriculture, we might see more clayplain forests, forests that include species that thrive in enriched clay soils, such as shagbark hickory, swamp white oak, American elm, maple and ash. The more nutrient poor soils on the eastern portion of town support the Northern Hardwood forest, composed of familiar sugar and red maples, white and black birch, and American beech. This plant community dominates much of Vermont, including the foothills of the Green Mountains.

The landscape is a varied and dynamic system, however, and smaller pockets of variations of the northern hardwood forest are scattered throughout town. Hinesburg is at about the northern limit of what is known as the 'transition limestone hardwood forest'. Along the ridgelines in the east, red spruce, red pine and red oak can be seen thriving in the thinner, drier soils. In some patches of the Hinesburg Town Forest, pine plantations are visible, the result of planting encouraged by the government in the early 1900s. In areas where people have harvested timber, cultivated sugar bushes or orchards, or cleared trees for agriculture, vegetation continues to respond to land use. A short hike throughout Hinesburg takes you through a varied and dynamic landscape!

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