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Bottomland Hardwoods/Riparian Forests

If you travel from the cross-timbers shaggy arms to follow the streams and low prairie rivers, you will find another type of Oklahoma forest-the bottomland hardwoods. In far southeastern Oklahoma you can walk in the shade of bald cypress and willow oaks. In northeastern areas you'll find pin oaks and cove-type hardwoods.

In central Oklahoma we have elms, pecan and a wide variety of oaks. Out in the western part of the state the number of species in our bottomland hardwood forests declines. The majority of trees are cottonwood, elm and ash.

Oklahoma's bottomland hardwoods have been heavily cut over and cleared for agricultural uses. Because their wood is valuable and easy to transport along waterways, these trees were among the first forests cut in Oklahoma. Man-made lakes have flooded many uncut areas.

By 1956, the U.S. Forest Service estimated that only 15 percent of the state's bottomland hardwoods still stood. Fortunately, the trees in these forests naturally regenerate very well and with minimal management and protection they can be restored to productive conditions. Commercially, the most valuable timber from the bottomlands comes from:

  • Black walnut

  • Pecan

  • Red oaks

  • White oaks

  • Green ash

Some other forests tapped early in settlement were the central Oklahoma oak forests. These trees provided raw material for western expansion of the railroads, some of the westernmost good quality trees suitable for this purpose.

Oklahoma's riparian forests are now being recognized for their value in controlling non-point source pollution and erosion, protecting water quality, providing travel corridors and habitat for diverse wildlife species, shading streams and maintaining aquatic habitat, and serving as a transition zone between streams and more intensive land uses. Considerable effort is underway by numerous state and federal agencies working with private landowners to protect and restore riparian forest buffers along streams where feasible. Suitable practices include tree planting, fencing to exclude grazing and encourage natural regeneration, and limiting activities within the streamside management zone to protect the soil and maintain forest vegetation.