In 2010, Tom Dierauf and a group of volunteers conducted a study of the Landmark Forest. BY cutting wedges from downed trees and selective coring, they were able to reconstruct the history of the forest and the impact of human activities on this old growth forest. What the team found is that the historical use of the land occupied by Montpelier’s Landmark Forest was comparable to that of other Virginia Piedmont properties. It was cleared, cultivated, pastured, and used for wood products into the early 20th century. Today, it differs from other Virginia Piedmont forests in having trees of extraordinary size and age growing on especially productive soils . Most present day canopy trees apparently originated between the time of James Madison’s death and the Marion duPont years, which would make them between about 80 and 170 years old. Ordinarily, on extremely productive soils like
these, trees rarely live 80 years before they are harvested. The complete protection provided by Marion duPont, between 1930 and the creation of the Montpelier Foundation, can largely be credited for the existence of this beautiful forest. Some of its very large oaks and yellow poplars will continue to live for many years, and grow even larger. However, as they gradually die, species composition is destined to shift away from oaks and yellow poplars to more shade tolerant species.