Snuggled between Driftmier Engineering Center and University Village, Driftmier Woods is a rare 10-acre patch of old-growth Piedmont forest, the only woodland of its kind on UGA’s campus.Old-growth means the trees in this area have been left alone for many years (some as far back as 1870). Old forests like Driftmier Woods often support a much broader array of plants, fungi, insects, and other life forms than younger forests. Unbeknownst to many, the site has two overlapping mountain biking trails, though the lack of management has left the trails overgrown and dangerous. Several picnic tables and a crumbling chimney serve as reminders of the site’s glorious past as Georgia’s first 4-H camp, Camp Wilkins.
The site is composed of three typical piedmont microclimates: a wet bottomland, a mesic-slope, and a dry upland. The drier, upland portions of the woods are dominated by large oaks and hickories (Quercus sp. and Carya sp.), while American beech (Fagus grandifolia) and tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) dominate the lower central portion of the site. Most of the forest’s shrubs, vines, and ground-layer plants currently consist of non-native invasives. In the drier, upland part of the woods, invasive plant species Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), Chinese photinia (Photinia serrulate), leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei), silverthorn (Eleagnus pugens), and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) is prevalent. Elsewhere, Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum), English ivy (Hedera helix), and wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) are abundant. In many areas, the ground layer is covered with large patches of monkey grass (Liriope spicata).
The overall ecological integrity of Driftmier Woods is threatened by poor stormwater management and invasive species. Not only do the non-native plants suppress the ability of native shrubs and herbs to successfully reproduce, they may also affect the reproductive success of native canopy species such as oak and hickory.
Restoring the forest to a more natural state is important as it will then be able to support a greater diversity and abundance of insects, birds, and other wildlife. The future of the forest as a passive recreation space, an ecological learning laboratory, and a habitat for plants and animals depends on our ability to address these problems.