Ask the Steward



Question: I’m planting a few acres to trees in 2015 and would like to mix in some pine trees in the planting.  What species of pine are native to Indiana?

Answer: When restoring forest and woodlands, even on a few acres, it is always preferable to plant native species.  In Indiana you have plenty to choose from.  In total there are over 100 native tree species.  Most all these are deciduous (hardwood) trees, which lose their leaves every fall.  As for pines, while there are many species planted in Indiana only three are actually native to the state.  These are White pine, Virginia pine and Jack pine.  White pine is the most widely planted of the two native species and while its native range is Northwest and West Central Indiana it does well throughout much of the state.  They have long slender needles 3-5 inches in length that grow in bundles of five needles per bundle.  Armed with this defining characteristic you can easily identify this species on close inspection.   On good sites they will easily grow over 70 feet tall and diameters greater than 24 inches.

Jack pine is often described as small or scrubby tree and in Indiana is generally less than 40’ tall.  It is a common pine in the lake states, but here it is found naturally only in the sand dune areas of Northwest Indiana.  It is most commonly found on infertile, sandy soils. 

Virginia pine is more a Southern species and its native Indiana range includes Clark, Floyd, Scott and Washington counties.  While White pine prefers, and does best on productive, well drained soils, Virginia pine is naturally more common on, and grows well on drier and more harsh sites.  This is part of the reason this species was planted by the millions to heal gullied, warn out and eroding hillsides and ridges in Southern Indiana in the 1930-1970’s.  They did a great job and few of these old scars are readily apparent today.  None of these pines do well on wet and poorly drained sites.  Virginia pine does not have the majestic appearance of mature White pine, but can grow to 60 foot heights.  They are somewhat prone to wind throw, but certainly have their place. 

And, that leads to the best advice of ‘planting the right tree in the right place’.  While White pine would certainly be the most common of Indiana’s native pine trees to mix in your reforestation project- check with a forester in your area to see if it is the right choice for your site.  The website is a great spot to find a forester in your area.   

Question: I usually start seeing buzzards around Valentine’s Day and it seems like there are more of them now than when I was younger.  Where do they migrate to and are their numbers going up?

Answer: With a wing span of nearly 6 feet the buzzard is an impressive sight in the sky, but it’s perhaps better known for its ugly bare-skinned red face.  The bird we simply call a buzzard- is properly known as the Turkey Vulture, or commonly the Turkey Buzzard (scientific name Cathartes aura).  Male and female birds look quite similar, with the female somewhat larger in size.

In Northern parts of its range it migrates as far as South America, but generally not beyond the United States.  They return in time for mating season (March-May), generally laying 2 eggs which hatch in 30-40 days.  Hinkley, Ohio celebrates the first Sunday after March 15th as “Buzzard Sunday” as the buzzards return from their winter homes bringing a sure sign of spring to the Midwest.  In some locations of Southern Indiana you may see buzzards as early as late January- perhaps even a few in the extreme South part of the State staying throughout mild winters.

It is one of the few birds of prey using the sense of smell to find its meal.  Its’ keen senses detects the gas of decaying carrion at significant distances.  Turkey vulture populations are increasing as their range extends further north.  Today the population is estimated at over 4.5 million birds.

I remember quite clearly my 1st close encounter with a nesting buzzard.  It was in Jackson County, Indiana as I visited a woodlot with a landowner seeking advice on its management.  As we walked near a large hollow beech log we heard an odd hissing sound.  I bent over the log’s end to get a better hear and what to my bugged eyed face should appear, but a momma buzzard heading out of that log in full feathered gear.  I believe we were more startled than her!  Off she went and in we looked at the nest holding the characteristic 2 eggs.  It was a memorable day.

Dan Ernst is an Assistant State Forester with the Indiana Division of Forestry. He oversees the state forests in Indiana and has authored the “Ask the Steward” column for years.  Have a question for the column? Email Dan at