In the middle of April, I had to teach a course on forest ecology with an excursion to the Hallerbos, one of the most famous forests in Flanders. Besides its endless rolling hills with old beech trees, it is especially well known for its wild hyacinths, a typical understory species of Atlantic oak and beech forests.
You should take my word for granted that we had the best day of the year to visit the spring flowers: the sun shining through the delicate light green beech leaves on the endless fields of blue hyacinths. All spring flowers in their full glory, absorbing all the precious light before the forest canopy closes some weeks later. You should take its beauty for granted, as I did not take any pictures!
I made up for that by visiting the ‘Kloosterbos’ in East Flanders, a forest with less obvious appeal, but certainly not less potential!
The Kloosterbos has poorer soils than the Hallerbos, resulting in an understory dominated by broad buckler fern and common bracken (although some richer spots might have potential for hyacinths and other pretty understory flowers).
As so often in Europe, however, the original deciduous forest has been replaced by pine trees, a species with a devastating effect on forest quality. The good news for this forest is that most pine replacements are from a recent date and not older than a century.
Therefore, a large amount of the typical understory is still intact, as the inevitable acidification of the soil caused by the pines is still in process. At the moment, important measures are taken to replace the pine plantations by natural birch, oak and beech and recreate the forests we have lost (and some patches of poor heath land).
This is a valuable management decision, as it will conserve a forest vegetation that is so typical but yet so underrepresented in our country.
You might understand I had a most interesting forest walk in again a surprisingly interesting part of our own little country.