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Physical and Biological Characteristics of Harvard Forest

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Located in the central Massachusetts town of Petersham, the Forest's varied habitats are typical of those found throughout southern New England. 


  • North-central Massachusetts
  • 42.5°N Latitude; 72°W Longitude

Land Base

  • Petersham, MA: 1200 ha
      Prospect Hill: 375 ha
      Tom Swamp: 475 ha
      Slab City: 200 ha
      Simes Tract: 125 ha
      Schwarz Tract: 15 ha
  • Royalston, MA: 28 ha Tall Timbers Tract
  • Hamilton, MA: 40 ha Matthews Plantation
  • Winchester, NH: 10 ha Pisgah Tract, which is part of the 5000 ha Pisgah State Forest


  • Cool, moist temperate
  • July mean temperature 20°C
  • January mean temperature -7°C
  • Annual mean precipitation 110 cm, distributed fairly evenly throughout the year


  • New England Upland Region
  • Elevation: 220m to 410m above sea level
  • Bedrock: granite, gneiss and schist


  • Mainly sandy loam glacial till, with some alluvial and colluvial deposits
  • Moderately to well drained in most areas
  • Acidic
  • Average depth 1m


  • Transition Hardwood - White Pine - Hemlock Region

Dominant species:

  • Red oak (Quercus rubra)
  • Red maple (Acer rubrum)
  • Black birch (Betula lenta)
  • White pine (Pinus strobus)
  • Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

Species found on drier soils:

  • White oak (Quercus alba)
  • Black oak (Quercus velutina)
  • Hickory (Carya ovata)
  • Chestnut (Castanea dentata), now only found in understory because of chestnut blight

On moist, cool, but well-drained sites:

  • Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis)
  • Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
  • Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
  • Paper birch (Betula papyrifera)
  • White ash (Fraxinus americana)
  • Hemlock
  • White pine

In peatlands:

  • Red spruce (Picea rubens)
  • Black spruce (Picea mariana)
  • Larch (Larix laricina)


  • Conifer plantations cover about 7% of Harvard Forest land