Forest Research

Since 1955, the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) has conducted scientific research on the health and sustainability of Virginia’s forests. To date, more than 125 reports, fact sheets, and analysis tools have been published.

The Forest Research Program consists of existing and new studies designed to address specific information needs. Biological systems are installed and monitored across the state – often for periods of years or even decades.

Studies are organized into several project areas, including

  • tree genetics and restoration;
  • forest growth and yield measurement and projection;
  • pine silviculture;
  • hardwood silviculture.

Tree Genetics and Restoration

Forest Genetics Improvement

Characteristics of tree form, growth and vigor are strongly affected by their genetic constitution, which can be influenced through classical plant selection and breeding techniques. This involves locating wild trees with desirable characteristics, breeding them in various combinations, growing their progeny to determine which characteristics breed true, establishing orchards of the best selections and using their seed to grow seedlings for reforestation. Forests established in this way produce larger volumes of higher quality wood more quickly than natural forests. Selections of the best progeny trees can be used to repeat the process for even greater gains. It is a very long-term, ongoing program and the results have been dramatic to date.

Seeds are collected from the Department's orchards each year, stored, treated and used to grow seedlings for Virginia's landowners. The operational forest genetic improvement program has only involved pine species so far because hardwoods are normally regenerated naturally. Proper harvesting will generally result in adequate hardwood regeneration from seeds, understory trees and stump sprouts. Pines will only regenerate naturally under ideal circumstances, and the forests that result are more costly to manage than planted stands.

VDOF has a worked with the North Carolina State University Cooperative Tree Improvement Program for more than 50 years to continually select and produce loblolly pine with outstanding growth, form, and health. Seed orchards established at the New Kent Forestry Center and the Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest are supported by an extensive progeny testing effort. Seed production orchards also produce white pine and shortleaf pine.

Restoration efforts aim to preserve rare or at-risk species, and these forward-looking subject areas focus on existing longleaf pine and American chestnut orchards. Test plots of these species show great promise for the preservation of native genotypes for future aforestation efforts. VDOF collaborated with the Longleaf Alliance to establish test/demonstration plots for longleaf seed source, planting quality, and old-field establishment techniques.

American Chestnut

We also correspond with the American Chestnut Foundation and American Chestnut Cooperators’ Foundation to plot the course of our blight-resistant American chestnut breeding program. Research is also being conducted on shortleaf pine establishment methods.

Growth and Yield

More than 50 plots installed in the last ten years by this project are important as validation data for models developed in collaboration with the Virginia Tech Forest Modeling Research Cooperative. They also allow us to more closely monitor patterns in forest health and productivity across the state.

Pine Silviculture

This area has several research projects underway, including research on mid-rotation fertilization, biosolids application, competition control, spacing, and pre-commercial thinning. Our work in this area is leveraged through our membership in the North Carolina State University Forest Productivity Cooperativeā€¯ . Plots are currently in place investigating seedling size, sod control in loblolly and white pine, random mortality effects, northern red oak planting, and white pine nursery and handling practices.

Hardwood Silviculture

The conservation, management, and health of Virginia’s hardwood forests is a growing area of interest among landowners, and hence a growing area of the research program. This project addresses questions regarding the effects of harvesting systems, regeneration methods, crop tree release opportunities, fertilization, riparian plantings, and pruning on the production of hardwood stands for wood products, wildlife, aesthetics, and soil / water protection.

Forest Nutrition

  • Forest Nutrition - Managing nutrients, water, and genetic resources are essential if more, higher valued forest products are to be grown in a cost effective and environmentally sustainable manner.


Learn about the factors affecting Virginia's forests. View our complete list of Research Publications.

Additional resources