Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

When a tree falls in the forest

Good things happen!
Its value to a forest or your garden isn't over when a tree dies.

Trees are beneficial for their entire life cycle.

barred owl  Radnor Lake
 Living trees provide food, shelter, nesting, resting places, perches for hunters and a "reproductive site" for hundreds of different kinds of insects.

Redbud snag

Dead trees have an enormously important role in forests. Trees fall for a variety of reasons: disease, lightning, fire, animal damage, too much shade, drought, root competition, as well as old age. A big oak in my garden was struck by lightening a dozen years ago and limb by limb it's been falling down.

The snag that remains still provides shelter and nesting for a number of critters; while the limbs on the ground are a perfect shelter for small animals such as rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels and a habitat for beetles, termites and other insects.


As trees decay/break down they can become nurse trees for moss, mushrooms, small plants and trees.
wood ear fungus Auricularia auricula
As they continue to rot they enrich the forest floor.

Should a tree fall into a lake it begins its second life. Downed limbs provide perches for turtles and other critters.
fallen tree limbs provide a perch for a turtle on a sunny winter day
Once a tree is submerged aquatic critters use it as a habitat. "Within hours, crayfish crawled beneath its partially  submerged trunk, to be followed by a mudpuppy and tadpoles, while minnows and small fish  hovered within the lattice of  its branches. Within days, logperch, darters, sunfish, bass, burbot, pike and  even walleye and muskellunge had also entered the complex network of  the newly established  community. Algae and diatoms began establishing colonies, while dragonfly nymphs and mayflies followed to forage among the branches." (source)

Ducks rest and preen on a log floating in the middle of this lake.

Unless a dying tree is a danger to buildings and people, we needn't be in such a hurry to take them down. Let them be, let them drop their limbs, let them become hosts to nesting critters, let them become part of the garden and forest floor.

When a tree falls in the forest, good things do happen.
xoxogail


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

24 comments:

  1. I am going to share this in Gardening with Nature in Mind! I don't have trees dying or falling, but I do collect branches I find and have a pile for them at my garden spot across the street.

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  2. Oh so true. I love to look around downed trees to see what is lurking. That first picture has some glorious moss.

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    1. I love moss and it's so beautiful after the rainy spring we've had!

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  3. Trees don't live forever...nothing gets out alive! Great post with good info. I hate to look at all the skeletons in my woods but I will watch for life to fill them.

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    1. The interesting thing about an underwater tree is that it can live there providing for critters for hundreds of years! So while it doesn't get out alive, it does so much good for a long time.

      I am sorry about your trees...I know those critters did a number on them.

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  4. Amen. This is such an important message, Gail, and you, as always, do such a fine job of conveying it. Snags are not only very beneficial, but also so fascinating to watch and witness--as they host new life and slowly break down, to continue the circle of life. :)

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  5. Beautifully said! I find dead trees can also be spectacularly lovely, hosting mosses and lichens, or sometimes just having a stark craggy beauty all on their own. Even the small stumps I collected for my young daughter have begun to grow many different fungi. Great post.

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    1. I agree. We have also collected dead stumps.

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  6. I have always been sad to see trees die, but you have pointed out the good that comes from them. Thanks!
    The SquirrelBasket (wordpress dot com) has a Tree Following meme. Select a tree and photograph it once a month throughout the year. Check it out. You might enjoy it.
    Have a wonderful day!

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  7. Lovely photos, as usual. A nice reminder about the beauty in the cycle of life.

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  8. I love this post. I have an old oak that borders my back garden, and it is slowly dying limb by limb. I just keep watch out for any falling limbs when I'm out there working. I love the old dead trees on our property, and we leave them for wildlife. We didn't always know better, but when we did, we did better. Beautiful post my dear.~~Dee

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  9. Taking care of natural resources in rich countries like yours is truly envious Gail. But in ours, they are maltreated even by the authorities, and it is really a shame to admit that they are really ignorant of the trees beneficial impact to us and the environment. I am sorry to say that, it is just maybe my disappointment in my part of the world. But at least in our property in the province, i do what i want and the food chain members are happy.

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    1. Andrea, you are a good steward of your land. The critters thank you.

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  10. I love this post! We've learned to leave snags and downed trees and our woods are all the richer for it! I am known to go grab a decaying limb and place it artistically in one of my woodland beds and borders. I prefer them to factory made lawn and garden ornaments. The mosses just glow in certain light, the lichen adds interest.

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  11. Love that photo of the barred owl! I don't have a forest but I usually find a place for the sticks and branches that fall in the garden.

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  12. Great posts! Dead trees still have so much life in them. So many animals depend on them, and they are part of the ecosystem.

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  13. Thank you for the reminder, Gail.

    And as Jason says, that's a wonderful photo you took of the owl at Radnor Lake!

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  14. Thanks for putting out the word, Steve.

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  15. also impressed by the owl.
    When I prune, the heavy branches (some waiting for sawing up) get returned to the garden in quiet corners, to add their new life.

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  16. Well, I learned what a snag is today! I’ve never heard that expression in regards to trees. An informative post Gail, I totally enjoyed it, especially the photos.

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  17. This is a really interesting post and anything that can be done to reinforce in people's mind that dead trees continue to fill a critical role in the ecosystem is all to the good. Kudos to you for drawing attention to it.

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.


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