Ripples 6/3/21

Ripples from the Dunes, by Jennifer Klein, Land Management Coordinator

The circle of life and constant movement of energy from one being to another can be easily seen in the forest.   In the simplest form, trees take up nutrients and water from the soil. Insects eat the leaves, birds eat the insects and so on.  When the tree dies and falls to the ground, the nutrients are returned to the soil and the circle begins again.

I recently experienced a micro version of this on Conifer Trail.  While hiking the trail and planning for sign upgrades, Nancy and I stumbled across an “ecosystem in a tree”.  Our discovery was a cut off cedar tree stump, right along the trail edge.  Most likely this tree was storm damaged and was removed so it didn’t block the trail or cause a hazard. The stump was cut at a height of a few feet off the ground and was at the perfect level for observation.

The center of this stump is hollow, and inside a black cherry tree is growing. In fact, the tree is already a few feet tall with a main trunk and two main branches. Most likely the seed was carried there by a perching bird.  With the nutrients provided by the decaying stump and rain water collected in the hollow, the seed had an ideal environment to grow.  Other life is also being nourished here as well. Species of moss and lichen are flourishing on this cedar stump. In addition to being interesting to look at, lichens are a sign of good air quality. 

To some observers, downed trees may make the forest appear “messy”.  In reality this is a very important source of nutrients. According to the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research, one fifth of all animal and plant species, total approximately 6,000 of the species we know, depend on dead wood. Usually this relationship isn’t quite so obvious, except for the occasional mushrooms growing along a downed tree trunk. But the fact that it isn’t easily observed by the naked eye doesn’t make it any less important.

I am not sure that the cherry tree picked an ideal long term spot.  Only time will tell if its roots are firmly planted in solid ground or if it is completely dependent on the cedar stump taking a long time to break down. For now I will enjoy this mini ecosystem and observe how nature comes full circle.

Photos by Nancy Nabak

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