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Stump World

A fantastic world thrives a few steps down the hill from the patio, overlooked and unappreciated. A massive oak outside our kitchen was toppled by the tornado that tore through our property in 1990. We counted the rings and estimated the tree had been growing over 120 years. We cut the trunk into sections and rolled them to an out of the way place in the woods. Since then they have rested there, silently rotting away without intervention.

Neglected by humans, but not by other species.

Most of the sections are gone now, returned to the earth as all life forms eventually go, but a couple of the larger pieces remain. Recently some bright colors in the area caught my attention, and I walked over to see. I was amazed at the dead wood, heaving with life.

Fungi, moss, and lichen cover the stumps. They are working along with bacteria and other microscopic organisms to decompose the wood. Meanwhile, all sorts of bugs — beetles, spiders, snails, ants and countless others — find shelter and food within the crevices of the wood, and they themselves become food for birds and other wildlife. Pieces of acorns and seeds are scattered across the surface, leftovers dropped by birds and squirrels who use the site as their dining hall. Other creatures use the stump tops for basking and sun bathing or for watching over their territory, while conditions beneath and inside the wood are cool and moist, creating the perfect habitat for newts and salamanders. 

I watched as a ground squirrel hurried by. I think the huge chunks of wood also serve as landmarks for little forest animals as they navigate through the woodlands: Turn right at stump world, then take the second tree to the left.

So my old tree, to the end of its existence, is useful to countless thousands of species, in death as in life; and when its remnants have decayed into the ground, even then the lingering nutrients will nourish the soil. A little acorn may take root there, and the cycle of life will begin again. 

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Reader Comments (22)

Like it.

September 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGreggo

I love that you posted about a part of the natural world that is so vital but often overlooked. It's its own little universe.

I found a website called Nichols garden Nursery that sells rue seeds (https://www.nicholsgardennursery.com/store/product-info.php?pid1146.html) and Lazy S's Nursery (amazing!!) sells a dwarf rue plant that is really cute. A nursery in GA called Thyme After Thyme (http://thymeafterthyme.com/rue-ruta-graveolens-p-84.html) also sells plants. Rue has become one of my favorite garden plants. :)

September 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

You have a world of nurse logs -- the wonderful decaying woody material that is an incubator for plant life in the forest. The bugs and animals use it too as you beautifully observed. Nature knows how to recycle, and surely knows how to nurse new life into being. All it takes are some dead stumps. And time.

September 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

And nature takes over and it has it's own beauty :) When a grand old tree falls it's always interesting to see how in time nature takes over and new life springs on it literally. The cycle of life is fascinating and beautiful!

September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Great story and beautiful photos! 'Everything has a purpose under the sun...'

September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeannine

Beautiful the way nature recycles everything and in the process gives life to hundreds of creatures. We have noticed the same happening in our woodland, eventually the tree stumps rot down to become fantastic soil for other plants, and the process starts all over again.

September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

In this way nature is truely wonderful. Oak is supposed to be the tree that supports more wildlife than any other and that is in life, in death too it is the centre of activity. Chrisitna

September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

There certainly is beauty in decay!

September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

This reminds me of "Horton Hears a Who" when he finds another world so much smaller than he. An entire world lives on that one stump.

September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHolleyGarden

Amazing how much beauty, history and usefulness grow in a stump. I enjoyed seeing all of it illustrated so well, Deb.

September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLee May

Like you we have several stumps of old trees on our property and many more which are now nurse logs to towering evergreens. It's a fascinating garden underworld!

September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Chapman

And after the tree totally returns to the earth, can you imagine how wonderful that soil will be?

Maybe another fern glade.

Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

We have a lot of stumps here. As we're quite heavily wooded anyway, we don't dig them out. I love seeing in the rainy season the different types of fungus, and moss, that choose to grow on the different species of wood. There really is a tremendous amount of life after the death of a tree. Like yours, ours are often basking spots for lizards, or hiding places for salamanders and frogs, and it's amazing to watch nature slowly reclaiming the stumps as they gradually decay.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

These are glorious photos - and a great idea for a blog post. I really enjoyed reading it.

Well done for celebrating a tree stump!

September 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Gardening Shoe

Those are interesting photos of the decomposers on the tree stumps, such great colours, textures and forms. I'm always fascinated by the many niches for life in the forest, and the many lichen, moss and fungi. You are especially fortunate that you can observe your property over the years, to see the change.

September 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNorthern Shade

The textures of the moss, lichen, and fungi are so beautiful and varied. I now have a big stump for creatures and plants to devour. The rings were too close together to count.

What an interesting post! I wonder what the round, brown thing is? A mushroom? Looks kinda like somebody's brain sitting there on the stump.

September 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Jones

Wonderful tree stump, so colourful it is like something out of another world.

September 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I have a stump a few years old now that is losing its bark and my husband wants to pul it off and throw it in the compost...I tell im no...we don't pretty up and tidy the wild areas...we leave them for nature to take...I love the moss and fungus that grows on mine too...

September 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

I’m usually scouting around looking for garden inspirational ideas and came across your blog, which wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but so glad I stumbled onto it. In fact, I don’t exactly plan to grow fungi, but the ferns in your previous post are something I’m very much considering.

I’m very much a fan of nature and remember when I was younger and living in a more rural setting, seeing old tree stumps and the whole new world living on them. Sadly, I also remember when very young I used to get pleasure whacking the fungi with a stick and chopping it up, all of which I feel terrible about now but at the time being so young, I thought nature was a plaything. I’m glad to say I stopped doing it well before teenage time.

As for the ferns in the previous post, again childhood memories were stirred. They really are delightful, aren’t they, and you have given me the urge to surround myself again in that woodland world I knew as a young child.

I’m very much in the city these days and rarely get to see the more beautiful side of life via nature. However, I am planning a move out of the city in the next couple of years as the office will be closing and will be able to do more work at home. I think somewhere near woodlands is a must.

September 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames

Nature abhors a vacuum, doesn't she, and has a use for everything. :)

Who but a gardener or a mycologist would find an old tree stump beautiful?

September 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

I love the thought of stumps being landmarks that woodland animals use as mile markers.... great post!

September 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris
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