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NatureReflections - December 8, 2005

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Nature Reflections

December 8, 2005

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Gray MerriamLegaleseGeneral information and opinion on legal topics by Rural Legal ServicesNature Reflectionsby Jean GriffinNight Skiesby Leo Enright

The life of a tree

by JeanGriffin

From the many trees that live on our landscape millions of seeds are scattered annually, but most of them do not survive - victims of animals, birds, or insects, or not having fallen in an appropriate place. Those that do sprout and send up a fledgling stem with a couple of leaves may fall prey to browsing animals, drought or fungi. Provided that the young tree is not crowded out by older ones or those that grow more quickly and is able to receive sunlight, its life will go on. The few that persist for a few years or more will eventually reach the stature of a tree.


As it adjusts to changing seasons an adult tree becomes the source of a new profusion of seeds, which it will produce for many years. In the meantime it is a place of refuge for nesting birds or animals such as squirrels. It is home to many insects, most detrimental as they survive by dining on the leaves or burrowing in the bark or wood. It is shelter for plants, such as mosses and lichens that thrive in indirect sunlight. It is important to humans as it absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen. From the Sugar Maples comes an abundance of sap that is made into maple syrup or sugar. Many varieties of trees supply the wood that is needed for building or fuel.

Underneath the trees in a forest is a massive life system as deciduous trees supply a carpet every fall, joined by the spills of pines and other conifers. The soil is enriched each season and becomes the home for myriads of small animals - mites, ants, springtails, millipedes, centipedes, sow bugs, and many more. In turn this profusion of life becomes food for larger creatures such as earthworms, which in turn may be food for a mole. Larger animals - woodchucks, rabbits and hares, skunks - may seek the shelter and protection of the forest trees.

So the life of a tree is important in many ways, but eventually, sometimes after many hundreds of years, the tree will die, perhaps the victim of wind, forest fire, bacteria, insects or disease. Death may mean the tree falls to the ground, or it may remain standing as a stark reminder of what it has been, now devoid of leaves, its branches broken, the bark denuded, and now a snag. Life has vanished from it - or has it? Now the woodpeckers will find in it a place to excavate a nest hole, and afterwards other birds will take advantage of the hole, or, if the core of the tree has rotted, it may be a home for raccoons or other small animals. There will still be wood-boring insects, bacteria, lichens and mosses using it as home. Snags are an important part of the ecology.

For those trees that have been blown over by wind or fallen for other reasons, there is still more life - they become nurse trees. As decaying leaves cover them, they will be transformed into welcome habitation for seeds, for mosses, ferns and other plants, as well as those small insects and bacteria that will cause the tree to decay and become organic food that replenishes the forest floor. Under the tree salamanders, ants and various other life forms will find concealment.

The tree has lived, died and now exists as a source of other life - the balance of nature.

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