Nurse Logs

A walk in the woods is always filled with wonderful sights, and spotting this beautifully structured yellow birch was no exception. The unique growth habit of this Betula alleghaniensis specimen is the result of it growing from a nurse log. A nurse log is a dead, fallen tree whose decomposing trunk provides a nutrient-rich nursery in which a baby tree seed may begin its leafing life. Eventually the nurse log is completely decomposed, leaving behind thick roots and a grown-up trunk that has developed, arching around the spot the nurse log once laid. This birch is one such example of this phenomenon.

The nurse log does not just provide valuable nutrients. Its fallen body opens the canopy so that sunlight can reach the forest floor, reaching seeds and young saplings. When the life of one tree ends, it absence provides ample opportunity for others to take its place. The graceful architecture of this birch shows the result of the forest’s life cycle, woody evidence of a new generation germinating from the death of another.

 

 

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