fallen tree

Uprooted tree with decay and decomposition well under way.

Trees die… it’s a fact of life.  Sometimes they are uprooted and topple over, sometimes they die slowly while standing tall.  If they are uprooted and topple over it is usually due to the forces of heavy winds, or long periods of rain saturating the soil to the extent the roots don’t have enough holding power in the soft earth to support the weight of the tree.  Either of these toppling scenarios usually happen with little or no warning and hopefully there isn’t a home or other structure in the path of the fallen tree.

When a tree gradually dies or topples over in nature it remains there, as is, for nature to do her work.  This work consists of decomposition and decay… two words that may invoke a negative reaction from most people, at least initially.  But decomposition and decay are necessary and important in nature not only with trees, but with wild animals as well.  When a death in the forest or a death in nature occurs, the decomposition and decay process is vital to the overall health of the ecosystem.  It is nature in action.

fallen tree decomposition

Note the many small holes where insects are doing their work. At this point in the decomposition process the wood is very weak and even somewhat “spongy” in some places.

When a tree topples over or it is evident that a tree is dying, if at all possible let it be. With our manicured lawns and pristine views out our living room windows seeing a tree lose leaves, lose limbs, then turn dark and ugly, is something many of us really don’t want to look at.  But while decomposition and decay may appear to be unpleasant processes from our human perspective, they are vital in terms of the functioning of ecosystems. Just like compost in a garden, they provide essential nutrients for the growth of new organisms, and are a key aspect of the cyclical processes that maintain all life on Earth. Appreciation of their importance will help us protect and sustain ecosystems.

So think twice before “cleaning up” those dead or dying trees.  They may not be very attractive to us humans, but to Mother Nature they are beautiful indeed.