Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Logged Cedar Site

It’s not unusual at Blue Jay Barrens to see things that are odd enough to warrant a more thorough investigation. A cluster of dead trees rising from a stand of Indian Grass is one such oddity. It’s not uncommon to find a single dead tree, but questions are raised when an entire group of trees has died.

There are clues you can pick out from a distance. The trees are in a rough circle about fifteen feet across and all growth tends to lean away from the center of the circle. Trunks have an irregular shape caused by the death of top growth and redirection of a lateral branch upward. These are all signs of trees that began life growing around a large obstacle in the center of the circle.

Here’s the answer. Not far away is the top of a cedar that was left after the tree was cut and the trunk removed. When the cedar was removed, trees that once grew protected by the cedar’s bulk were exposed to harsh sunlight and drier soil conditions. The stress of their new situation was too much for them to endure, so after some diebacks and attempts at resprouting, the trees finally died.

The top has remained at this spot for at least 28 years. The leaves and small branches have long since disappeared, but the skeleton of the tree still blocks enough sunlight to form an almost cave-like environment beneath its branches.

Moss and a few random plants manage to survive here. The curving cedar branches intercept much of the rainfall and funnel it away. This leaves the soil beneath the tree top much drier than would be expected. There’s not much growth here to show for 28 years of effort.

The old stump is almost invisible beneath a carpet of mosses and lichens. A cavity formed in the center of the stump now supports some grasses and sedges. These former cedar sites always display some interesting diversity.

All cedars, both living and dead, support a diverse collection of mosses and lichens, but I think life on the old stumps may be the most diverse of all. This mass of growth looks like it could rival a coral reef in the number of species shoved into a small area. I don’t think I would cut big cedars just to create areas like this, but the action of someone in the past has produced some interesting results.

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