Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Chunk of Cedar

Part of a tree trunk lying on the ground is a perfectly natural occurrence.  Having that piece of wood display the clean cut of a chain saw somehow makes it appear quite unnatural.  Regardless of its method of arrival, it behaves naturally enough during its process of decomposition and no wild creature is going to fault it for succumbing to the power of the saw.

This exposure does give an interesting look at the pattern of decomposition inside the section of trunk.  I wonder what it was about that particular band that made it so susceptible to decomposition.  The center section is always the most rot resistant portion of the log.  In a fresh cut specimen, this part is colored red.  The outside shell retains moisture for only short periods at a time, so decomposes more slowly than the deeper wood that holds on to its moisture.  I’ve seen this same decomposition pattern on whole logs, but it’s odd that the end portion that has been fully exposed to the elements for the past 30 years doesn’t show a different pattern from that further into the section.

A loose section is easily removed to reveal the compost that resulted from decomposition.  It looks like some mighty rich material that would provide plenty of nutrients to a plant that was able to tap the bounty.  It might be several more decades before the outside layer of wood finally reaches the point where the log crumbles to the ground.

Mosses and lichens form a thick cover over much of the wood.  The mat gives the appearance of harboring a variety of species.

It sometimes takes decades for moss and lichen colonies such as these to develop.  The resistance to decomposition displayed by Eastern Red Cedars makes it reasonable to expect large fallen cedar logs to provide a secure base for 50 to 100 or more years.  Old colonies utilize every bit of space available on the log and continually grow more complex with the passing years.  The various forms of life utilizing the section of cedar trunk are performing perfectly natural functions.  I guess it’s just my personal bias that puts a note of artificiality to the whole affair just because I can see a human inflicted cut on the surface of the wood.


  1. Fascinating. I'm surprised it would take so long to decompose.

  2. Thanks Susannah.

    Hi Lois. The fragrant cedar oils which are most concentrated in the red heartwood, inhibit decomposition and repel many insects. Those oils are what make cedar chests effective guardians against insect pests.