Creature Feature – Lifegiving Trees

Posted by  //  October 25, 2021  //  Articles, Creature Feature

Trees support countless living things.  They offer food, shelter, nests, nurseries, and hibernation nooks.  Throughout their life, dying and death, trees play a vital role in the survival of diverse flora and fauna.  

Trees set a year-round table for wildlife.  Buds, catkins, seeds and sap are reliable food sources in spring; cherries, berries and other fruits nourish in summer; some tree species bear late-summer-through-fall seeds, nuts, fruits and pinecones; and other trees produce fall fruits that persist through winter into early spring.  

Whether for food or due to their life habits, many animals depend on trees including mice, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, skunks, fishers, beavers, foxes, coyotes, deer, bears, grouse, turkeys, waterfowl, raptors, songbirds, frogs and salamanders.  Myriad insects depend on trees, too, including valuable pollinators like bees.  The birch itself hosts over 400 species of butterflies and moths.

Trees also offer refuge, when animals seek shelter, shade or windbreaks.  Large “babysitter trees” help protect bear cubs.  Cavities in trees provide homes and nests for owls, woodpeckers, chickadees, wood ducks, porcupines, raccoons, flying squirrels, bats, tree frogs, rat snakes, beetles and spiders… even certain plants and fungi grow in tree hollows.

As their life fades, trees remain important to wildlife.  Standing dead or dying trees (called snags) attract species that might not otherwise settle there, those seeking homes, safety, and places to raise families, hunt or store food.  Decaying trees retain moisture which supports amphibians and insects, and young trees often sprout from a fallen “nurse log.”  Toppled trees along waterfronts add valuable woody debris benefiting fish, turtles, dragonflies, native plants and other members of the aquatic community, while helping prevent shoreline erosion.  

Fallen trees also provide ground cover which protects emerging seedlings.  As insects, fungi and bacteria break down decaying wood, the surrounding soil is enriched with reabsorbed nutrients, supporting both new and existing plant growth.  So that even in death, trees give life. 

Article & photo by Margie Manthey

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