Recycling Trees

Trees live for decades, centuries, even a millennium. Eventually they grow old and die. Then nature begins recycling trees.

During the tree’s lifetime, it gathered up nutrients and stored them in its trunk as wood. The nutrients are still there where nothing can use them. Yet.

When an animal dies, other animals eat the carcass. Flies lay eggs to hatch into maggots to consume the meat. Bacteria move in to finish the job of releasing nutrients back into the ground.

shelf mushrooms on tree trunk
The shelf mushrooms on the top of the black walnut trunk look similar to regular mushrooms.

Recycling trees takes other pathways. The ones used depend on how the tree dies.

Standing dead trees dry. The bark slips off and falls leaving a column of weathered wood. Woodpeckers arrive to excavate nest holes or seek insects eating the heart of the tree. As the heartwood disintegrates into wood chips, the snag falls apart, often piece by piece.

The dead black walnut along the south pasture snapped off leaving four or five feet standing. The rest is sloping down to the ground. As when a tree falls and lies on the ground, moisture seeps up the trunk to bring other colonizers.

mushrooms recycling trees
Shelf mushrooms line the trunk of this fallen black walnut. The mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of a fungus growing through and eating the bark.

Fungi threads move into the bark. These masses of tiny threads dissolve the bark and use it as food. Unless you search for them, the threads remain out of sight. Insects and other invertebrates feed on the fungi threads as they are busy recycling trees.

Like all living creatures, fungi want to start new individuals. They do it through spores which function like seeds. The spores are produced in mushrooms.

shelf mushrooms
On the side of the black walnut trunk the mushrooms have the typical shelf look.

Right after the rain went through, brown jelly mushrooms exploded out of the trunk of the black walnut. They shriveled up.

A new crop of shelf mushrooms now lines this trunk. As long as bark remains, shelf mushrooms will be there.

Some mushrooms are edible and wonderful additions to a meal. Read up on morels, chanterelles and more in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”